Starting Again: The Importance of Balance
Jan 09 11:36 AM

Starting Again: The Importance of Balance

Jan 09 11:36 AM
Jan 09 11:36 AM

This is not a New Year’s Resolution

Around 40% of Americans make some sort of new year’s resolution yet only half of them feel like they will be successful, and at the end of the year, 9% of resolution makers feel like they were successful at fulfilling that resolution. New Year’s is “busy season” for the diet industry, gyms, health consultants – the list goes on. Yet there are overwhelming statistics that those endeavors will bear little fruit. So this is not a new years resolution post, it is a description of some resolve I am restoring and it happens to have culminated at the dawn of a new year and in my case, the start of another tax season.

got on my bike this morning for the first time in a while and had a nice ride on the trainer, the fact that it was at the beginning of the year is a coincidence, last week was the first time I had clearance to ride after surgery I had in December, then it took a little while to get my bike right so I could ride it on the trainer. The surgery was to have my C6 and C7 disks replaced to address a bulging disk and pinched nerve that created phantom pain up and down my arm and I eventually lost touch in my right hand. So during my recovery, I can only ride this trainer in my living room or on my back patio. 

Getting sidelined from the bike is hard but truthfully, the pandemic had already done more for that than the bulging disk in my neck did. I lost my balance during the pandemic - not as if I fell, but the work-life balance I had created before 2020. The pandemic tore down the tool I used to create balance, a good fence. The fence was made from a simple enough recipe that I could maintain it, it was simply adding one cell phone, and removing one home office. I purchased a personal cell and made my work cell turn off at 6:00, my personal cell phone was turned off during the day at work, and I built a fence in communications that the cell phone made hard. I then made my office at the house into more of a man cave - it was where I kept my bike stuff and watched college football. But as the pandemic began the office crept back into the man cave – and slowly I allowed those fences I built to be torn down. I took care of myself less and worked more and more. The back surgery was simply a culmination of this, and a reminder to relearn some lessons that I had learned a decade ago. 

The Backstory

In 2012 my CPA firm had grown substantially, and the lack of any sort of boundaries with my clients meant I basically lived at the office. I had a shower, a kitchen, and a cot so I could cut out a commute. I was always at the office and had no time for any sort of exercise or personal care. I only did my accounting work, and there was no time for anything else. Ten years later, waiting for surgery at Baylor Hospital, I was reminded of this way of living that I had once put behind me. I couldn’t help but notice the number of chairs that were the size of a loveseat to accommodate the larger patrons of the hospital. Those were the chairs that I needed in 2012 as I weighed close to 400 pounds. I couldn’t sit in a chair with arms, I couldn’t sit in a booth at a restaurant, I broke seats at sporting events, and buying a piece of exercise equipment was a complete waste because they all had weight limits of 225 pounds - I just about doubled that. The rest of the world was not as accommodating to obese folks as the medical profession is because the obese are their premium clients. What a family office means to a CPA practice happens every time an obese person walks in the door at a doctor's office, he requires more attention, so we make more money from him. 

I know this because at 400 pounds I saw the doctor more than my barber because of all the medications I took for blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Once a month I visited to update the constant chemical experiment that I was undergoing to see which medication he prescribed would work without causing more damage somewhere else from the side effects. I was told I took the medications of a 90-year-old woman and that I was so far gone, I would never get off insulin, never get off my blood pressure medication, and never really get healthy.

That was a lot of nevers.

But that was not true. The truth was that I could, and so can so many others. But so many settle for band-aids for the issue, like metformin or whatever other medication we get prescribed to cope with the fact that we were unhealthy – our lives weren’t in balance. It isn’t natural and it is killing us, and, more importantly, for me, it is killing CPAs and our industry.

After tax season in 2012, I had a light bulb moment and I started to walk, then ride and what I found was that I could lose enough weight, in fact, that is me on the left of both of the pictures below. In a year I had my weight down to 240 / 250 and I was off all those medications despite technically still being 50 to 60 pounds overweight. That was crazy to me, I had friends taking blood pressure medication and the doctor was saying “lose ten pounds and we can get you off this.” My doctor was saying I would like to see you lose more weight, but I am taking you off this medication because your numbers are back in control.

