Embrace the Complexity of Options

Anthony RobbinsIn a post a long time ago (one of my first) titled “Oh No” I lamented the fact that I was just another motivational author or speaker and I was not happy about it.

I think the reason I don’t want to consider myself a motivational author or speaker is that they are too simplistic in their approach. I, however, want to embrace the complexity of options. Take a simple concept like fear. I just read an article about Anthony Robbins saying how fear holds you back from success and while I’ve written about that very topic, I’ve also written about the benefits of fear. It’s too simplistic to say fear=bad and courage=good but that’s really all Anthony Robbins is saying, and most motivational speakers say.

I keep coming back to something Scott Loughmiller said in What Next, “I don’t take risks I manage risks.” And that concept can be applied to everything: I’m neither afraid nor fearless, I manage my fear; I’m neither under confident nor over confident, I mange my expectations. The fear is there, the lack of confidence is there but we push through it and yes the lack of fear can be dangerous and over confidence can get us in trouble. We constantly fluctuate between emotions and that’s ok as long as we manage to make progress.

This also ties in well with what Gary Vaynerchuk told me when I interviewed him in 2013, that self-awareness was the most important trait for success. If you are honest with yourself about what’s holding you back, you can begin to manage it.

Anthony Robbins and his ilk are the sugar rush of success, it’s a nice rush but it won’t last. Simple sells very well for them, but life is complex and requires complex solutions together with lots of work. Go to a motivational speech or read a motivational book and you’ll feel good for a while. Become self-aware and manage your issues and you’ll be well on your way to sustainable success – but like anything it takes work.

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Savings Matter

In my last post, I talked about so called financial experts and how often they seem wrong. I’ve also written about these “experts” here and here. At the end of the post I said that I’d show you how my savings and investing strategy has allowed me to be aggressive when I wanted to and cautious when I needed.

piggybankThe key to finances is having options. If you buy a new car every couple of years, go on really expensive vacations, and otherwise live at or above your means, you’re not leaving yourself many options. If, on the other hand, you save aggressively you will have many options when opportunity arises.

Deciding to change

In 2006 I decided to change my career from television to financial planning. I had the option, the ability, to spend the $5,000 for tuition and an additional $2,000 for networking by traveling to financial planning conferences. I saved aggressively in anticipation of the transition knowing that I’d be leaving behind a good salary to start over.

But what does it mean to save aggressively. Well in 2006, the year I decided to go back to school, Julie and I saved 31.71% of our gross, not net, income. In 2007 the middle year of this transition we saved 42.18% of our gross income. And in 2008, the year I passed the CFP® exam, we saved 34.2% of our gross income. Another important aspect of finances is tracking your money. Without tracking my finances I couldn’t tell you with such specifics how much I saved each year.

A New New Course

In 2009, having no luck finding the right fit in financial planning (another option I had was to be picky with my choice of employer), I decided not to pursue this plan any further. What then was I going to do with the money I had saved?

Two things happened that year. First I wanted to renovate a rental property I own on the Jersey Shore. That plan was also abandoned when the local zoning laws were too much to deal with. Once again I had a large amount of savings with no plan for it.

Option 2

That’s when a friend mentioned that her sister owned a rental property in our favorite part of California, The Coachella Valley. That’s when we decided, just after the real estate market had crashed and was continuing its slide, to buy an investment property. The years of saving meant we could explore other options and this one has turned out pretty good. Our savings in 2009 were just 0.47%! That’s less than 1% but it was because we had saved that we had the option for an investment with the possibility of a big return. This investment is part of a long term plan that we are able to add to every few years because we save when we need to and spend when it’s wise.

Maybe we could have had a little more fun and a little more things but It comes down to sacrificing in the short term for long term gains.

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Recapping 2012 Part 3 of ??

BeALeader Tweet ChatIn honor of last night’s #BeALeader tweetchat (Thursdays at 7pm ET) hosted by a leader I look up to @gingerconsult, I’ve chosen a more recent blog post for my look back at my favorites of 2012. The topic of the chat was “make a plan, work the plan” and that is exactly what the post below is about. It’s rare that a plan goes according to…well, according to plan and that is why you have to keep working it.

This particular post was about a lease negotiation that had taken months to nail down nearly falling apart at the very end. The important lesson was that I had other options, other plans as backups but also that I didn’t give up and kept working toward a solution. We finally came to an agreement and we’re currently constructing our latest What Next, A Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa.

Whatever Happens

Preparation isn’t just about a goal, isn’t a task that is only completed when you have something planned. Preparation is about weathering a storm and expecting the unexpected.

Be Prepared For AnythingIn What Next I write that “it’s not the plan for the expected outcome that saves you, it’s the plan for the unexpected outcome that does.” This is what preparation is all about and why I often have a plan B, C, D, E, and F.

I haven’t written many blog posts in a while because I’ve been busy working on my latest What Next venture, my current priority.

The reason I’m writing this is that two months of planning, two months of high expectations, may end badly. I will be sad, upset, worried, and yes even angry, if this falls through, but one thing I won’t be is beaten. I won’t be much worse off even if it goes terribly wrong because of the preparation I’ve done, not just for this one thing but throughout my life.

As you live your life, are the things you’re doing now putting you in a stronger position later? It’s worth asking so you’ll be able to succeed no matter what happens.

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Regrets Lead Backward

Do you live your life looking back or do you look forward to what will be?

Regret DemotivatorThere are two reasons I don’t have any regrets in life. The first reason is that I prefer looking forward and believe that focusing on regrets is like driving while only looking in the rear view mirror.

