Mike’s Mailbag: Week 11 & 12, 2016

Buenos Dias Muchachos,

I’m not going to lie to you, it feels pretty good to be back in the mix writing after taking a week off in the mountains. The beauty of the Mailbag is that the content ebs and flows as life goes and so as such, this double-header Mailbag is 100% visual video content. No rhyme or reason, it’s just what the doctor ordered!

  • We’re going to tee it off with a feel good story from the Windy City thanks to Coach Q and his leadership both in the dressing room and the Chicago community. While the reasons for the Blackhawks success year after year might have something to do with the fact that they have the best leader in the game (Toews), highest point producing player (Kane), an Olympic caliber goalie (Crawford), and a Norris winner on the blueline (Keith), there’s also the intangibles that fill in the blanks. When you see feel good stories like this, you know the team has the right people in the organization who care about winning in all aspects of life. Kudos to the Blackhawks and the seniors at the Centennial Activity Center. Here’s to old time hockey!
  • Let’s keep the feel good vibes going with a TED talk from a Special Olympics athlete, Matthew Williams, from Vancouver. Special Olympics has always had a special place in my heart because of the great coaches and athletes I’ve met while helping to coach their curling programs in Edmonton and Halifax. I hope to get back involved with the organization when I move back to Calgary this spring. If you’re looking for a great volunteer opportunity, look no further. While many think it is the athletes who benefit most from good-hearted folks who lend their time to help coach their various programs, in actuality, it is 100% the other way around. The athletes teach us so much about what it means to have a positive attitude, how to support your teammates, and perhaps most importantly, they remind us why it is we love to play and give back to sports.
  • Changing gears deep into the backwoods in British Columbia comes a Canadian ski video called Chasing Nirvana – Cabin Fever Pt. II. This is not your typical ski video as it tells a story of four Canadian skiers and their relationship with the rustic and wild environment around them. Great skiing, old school tunes and modern cinematography… Check it out!
  • Throwing my old stomping grounds in E-town a plug here because the city is really starting to generate some good arts and cultural spots downtown. Downtown YEG seems to be creating a bit of a new identity thanks to an influx of creative young minds and doers. The Mercer Building on 104th and 104th is a prime example of this transformation…
  • I have purposely tried to stay fairly distant from the US Presidential race but it seems that any time I want to check in on the goings on, I just look to John Oliver for a good roast. This rant on Trump’s USA-Mexico Wall is no exception!

Quote of the Week: “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light” – Michael Phelps Under Armour Commercial (side note – which is seriously epic).

Song of The Week: It’s been a while since I checked in with you on one of my passion projects, Music By Mike. I thought I’d share some of the tunes I’m listening to these days… Here’s a sample playlist “Spring In Your Step“. If you like what you hear, there’s plenty more where they came from! Feel free to drop me a line at musicbymike.yyc@gmail.com.

I’ve posted a few cat skiing pics from Chatter Creek last week… The pictures are courtesy of the very talented snowboarder and photographer Hamish Birt.

Happy Easter,












Mike’s Mailbag: Week 10, 2016

Buenos Dias Amigos,

We’ve got a jam packed edition rolling into town this week, headlined by a new Coffeetalk segment with my friend and world renowned investment mind, David Darst. To this day, David is the most fascinating and captivating human being I have ever had the privilege of knowing. His mind truly operates on another level and I couldn’t be more excited to share his knowledge and wisdom with Mailbag readers this week so let’s get rockin’!

  • Chill Out, Your Future Doesn’t Even Exist by Chris Ackroyd. This article has a similar theme and context to it as the one I wrote last week (In Life – There Is No Recipe For Success), about finding or creating your way. If you feel a little lost or wondering which direction you’re heading, take a deep breath and check out this great perspective piece courtesy of Chris.
  • This is a crazy article about the man, the myth, the beauty flow legend – Jaromir Jagr – about how he just keeps on ticking. If you don’t have a Wall Street Journal subscription, just paste this link into Google search (or google The NHL’s 44 Year Old Enigma) and it should open for you without a subscription. Thanks Dubs for the share on this one!
  • Here is your laugh for the week courtesy of Jojo The Parrot… And it’s pretty good 🙂

Song of The Week: It’s a real knee knockin’, hip shakin’ groove so best get your dancin’ shoes on… Bang Bang to the Rock n’ Roll – Gabin

Quote of The Week: Quote this week is coming in the form of an Instagram post below…

No Mailbag next week as I’ll be cat skiing in BC. Hope you all have an awesome weekend and week ahead!