The following year was even stronger because I had got most of my weight off, in fact my doctor really underscored the whole premise of this story after I did a stress test on my heart. I was 50 at the time and about to go on my first extended multi-day ride so we did a stress test and after a couple of minutes at the highest level, he got me off the machine and was scrambling to get me connected because of how fast I was recovering. He told his wife if all his clients purchased a bicycle, they would have to tighten their belts because they wouldn’t need him as much and then he purchased a bicycle for himself and his wife.

I was cleared to take that long ride so in July of 2014 I rode a bicycle from Canada to Mexico down the Pacific Coast Highway, I love college football, so I also intended to ride around every Pac 12 stadium and I called it my Tour de Pac 12. I’ve been spinning around on vacations ever since. I even sold my car in 2015. I don’t miss that thing or the cost at all.

The Importance of Balance

Bicycling was a big part of my life. I watch the Tour now and have an autographed Peter Sagan (a really famous cyclist) world champion jersey in my office sitting beside a ton of football memorabilia. After these changes, one of my most anticipated calls I made was to my life insurance agent because life insurance got more and more expensive as I got bigger and bigger, and I wanted to get these new numbers in front of those actuaries so they could give me better odds of living. My agent was smart enough that he brought me the bad news in person, and I prepared myself for a conversation built around “you are going to have to keep it off a while before it factors in and starts driving that cost down”, that made sense and all I wanted to really know was how long, 1 more year? 2 years? 5 years? What he said though was shocking, it isn’t the time that matters, in five years you may still be at a target level weight wise, but you will still be a CPA and your history combined with your profession is going to make this hard to drive down because CPAs have one of the highest mortality rates of any profession, higher than window washers and skydiving instructors.

What the actuary and my agent said, if it was true, was that if you measure danger by how likely the activity will kill you, which I believe to be a good measurement, doing taxes is more dangerous than jumping out of an airplane.

That sucked. A lot.

But it makes sense - a lot of CPAs lives look like how mine looked prior to 2012. Out of balance, prioritizing work over health. And I've been encouraged over the last decade as the profession has began to prioritize this more heavily. But I suspect there's a lot of people who find themselves like me - out of balance again. So let's get to work and get our balance back.

What's Next

So today, coincidentally at the beginning of the year and tax season, I am sharing this with my fellow CPAs and anyone who will listen. I am on day one of 61 where physical therapy and rides on the trainer are building to a heck of a ride on March 5th. I share it because 1) it makes me accountable and 2) it might get some of us thinking down those lines as well because I love my fellow CPAs, and I would love to see you all back at your desk next year. My approach is simple, ride the trainer, watch what I eat, follow my physical therapy and share part of it with others. If that works out, I will try it again tomorrow. Let’s get to March 5th and see what is next but that’s my plan.

As far as sharing it with others, I have a lot of experience in what did not work for me. I was part of the new year’s resolution team before, I always said this year will be different and it never was, in weight and in time I spent at the office. I also have a little bit of experience in what did work, and I will try and juxtapose why I felt the different approach worked, at least for me. I will stick the more routine training type things on Facebook and save the deeper dives for Linked In and the Once Blog. The question I am asked the most is what was the difference between this and the other attempts at weight loss and my answer is pretty fine-tuned now, “I kept my target big, because big targets are easier to hit” and later this week I will share what that means and why I found it an important and very big distinction from my previous attempts.

In the meantime, I would also love to hear from you, if you have had success or haven’t feel free to add a comment or shoot me a message, I will get back with you and see if we can’t encourage one another. Share it with a friend, and let’s build a balanced base for our profession going forward because we need some balance folks, we really really do.

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Ford Baker is a CPA and entrepreneur. He's passionate about helping CPAs gain balance and understand that they can live healthy and balanced lives while having successful careers.

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