Warning: Toilet May Explode

A few weeks ago, the City of Durham left a door hanger on our front door alerting us that city crews would be in our neighborhood to perform some preventative maintenance on the sewer mains. They wanted us to know a few things that could potentially impact us:

1) There could be a brief period of sewer odor in the house if you have faulty plumbing.

2) You might hear a gurgling noise in your pipes.

3) Your toilet may experience “a pressure wave that causes the contents of the bowl to be ejected.”

In journalism, that’s called burying the lead. Or if we’re using the industry spelling, “burying the lede.”

If I’m in charge of this memo, I’m definitely leading with point #3.

“Attention Citizen: the contents of your toilet could erupt all over your bathroom. Please read further to learn why.” Much more effective. I’m compelled to keep reading after that.

At the very least, I’d like to see the exploding toilet get top billing ahead of a possible “gurgling in the pipes.”

People sometimes bury the lede in their financial lives too. A few weeks ago, I met with a lady who was married, but came in without her husband. She explained that they keep their finances completely separate and each contribute to a joint checking account to cover household bills.

We discussed when she should start her Social Security, did some tax planning, and assessed a reasonable withdrawal rate on her savings to make sure she didn’t run out of money.

After a 90-minute discussion, she added this: “One more thing I should mention. It’s highly likely that I’ll be moving out and pursuing a divorce within the next few months. Will this have any effect on my plans?”

Why, yes. Yes, it will. That’s a bit of an exploding toilet that probably should have been mentioned well over an hour ago.

Her thinking was that because they keep their finances separate, she could easily just lift herself right out of the relationship and go do her own thing. But just because you’re suddenly single, that doesn’t mean your expenses get cut in half. And now you’re filing a single tax return instead of a joint return, which completely changes your tax bracket. Not to mention the money that will be spent on attorneys to make this divorce happen in the first place.

What’s the lede that you might have buried? Are you ignoring a potential career calamity on the horizon and just hoping it doesn’t materialize? Are you refusing to mention your recent medical diagnosis because you’ve convinced yourself that it won’t affect your future plans (even though deep down you know it will)? Are you telling yourself that the divorce isn’t going to happen?

It works a lot better if you’ll just put the potential exploding toilet on the table first. If the contents of the toilet never get ejected, that’s great. But at least you’ll have a plan if it happens.