Til’ Next Time,




Coffeetalk: Episode 2 with David Darst

David and I met during my university years at Dalhousie and it was a fairly unlikely match, a university kid living in Halifax and one of the most respected minds on Wall Street but our friendship just clicked. We have managed to stay friends and have ambitions to one day embark on an adventure together in the Canadian Arctic! To this day, David is the most fascinating and captivating human being I have ever had the privilege of knowing. His mind truly operates on another level and I couldn’t be more excited to share his knowledge and wisdom with Mailbag readers this week. A little background about David…

Darst Headshot   darst

David M. Darst, CFA, served for 17 years as a Managing Director and Chief Investment Strategist of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, with responsibility for Asset Allocation and Investment Strategy; was the founding President of the Morgan Stanley Investment Group; and was the founding Chairman of the Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Asset Allocation Committee. Since 2014, he serves as Senior Advisor to and a member of the Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Global Investment Committee. He joined Morgan Stanley in 1996 from Goldman Sachs, where he held Senior Management posts within the Equities Division and earlier, for six years as Resident Manager of their Private Bank in Zurich.

David appears as a frequent guest on CNBC, Bloomberg, FOX, PBS, and other television channels, and has contributed numerous articles to Barron’s, Euromoney, The Money Manager, Forbes.com, The Yale Economic Review, and other publications. He was awarded a BA degree in Economics from Yale University, and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School. David has lectured extensively at Wharton, Columbia, INSEAD, and New York University business schools, and for nine years, David served as a visiting faculty member at Yale College, Yale School of Management, and Harvard Business School. In November 2011, David was inducted by Quinnipiac University into their Business Leaders Hall of Fame. David is a CFA Charterholder and a mem- ber of the New York Society of Security Analysts and the CFA Institute.


1. Where were you born?

In Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee, United States of America.

2. What does the name “David” mean?

“David” comes from the Hebrew name דָּוִד (Dawid), which is derived from Hebrew דוד (dwd) meaning “beloved”. David was the second and greatest of the kings of Israel, ruling in the 10th century BC. Several stories about him are told in the Old Testament, including his defeat of Goliath, a giant Philistine. According to the New Testament, Jesus was descended from him. The name David has been used in Britain since the Middle Ages and has been especially popular in Wales, where it is used in honour of the 5th-century patron saint of Wales (also called Dewi), as well as in Scotland, where it was borne by two kings.

3. What does my name mean?

“Michael” comes from the Hebrew name מִיכָאֵל (Mikha’el) meaning “like unto God.” Michael is one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition and the only one identified as an archangel in the Bible. In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, he is portrayed as the leader of heaven’s armies, and thus is considered the patron saint of soldiers. The popularity of Saint Michael led to the name being used by nine Byzantine emperors, including Michael VIII Palaeologus who restored the empire in the 13th century.”Michael” has been widely used in Western Europe since the Middle Ages, and in England since the 12th century.

4. How many stamps do you have on your passport?

From 114 countries, and I love each and every one of them! Sometimes on airplanes, I find myself occasionally flipping through the passport pages and being instantly transported to Australia, to Tibet, to Morocco, to Greenland, to San Marino…

5. You are as gifted of a wordsmith as I know. How many languages can you converse in?

What is your favorite? People all over the world appreciate it when you take the time and effort to acquire some words, phrases, perhaps some slang, and sentences in their native tongue. Early and extended exposure to Latin (and some Greek) ignited my interest in languages, and in addition to French, German, and Swiss German, I’ve at times been able to get by in Italian and Spanish. On extended business trips with fluently-speaking colleagues, I’ve been able to have some fun in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. There’s nothing like hearing beautiful French, and a language that totally enchants me (especially in song) is Brazilian Portuguese (“Você sabe do que eu estou falando” = “You know what I’m talking about” in Portuguese!)

6. Is it a lifelong goal of yours to travel to every single country on planet earth?

One of my lifelong goals is to circumnavigate our beloved Planet Earth in space.

7. Where are your three favorite restaurants on planet earth?

I totally LOVE every single restaurant in which I have had the pleasure of eating!  It’s so difficult to pick three, and as I contemplate this question right now, NUMEROUS epic, unforgettable dishes, wines, and meals come to mind, such as an amazing flan cake creation covered in marshmallow icing and slathered all over with this thick, viscous, runny caramelized sugar sauce that was served up in the airport cafe in Porto Alegre, Brazil, by what had to be the sister of Giselle Bundchen —  I find myself daydreaming about it from time to time!  I would send or treat a family member or dear friend to Pré Catelan in Paris, the Kronenhalle in Zürich, and the Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, California!

