Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything


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He was big. The sales slip stated that he was unregistered. And his name was Cash. But there was something about him. A kindness in his eyes that betrayed the vacant expression. And sometimes he would cock his head as if he were asking a question. I wanted him to be more than chattel. I wanted a relationship with this horse. I wanted to begin at the beginning, as Monty Roberts had prescribed. Start with a blank sheet of paper, then fill it in. Certainty is my mantra. Knowledge over luck. But on this day I was gambling. And I was going to ask this one to do something he had probably never been asked to do in his lifetime.

To make a choice. Which made me all the more nervous. I was in that round pen because a few weeks earlier my wife, Kathleen, had pushed me out of bed one morning and instructed me to get dressed and get in the car. Being the paranoid, suspicious type, whenever my birthday gets close, the ears go up and twist in the wind.

We drove down the hill and soon Kathleen was whipping in at a sign for the local animal shelter. She drove right past the next turn for the animal shelter and pulled into a park. There were a few picnic tables scattered about. And a big horse trailer. The car jerked to a stop and Kathleen looked at me and smiled. Our house was way out in the country and it came with a couple of horse stalls, both painted a crisp white, one of them covered with a rusty red roof. They were cute. Often, over the three years we had lived there, we could be found in the late afternoon sitting on our front porch, looking out over the stalls, watching the sun sink beneath the ridge of mountains to the west.

Lesson 1: Cute horse stalls are not adequate reason to purchase three horses. We had no idea what we were getting into. Thank God for a chance meeting with Monty Roberts. Well, not a real meeting. We were making the obligatory trip that new horse owners must make to Boot Barn when Kathleen picked up a California Horse Trader. As we sat around a table watching the kids chomp cheese burgers, she read an article about Monty and passed it over to me.

Monty is an amazing man, with an incredible story. His book The Man Who Listens to Horses has sold something like five and a half million copies and was on the New York Times best-seller list for 58 weeks! I ordered his book and a DVD of one of his Join-Up demonstrations the minute I got home, and was completely blown away. In the video, he took a horse that had never had as much as a halter on him, never mind a saddle or rider, and in thirty minutes caused that horse to choose to be with him, to accept a saddle, and a rider, all with no violence, pain, or even stress to the horse!

Not trust, or respect. In retrospect, for me, the overwhelming key to what I saw Monty do in thirty minutes, is the fact that the horse made the decision, the choice.

The horse chose Monty as a herd member and leader. And from that point on, everything was built on trust, not coercion. And what a difference that makes. This man is responsible for us beginning our relationship with horses as it should begin, and propelling us onto a journey of discovery into a truly enigmatic world.

That everybody and everything is up for study. That logic and good sense still provide the most reasonable answers, and still, given exposure, will prevail. Even though the change is for the better. I say look forward to the opportunity to learn something new. Relish and devour knowledge with gusto. Always be reaching for the best possible way to do things. It keeps you alive, and healthy, and happy. And makes for a better world. Especially if, after asking a few questions, the traditional way defies logic and good sense, and falls short on compassion and respect. Information is king.

Gather it from every source, make comparisons, and evaluate results. And the journey will be fascinating. We were only a year and a half into this voyage with horses as these words found their way into the computer, but it was an obsessive, compulsive year and a half, and the wonderful thing about being a newcomer is that you start with a clean plate.

No baggage. No preconceptions. No musts. And a determination to use logic and knowledge wherever found, even if it means exposing a few myths about what does, in fact, produce the best results. Cash was pawing the ground now, wondering, I suspect, why I was just standing there in the round pen doing nothing. The truth is I was reluctant to start the process. Rejection is not one of my favorite concepts. Once started, I would soon be asking him to make his choice. What if he said no? Is that it? Is it over? Does he go back to his previous owner? I have often felt vulnerable during my sixty-eight years, but rarely this vulnerable.

I really wanted this horse to choose me. What if I screw it up? What if he runs over me? Their response is flight, not fight. Bite the bullet, Joe, I kept telling myself. Give him the choice. I had vowed that this would be our path. We would begin our relationship with every horse in this manner. Our way to true horsemanship, which, as I would come to understand, was not about how well you ride, or how many trophies you win, or how fast your horse runs, or how high he or she jumps.

