I recently returned from spending a few days around Lake Tahoe, playing in the snow and visiting with old and new friends. As a reformed east-coaster I tend to be fairly anti-snow, and in general I am anti-gear, so when my friends decided that we would all go up there for our annual gathering, my initial response (which I kept to myself) was kind of negative. My first view of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains produced a sudden mood shift; being up there and experiencing that winter beauty really was worth the drive and traffic and cumulative hours of putting on and taking off snow gear for myself and my kids. Friends came from Italy, and their fresh look at the Tahoe area reminded me of its incredibly special combination of beauty, unspoiled ruggedness, and accessibility. I'm thankful for the reminder, for the time to experience it, and for the opportunity to overcome my habits and preconceptions. Not a bad way to start the year.
As always, this newsletter announces a new Panic-free Estate Planning Workshop schedule. If a Will is on your new year's resolution list, this is the chance. To register online, or for more information, go to:
This is also the link to share - if you are so inclined - with friends, school groups, and anyone that you think might need this work. I'd certainly appreciate it! If you are a past workshop attendee, you may want to let others know how good it feels to get it done.
And before I get into my annual new year's musings, a few things about taxes:
I've spoken to many of you about the changes to the estate and gift tax regime that were scheduled to take effect January 1 of this year. When Congress passed its fiscal cliff avoidance legislation at the 11th hour, certain aspects of the estate and gift tax laws were revised - or, rather, the changes that were set to go into effect were avoided by essentially making the 2012 law permanent. You can read a summary discussion of these laws here (it is not my writing but why reinvent the wheel, right?) A big bottom line is that the gift and estate tax exemption did not go down to $1 million but instead will stay at 2012's $5 million level, which is indexed for inflation and for 2013 is $5.25 million. As a result, many of the more sophisticated estate planning techniques I've been discussing are not as critical for many of you. Please call or email if you want to discuss any of this with me.
As 2012 came to a close and I began looking toward 2013, I found myself thinking about work. Of course I was thinking about my own work, nothing short of strong sedatives can stop that when you are self-employed. But in a larger sense, I was thinking about this whole notion of what we do with our lives, how we support and sustain ourselves and what adds or contributes value to us, our bank accounts and our community.
Driving this thinking was, undoubtedly, the decision that my husband and I made in September to close the beloved Four Star Video, which we owned, and expand our other store, Succulence. I wrote a long and labored explanation of our thoughts and what we went through in deciding to close the store - you can read that here. The bottom line, not surprisingly, is simply that the store was not sustainable. Yet the lack of economic viability of the operation stood in stark contrast to the value to many of the store and of the experience of walking down the street to rent movies. How could it be that something that is loved so dearly - and "so dearly" really doesn't begin to convey the awesomeness of Four Star Video or the magnitude of the feeling of loss for so many in the neighborhood - did not have a corresponding economic value? How does that nexus work exactly?
Obviously this is a huge question, and the only thing that seems clear is that that nexus is shifting dramatically right now. As the (former) owner of a video store, I have been in the thick of this shift for years and while I talk about it and try to make sense of it, I've concluded that we simply can't know or understand how it is all going to end up.
The aftermath of closing the video store and seeing my personal life reflect these larger changes in the world and contemplating the confusing nature of value in this modern world has been eye-opening as much as it has been unsettling and disappointing. Value, in the economic sense, does not convey true worth. And what of the people whose jobs and livelihoods are wrapped up in these obsolete industries?
Somehow I keep coming back to what child-development pioneer Maria Montessori observed: "Play is the child's work."
By this, Montessori meant that play is essential to the number one job of every child: the development and creation of self. Giving play this moniker of "work" for Montessori was in part out of respect for the child who is engaged in this fundamental job of self-creation. I've seen other ways we can learn a lot about ourselves and our needs from what we say about child-development. Really, when you think about it, doesn't it make sense that it would work cumulatively? Instead of seeing the various stages of emotional and psychological growth of children as milestones reached and then passed, a more accurate view is of child development as a series of lessons learned that we call upon every day. For example: 'I am not the center of the universe,' or 'certain actions produce a reaction,' or 'my actions impact others.' Indeed, often we spend our whole lives relearning these childhood lessons again and again.
With play, many say, the child experiences and experiments with new rules, imagines what might be instead of what is, and learns problem solving skills and to consider the needs of others. So far totally relevant to leading a fulfilled adult life, right? So maybe, I've been wondering, does Montessori's observation somehow go in the other direction? If play is the child's work, then is work the adult's play? Or, rather, is our own adult work something that should be treated as equally essential to the ongoing development and creation of self?
Of course at this point, "work" can't simply mean what we do for money. Most of us have to earn money to live, and for many of us the realities of our lives do constrain us and force us to compromise what we want to do with our time and to instead accept what we have to do, sometimes greatly.
Montessori herself described work (generally, not just with respect to children) as "purposeful activity" and identified it as universal, innate, and essential to how we interact with and create the world around us. In other words: finding something to do, something that has a goal or objective, orients you in space and helps you know who you are. Gratifying work, be it a job or hobby or raising your children or the combination of it all, engages us, connects us and defines us. For most of my life, I haven't really questioned that my job-work should be my life's work. But my life has never accommodated that level of singularity, and, really, I don't think that is the way the world operates anymore for most people. I've begun, instead, to see my whole life as a body of work - the disparate pieces of travel and projects and jobs and homes and community, coming together to form this increasingly complete and whole self. Seeing these non-job pieces as my "work" takes some pressure off of my job to be the be as gratifying as I want my life to be. It reminds me of how critical the other components are to my happiness and well-being. While I still must fit things in between my hours at the office, I feel a slipping away of the internal hierarchy of what makes money and what doesn't.
Regardless of whether your job is your life's calling, or you are stuck in something soul-sucking, you are a stay at home parent, or you have been looking for a job for months, there is work to be done. There are roads to be built and rebuilt, babies to be tended, dust to be swept, laughter to be laughed, food to be cooked, fires to be built, fun to be had, sick to be healed, packages to be delivered, food to be served, music to be made, waves to be surfed, trees to be pruned, problems to be solved. And so on. This is all work.
I wish for all of you good work in 2013. I hope you can find (or see right before you) your combination of purpose and activity that lets you know who you are, where you are, and how you fit in. This work is essential to the ongoing development and creation of self, which, from my perspective, is a life-long activity.