8. What is the most fascinating place you’ve traveled to on planet earth that few know exist?

Just as with the restaurant question, this question instantly brings to mind all manner of places, from Andorra to Angkor Wat…People are certainly aware of the existence of Antarctica, and at the same time, it is difficult to adequately convey  — until you are there in person  — the purity, the immaculacy, the refinement, the ineffable sublety, the finely nuanced shades, colors, and hues of that extraordinarily beautiful landscape, which, the minute I first laid eyes on it, somehow also reminded me of traveling in the Rub’ al Khali (= in Arabic, “The Empty Quarter”), the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The terrain is covered with reddish-orange colored (due to the presence of feldspar) sand dunes reaching heights of 820 feet (250 meters).

9. Who are the 3 most influential people in the United States of America?

In addition to the President, the Federal Reserve Chair, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Majority Leader of the Senate, I might suggest: (i) the Commander, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBErCOM) and Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service (NSA/CSS); (ii) the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defense who advise the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council, and the President of the United States on military matters. The composition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is defined by statute and consists of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VCJCS), and the Military Service Chiefs from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau; (iii) the Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue magazine; and if I’m allowed a fourth, either Taylor Swift or Mark Zuckerberg.

10. What is one thing about Canada that few Canadians would actually know?

Begun construction in 1992, the Trans Canada Trail is the world’s longest network of recreational trails. When fully connected, the Trail will stretch 24,000 kilometers (15,000 mi) from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans. Just over 18,000 kilometers (11,000 mi) of the trail have been completed as of February 2016 and are usable, making the entire project approximately 80% complete. Two hundred and forty gaps totaling 6,200 kilometers (3,900 mi) must be bridged in order to achieve a fully connected trail. The Trans Canada Trail has given itself until its 25th anniversary and Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017 to reach this objective. The network of the Trans Canada Trail is made up of more than 400 community trails. Each trail section is developed, owned, and managed locally by trail groups, conservation authorities, and by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.  Considerable sections of the Trail are repurposed defunct rail lines donated to provincial governments by CP and CN Rail rebuilt as walking trails and “rail banked” as recreational trails, allowing conversion back to rail should future need arise. Thousands of Canadians, community partner organizations, corporations, local businesses, and all levels of government are involved in developing and maintaining these trails. The Trans Canada Trail does not own or operate any trail. As an ensemble, the Trans Canada Trail might be one of the largest volunteer projects ever undertaken in Canada. The main section runs along the southern areas of Canada connecting most of Canada’s major cities and most populous areas. While it is possible that quite a few Canadians know about route of the long northern arm which runs through Alberta to Edmonton and then up through northern British Columbia and the Yukon Territory into the Northern Territories, where I have photographed its terminus in Tuktoyaktuk (formerly known as Port Brabant and renamed in 1950, the first place in Canada to revert to its traditional name), population 854 inhabitants and coordinates  69°26′ 34″ N, 133°1′ 52″W, my guess is that not that many people know the previous name of ‘Tuk.’

To learn more about David, here is an article I wrote in 2014 about my first experience meeting him during his Halifax visit, in which he did a full-day workshop with the Dalhousie Investment Society and evening lecture to the Rowe School of Business.


10 Life Lessons I Learned From David Darst

#10: Presentation Crispness

This idea hails from a picture hanging in the office of Steve Ballmer during his tenure as CEO of Microsoft and can now be seen around the halls of Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management; it is the practice of being able to communicate a business idea and potential solution in a series of five concise steps. Let’s face it, many successful businessmen or women regard their time as their most valuable asset so when they are looking to build a team around them, they want problem solvers with the ability to convey clear and concise messages.

The model is as follows:

  1. Summarize the Situation (6 seconds)
  2. State the Idea (10 seconds)
  3. Explain How it Works (15 seconds)
  4. Reinforce Key Benefits (21 seconds)
  5. Suggest an Easy Next Step (28 seconds)

Rumour has it that if you were to walk into Steve Ballmer’s office with an idea, you had better been able to deliver your message within this time frame.

Key takeaway: Get things done right, and right away.