I squared my shoulders, stood tall, looked this almost sixteen hands of horse straight in the eye, appearing as much like a predator as I could muster, and tossed one end of a soft long-line into the air behind him, and off he went at full gallop around the round pen. Just like Monty said he would. I kept my eyes on his eyes, just as a predator would. Cash would run for roughly a quarter of a mile, just as horses do in the wild, before he would offer his first signal.

Did he actually think I was a predator, or did he know he was being tested? A starting from scratch with something he knows ever so well. Predators and flight. In the first two years, I was just spending it. Once I became widowed, I was burning through cash like there was no tomorrow.

Because I was having to get up and go to my job and be at work, get my work done, and come home. Maybe you have your parents living with you, or you happen to have extended family who live on your street, but you just cannot do this alone. Without the MacArthur money, all my time was spent thinking about household problems, things I had to do. Financially, I was not really in a good place in I was in my final year of graduate school.

I had student loans for living expenses, but I was in Los Angeles, which is not a cheap place to live. Our rent was pretty high; we had car payments; we just always seemed to get ourselves into credit card debt because it always cost more to live than we were bringing in. We definitely had no savings of any kind. We each had a k , but with very little in either of them. I was 28 and he was I had also just had a baby. My mom was a very, very frugal person her whole life. She was really maniacal about preparing for her retirement, which was ironic because she never got to retire.

She got sick when she was 56, I think, and by the time they figured out that she had cancer, it was too late. There was no way she could be cured; it was mostly just treatment. She was in treatment for just under three years.

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When she died, her estate was divided between my two brothers and me. But she had given me extra money because I had just enrolled in Cornell Law School, and we were preparing to move when she was diagnosed. So they all were worth a lot less. What we really wanted to do, because we had a baby, was buy a house. Because this was after the mortgage crisis, you had to have 20 percent down to buy a house. I knew that my mom wanted me to own a house.

So I felt like I had a responsibility to spend the money in a way that she would approve of.

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So we did that, we bought a house, and I never felt bad about that choice. The house earned a lot of money. It gained a lot of equity while I lived in it, and then we put it into our current house, which has gained a lot of equity. I tried to be really, really responsible with the rest of the money. It was just really important to him, and it was like an investment in our relationship more than anything. It also meant that he was home a lot during that time. But I want to actually use the money we have.

I grew up in the suburbs north of Boston, and my parents owned a small law firm. We were comfortable but not particularly well off. My parents bought me a new bike for my tenth birthday in , and a couple months later the bike fell on me. It didn't have a guard on the gears, and it cut open my leg. We were on a family vacation in deeply rural Maine. It was an hour-and-a-half drive to have a clinician—who was not somebody who normally gave stitches—sew up this poor, screaming ten-year-old's leg.

I got like 16 stitches. It was very traumatic for everyone involved, and I was really embarrassed about the scar for many years. It turned out the part that was missing on the bike was, like, a two dollar part. I remember them telling me they had gotten the money, and I never questioned it. I moved on with my life. I turned 18 while I was still in high school.

I was applying to colleges, and the school I got into, NYU, was quite expensive. I had a good scholarship, but was also going to have to take out loans. I had several friends who went on international exchange programs, so I applied for a Rotary International Exchange, which a lot of friends had gone on, and I got picked. I said, I don't really care where you send me, I just want to go. I had never left the country, and I didn't want to go to college yet. It turned out I was going to go to a very small city in northwestern India.

But because of where I was placed, it not only paid for my expenses—housing, food, and schooling—but covered three separate trips: one around the state of Gujarat, where I lived; one around the state of Rajasthan, and then Punjab; and then another trip that took me from Mumbai, by train, all the way south to Kochi, which is the southernmost tip of India. I came back from India and did a year and a half of college at NYU and did not like it; the experience was a bit of a culture shock. NYU has a bunch of satellite campuses in different countries.

And because of the experience in India, I persuaded my guidance counselor to let me do three consecutive semesters abroad. I went to Ghana for a semester, Argentina for a semester, and the Czech Republic for a semester. Looking back, I can say I was fearless.

