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  • Timothy Iseler

The First Ten Percent

I was at the right age at the right time to embrace the idea that great coffee was really important. There were more or less two options when I was a kid: the kind of drip coffee you get in gas stations & fast food restaurants and coffee houses with grumpy baristas serving over-roasted coffee to chain-smoking patrons. I consumed both kinds with indiscretion.

Then Starbucks infiltrated every city everywhere, convincing the great masses of coffee drinkers that they, too, cared about "nice" coffee. In fact, they deserved it! Everyone became an aficionado, myself included. A so-called Third Wave of coffee roasters emerged in Starbucks' wake, favoring lighter roasts to emphasize subtleties in beans from different origins.

If drip coffee and Starbucks were for the masses, then the third wave roasters were for me. I would seek out the best cafés as I traveled, sometimes walking miles to reach a highly recommended destination. Some were memorable, most were not, but the hunt was a part of my identity as a coffee hound.

This search lead me to a Tokyo café that specialized in pour-over coffee. The owner & barista of this small café was known to be so precise with his pour that he could wet all the coffee grounds evenly before a single drop hit the carafe. Can you imagine! Pour-over is available everywhere these days, but it was still relatively uncommon in the States and I wanted to experience this preparation from a master.

A new gold standard was set in my brain on that day. From then on, a "correct" pour-over meant just enough water to saturate the grounds – not a drop more – to let it bloom before adding more hot water. And, of course, using a scale to ensure that the ratios were always tight.

Old habits die hard and, despite having made thousands of pour-overs in the intervening years, that gold standard persists. I think about it literally every morning. The thing is, though, that it virtually never works out. There is always a drop (or five) that sneaks through during the bloom.

I've recently noticed a quirk of my process: I focus intensely on that initial bit of water, which accounts for only 5-10% of the total volume – and basically never get it right. But then I pour the remaining 90-95% with almost no thought of technique. Sure, I swirl it around a bit and am not careless, but I'm not pre-occupied with doing it "correctly".

A ton of emphasis is placed on getting started and almost none on the majority of the process. And, despite virtually never having a perfect start, it's always turns out well!

A similar pattern frequently shows up while discussing financial goals. When something is important, we want to make sure we are taking the right steps. It's easy to spend a lot of time and energy trying to be sure that your plan is sound and that you can avoid mistakes before taking action.

But it's also easy to spend too much time on worry and doubt. The first 5-10% of the journey can feel like facing a mountain. How will we ever get to the top from way down here? Some people spend so much time searching for the "perfect" way to get started that they never actually start.

Once the initial steps have been taken, though – even if they aren't perfect – something shifts internally. Everything gets easier. Repeated actions become habits and doing the right thing starts to feel effortless. It becomes second nature. Paradoxically, the remaining 90-95% of the journey can feel less difficult than those first few steps.

Anyone can get overwhelmed while trying to achieve goals that seem far out of reach. The neat thing is that anyone can also break through the initial uncertainty by building & sticking with good habits. Spend a little bit less than you want to. Save a little bit more than you have been. Invest for that better future that seems so far away. Make it easy to do the right thing – without worrying about "perfect".

And if you need help along the way, don't be afraid to ask! You can schedule a call at your convenience using this link. We'll keep it easy on the road to a better future. Thanks!

Timothy Iseler, CFP®

Founder & Lead Advisor

Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604

Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.

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