#9: The Power of Writing Things Down

David Darst’s ability to recall facts, dates, and statistics is like no other I’ve seen, his mind is razor sharp. I asked him on his way back to his hotel one night how he is able to recall such a large number of facts on a moment’s notice and his response was “You’ll notice whenever I learn something new, I write it down.” The key for David is having a second point of reference in his own writing that he recognizes and that will register in his mind.

Key Takeaway: Find your learning style and stick to it.


#8: Subtle Non-Verbal’s

David has a magnetic presence when he enters a room, whether it is in a restaurant, lecture hall, or conference ballroom. People are often looking to him for the answers to their questions. Because he interacts with so many people on a daily basis from all walks of life whether it is a high net worth Morgan Stanley Wealth Management client, a CNBC news anchor, or a Dalhousie Commerce student, they often only have a short time period to interact with David because his time is in such high demand. David uses his non verbal communication skills to make the person he is interacting with feel as important as the person he just finished speaking with. Whether it is a slight touch of the elbow when he shakes your hand, reaching out to you mid conversation or at the crux of a story, or opening up his posture so his body language is receptive to your message. They are all subtle but very powerful ways that David engages with people and allows them to feel comfortable and at ease.

Key Takeaway: Be an engaged speaker and listener.


#7: Population Growth Reshaping Global Economy

With many of the advanced economies in the world experiencing stagnant birth rates (ie. Japan, and many EU countries), many of the emerging economies are experiencing rapid population growth (ie. Indonesia, Vietnam, and India). The global economic landscape is starting to shift. Birth rates are critical statistics to economic forecasts because if a country cannot expand its workforce or at the very least replace it, its economic output will start to shrink. The Western World is used to being a global force; however, there are many Asian countries that many Westerners are largely unfamiliar with that are growing at rapid rates and turning into economic engines in the global economy.

Key Takeaway: See #6


#6: Importance of Family and Public Education System

David stressed the critical role that parents play in the upbringing and development of their children, in tandem with the strength of a nation’s public education system. He believes that there are far too many video games being played and not enough reading being done in the homes of the majority of North American households. He doesn’t believe that it is the high-end colleges and universities that are the key to the Western World maintaining its competitive advantages over certain parts of the world but rather the strength of North America’s public education system. It is essential to give every child a proper educational foundation with the opportunity to grow and excel into part of an educated workforce.

Key Takeaway: Stay true to your roots.


#5: Sense of Belonging

One of David’s keys to productivity whether it is in a corporate office or as part of an athletic team is a sense of belonging. David strongly believes that for a group of individuals to be successful and cohesive as a team, all must be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their rank. Employee empowerment is paramount in David’s eyes.

Key Takeaway: Treat others with the respect and dignity you would like to be treated with.


#4: Perspective is Key

This comes from an article (www.purposefairy.com) David gave to all DALIS members titled: These four spoke to me the most:

  • Forgiveness vs. Unforgiveness: Really happy people know that it’s not healthy to hold on to anger. They choose to forgive and forget, understanding that forgiveness is a gift they give to themselves first and foremost. “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned” – Buddha
  • Selflessness vs. Selfishness: They do what they do not for themselves, but for the good of others, making sure that they bring meaning, empowerment and happiness in the lives of many. They look for ways to give and to share the best of themselves with the world and to make other people happy.
  • Dreaming Big vs. Being Realistic: These people don’t really care about being realistic. They love and dare to dream big, they always listen to their heart and intuition, and the greatness of their accomplishments scares many of us.
  • Taking Responsibility vs. Blaming: They take full ownership over their lives and they rarely use excuses. Happy people understand that the moment you choose to blame some outside forces for whatever it is that happens to you, you are in fact giving all your power away. These people choose to keep the power for themselves by taking responsibility for everything that happens to them.

Key Takeaway: In the words of Conan O’Brien, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right. Your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.”

#3: Stay Humble

After hearing some interesting stories from David about some of his interactions with the social circle he has built around him, let’s just say there are some rather well-known names in his circle. Yet, during his time spent with us, his graciousness and appreciation for all the youthful business minds he was able to meet with at Dalhousie was so sincere. At the end of the day, we’re just a student run society on the east coast of Canada relative to the institutions and clients he’s used to meeting with on Wall Street or at The City in London, England. David said the key to staying humble is a close-knit family and finding appreciation and energy in life where others don’t. When in New York, look up at the architecture. When speaking with a young business student, appreciate their perspective and youthful intuition. Every experience is an opportunity to grow.