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I packed a single suitcase at 18, and I just went. I could never do that now, as an adult—almost two years living out of a single suitcase. I have a partner, and a dog, and a job. Also, having the experience of going to India and being independent gave me the confidence to do college in such an unconventional way. And I'm really grateful for that now, because I am a freelance writer and content marketer, so international travel is not really in my budget.

It made me appreciate what a difference money given can make in someone's circumstances. When I got out of college in , I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life.

Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything

I wound up getting a low-level research job at a firm outside of Boston that made investments in start-up tech companies. Whatever I invested in I had to carve out of whatever it was I was making. I was this year-old researcher who was siphoning off rent and beer money to make my own little investments in these companies. Three years later, I decided I wanted to do something more creative.


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I had enough money saved to move to New York to do an unpaid internship at a magazine. I was 25, and I made more money the year I was an unpaid intern than I had been making at the investment firm. At the time I came to New York, everybody pretended they had the same amount of money. Even people who you knew or suspected were very wealthy would act like they didn't have wealth, and people who really were living close to the bone would still feel like they wanted to or had to come out and get beers, get a drink, and do things socially to the same extent as everybody else.

Because of the money I made, I was able to live in a very expensive city and do the things that people around me were doing, without the feeling of anxiety that so many people had hidden—or didn't hide—about money in an industry where nobody gets paid very well. I mostly put the money in the bank. I probably was able to pay more in rent than I would have otherwise.

I did keep my car, which I had needed in Boston but didn't need in New York, and which was totally a luxury. I wasn't really at a point in my life when I was looking to spend money on anything. Because it was about just being there and working, and I was involved in the stand-up comedy world, and I was trying to write. It gave me the freedom to do all of that. After I did the unpaid internship, I got a job as an editorial assistant at a magazine.

And about a year into that, the other magazine that I had done the internship at said that there was an editor there who was going on maternity leave, and if I was willing to quit my job, I could come and be an editor there. And I did it. I think I never would have done that if I wasn't sitting on a nice big bank balance. And lo and behold, that did turn into a permanent job. And it put me on a career track working at magazines that I don't think would've happened otherwise.

Americans love to tell themselves lies about class. And of course, wealthy Americans like to tell the biggest lies about class. And I feel like having this money, it was like I was a secret trust-fund kid. I hadn't grown up with that kind of money, but the fact that I got it in this weird and unexpected way wound up giving me insight into the bubble that people who have a lot of available money live in.

I'd like to say that it made me realize how soulless it is inside that bubble. But in fact, it's super nice inside that bubble. And I only wish that my own version of the bubble had been bigger, such that I feel like I could still be living inside it.

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But it doesn't quite feel that way. I was teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle when I received the grant. I had the comfort of a secure teaching position. At first, the MacArthur people couldn't get in touch with me. I'm not a person who is disposed to telephones.


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I kept getting messages that they wanted me to call them, a state of affairs I thought infuriatingly inefficient. I believe I was pretty petulant when they finally called: I had made an appointment—and walked half a mile to the pay phone at the breakwater on the island in Maine where I live during the summers—to tell them so.

Finally, there I was with the damned receiver shoved in my face, the fishing boats coming and going around me. A voice in the phone asked me to sit down. As it happened, they distributed it in five separate payments over five years. I never had children myself. The kid I was closest to had just married and had his first child, who was microcephalic and would probably need lifetime care.

They wouldn't accept much more. Their experience as parents prompted me to find out more about all caregivers of the severely disabled. Millions of people worldwide, mostly women, do this kind of care with diminished resources, often with no relief. They are generally out of our sight—partly because they are unable to come and go freely, partly because we, in our discomfort with the sight of them, make life less comfortable for them.

After the few gestures I made to these young parents, and then after taxes one doesn't immediately consider the falling branches of the revenue agencies in windfall territory , I used the money to found a nonprofit, Caregifted. The money went to the costs of administering the nonprofit and to travel, food, excursions, etc. We did between eight and eleven getaways a year, for five or six years, only for caregivers of the most severely disabled family members, caregivers who had been at that devotion for ten years or more.

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Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything
Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything
Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything
Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything
Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything
Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything
Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything Think or Sink: The One Choice That Changes Everything

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