The other reason I have no regrets is because the decisions I made in the past were correct at the time, they may be wrong now but back when I made them, the decision was right (as far as I knew). Because I only had so much information at the time I made the best choice I could and there’s nothing to regret about that. If now, after time has passed, I find flaws in my reasoning or better options, there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, I wish I knew then what I know now, but the fact is I didn’t know it and no amount of wishing will change that.

I suspect most people have regrets about things they didn’t do rather than things they did and that’s why I’m more adventurous than most people I know, why I’ll explore more options, and try different things. I’ve pointed out before that I’ve had more failures then successes but what did those failures cost? Not much if I was smart about it, but what I gained was experience and knowledge. Being a self published author, I spent far more money writing my first book then I made, but I learned how to write a book. What I don’t do is look back and regret that first book (I also don’t recommend it) because there was value in the experience. (I do however recommend the second book What Next A Proactive Approach to Success).

Like the driving analogy I used earlier I do look in the rear view mirror from time to time but just to learn from the experiences I had in the past, not to beat myself up over them.

Do you have regrets? Why? Rather than feeling bad about the choices you made, understand that you have experience and that lesson will help you avoid mistakes in the future. You can start every sentence with I should have or I could have or you can start every sentence with I will, it’s up to you.

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You Complicate Me

Jerry McGuireIn the movie Jerry Maguire, Jerry says “You complete me” (I never saw the movie but you couldn’t escape that phrase at the time). You complete me meant they were a perfect match, the missing part that each needed. If Julie and I had a similar statement I’m sure she would say “You complicate me.”

Living with someone who asks what next, a builder who is looking for progress, a person who is never satisfied with the status quo, can’t be easy. I hear this statement, usually asked as a question, quite a lot, “Why do you want to complicate our lives?” Julie asks.

When you only have one choice, no options, life may be easy but I’m sure that it’s not very interesting. One thing I can say is that my life is very interesting and I hope Julie says the same. As we consider a new option on the hike of life, a new challenge, a new complication, I know that we will approach it as we do all major decisions, together.

More important than taking on the challenge together is our belief in research. By asking the right questions, the hard questions, by asking all the questions, no matter how obvious, stupid, or hard, you are setting yourself up for success. Sometimes people get frustrated with our level of scrutiny but I don’t mind.

Whatever decision you’re making, whatever you do, don’t stop asking questions until you’re completely satisfied that all options have been fully explored. It’s only complicated if you don’t plan.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Goals

Don’t think of goals as just a few key plans for the future. There’s more to goals than that, they are more versatile than that.

DartboardThere isn’t just one kind of goal, or two, or three, there is an unlimited range of goals. Some goals are short term while others are long term, some can be modified some can’t, some may be discarded entirely, some are more wish than goal. The goals you thought were rigid sometimes turn out to be quite pliable and visa versa. You get the point.

The key is flexibility, the willingness to modify one goal to achieve another more important one. As new information is learned what you never imagined before suddenly becomes a requirement. That’s life, that’s what asking What Next is all about, the search for adventure through exploration and discovery.

Career goals intersect with life goals, without one can there be the other? I write about this in the book What Next as I chronicle my attempt to change my career from television news to financial planning. This is an example of a pliable goal. I wanted to go into financial planning but I wanted to do it on my terms, and if that wasn’t possible, then I knew I would continue in my current career.

Writing the book is similar. I didn’t write the book to make money. On the contrary, I can afford to spend money to write the book, that’s why I wrote it, to demonstrate the options success gives you. I was able to pursue a creative outlet without worrying how I would pay for it or if it could sustain itself. For me it was writing a book, for someone else it might be painting or woodwork. 

Flexibility and options are integral parts of What Next. The choices you make will either expand your options or limit them, it’s up to you.

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Sticking with the Plan

PlanningWhat Next is more than just searching for new ideas, new challenges. What next is also about planning and preparation. I write “It’s not the plan for the expected outcome that saves you, it’s the plan for the unexpected outcome that does.” Planning for the unexpected means leaving yourself options for almost any circumstance.

Financial decisions play a large role in our lives (which is why I became interested in Going Downfinancial planning) and with the recent market mayhem, planning has proven its worth. But this insanity in the market pales in comparison to 2008. From May 2008 until March 2009 stocks lost around 50% or more of their value. A lot of people couldn’t handle watching their retirement nest egg dwindle away so they sold. They sold because they reacted, because they had no plan.

A new study by Fidelity Investments has some important information about what happened to those people who panicked and what happened to those who had a plan, who didn’t react without thinking.

401k investors who reduced their stock allocations to zero between October 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009 and kept it that way until June of 2011, saw an increase in their 401k of only 2%. The investors who reduced stocks to zero but began investing again sooner than June 2011 saw an increase of 25%, much better. But the people who stuck with stocks, and continued investing, in spite of the precipitous decline, saw their 401k balance increase by – are you ready for this – 64%!

These people had a plan and they stuck with it. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has had a large amount of cash available and they’ve done nothing with it for years. Now, however, Buffett says he’s buying stocks that are “on sale.” “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful,” says Buffett. His plan was, and is, to buy stocks that he feels are undervalued and that doesn’t happen when the economy is doing great.

I did not expect stocks to decline as much and as quickly as they have but my planning has allowed me to do two very important things. First I’ve increased the amount of money I’m contributing to my 401k. Increased, not decreased! And second, I’ve used money I didn’t invest as the market went up to buy stocks that are now “on sale.” I’m no Warren Buffett but I have a plan and I’m sticking with it.

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