Key Takeaway: To take a page out of one of my favorite lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, “If you can talk with the crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings –nor lose the common touch… You’ll be a Man, my son!”


#2: The Importance of Your Mother In-law

If your girlfriend’s mother or your mother in-law doesn’t like you, you’re doomed!

Key Takeaway: Whether you like them or not, eat your peas!


#1: The Power of Names

I learned a lot of things from David but this was one of the most impressive and fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed… Over the course of David’s 48 hours in Halifax, I would guess he met upwards of 50 people and he remembered every single person’s first and last name in that span. Not only did he know nearly everyone’s name, he gave us all a lesson on the origin and meaning behind all of our names. Case and point, David met one of our members, Gilberto, who hails from Brazil. Without skipping a beat, David conversed with Gilberto in Portuguese for a minute in front of the audience, moving on to tell us about the #1 Brazilian song of all time as voted by the Brazil people, spinning that into a lesson on the meaning of important English words and their Latin origins, and then proceeding to recite by heart Act II, Scene I of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour Lost”. It was one of the most impressive feats of the human mind I have ever witnessed and speaks to how well versed David is in so many facets of life.

Key Takeaway: Your ability to remember and address everyone you meet by name only deepens your connection with him or her and allows you to be a superior communicator.


David, it was an absolute honor and pleasure. You inspired us all.

In Life, There Is No Recipe For Success

When it comes to achieving success in life, linear progression simply does not exist. Nor should it.

Before I move on, I should note that success is a relative term. It means different things to different people. To some, it’s finding a life partner and starting a family. To others, it’s financial freedom and/or a particular job title. To others, it’s being grateful and happy for the blessings they have. The definition varies person to person but there are two constants: success cannot be bought and there is no linear path to achieving “it”.

Whether it is the fact that Generation Y has grown up in such an interconnected culture of consumerism or perhaps it is due to our impatient nature, Millennials like myself often want success and want it now. It is almost ingrained in our minds: graduate high school, get a scholarship, go to university, embark on a career, get promoted, get married, start a family, buy a house, start your own company, and on and on… Like it should all happen bang, bang, bang with no hiccups or detours along the way. We often think the dots should connect as we’re filling them in, yet that’s not often how life works.

When we experience these bumps in the road, sometimes they get the best of us and take the wind out of our sails. Our confidence turns fragile, the meaning behind what we’re doing seemingly gets lost and as a result, we yearn for clarity on a path forward. However, what actually happens is counterproductive. Our creativity and willingness to embrace the unexpected is dampened.

We become locked into a linear train of thought that if I do “A”, it will lead to “B”. Almost as if everything has to have a direct and timely outcome. Take things for example like, if I consistently work 80 hours a week, I will get promoted this year. If I read the top 10 recommended books on leadership, I will become a leader. If I go on [insert name of diet], I will lose 15 lbs this month. If I go out three nights a week, I will find someone to be in a relationship with. These are just a few examples but you get the point. This type of linear thinking is often misguided and robs us of the fulfillment and organic growth that can take place if we let it – the type of growth that makes us all unique. This outcome-oriented view makes us believe that if we don’t achieve exactly what we set out to, we have failed.

Take for example, Conan O’Brian. To him, hosting The Late Night Show was the holy grail of comedy. The be-all, end-all. Yet once he finally held the throne, it wasn’t all he thought it out to be. He believed that the role would define him as a person and legacy as a comedian, yet it didn’t. What did define him however was his attitude in handling a difficult and public exit from NBC and his resiliency in learning to share his comedy through other mediums. He summed this up best speaking to the Dartmouth Class of 2011It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right. Your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention” – Conan O’Brian

He’s right, no one in life gets exactly what they want. It’s the detours in life where there is no manual on how to proceed that builds our character and shapes who we are and who we become.

Thus, in order to achieve success in the form we desire, we should be doing things for the right reasons and with pure intentions, not because it has to lead to something bigger and better. A lot of the actual fun in life happens when we say yes to every experience we can and the swaths of people we encounter when we do. Our best bet is to stop over-analyzing things for fear of what will happen down the road and just put ourselves out there. Reach for the stars. Meet interesting people. Experiment. Veer off track and get a little mud on the tires. Accept that our goals and dreams will change. Embrace it and with a little faith along the way, the pieces will find a way to weave themselves together. At least, that’s what they say…

Steve Jobs quote “you can only connect the dots looking backwards” has never rang more true.