On every journey, it is good from time to time to pause and reflect. Twenty-five years ago today, I started my career. My first post-college job was as a Staff Accountant at Draffin & Tucker in Albany, Georgia. I was eager, excited and very green. I moved to a new state on the opposite side of the country from where I grew up. Life was one big, exciting adventure and I had all kinds of ideas where it could go. Along the way, I got to live in three more new states before finally moving back home to start my business. I passed some exams, got some more degrees and a few professional designations, learned new skills and met many great people. Here are seven things I think I’ve learned from this journey.
1. Plans change, but don’t fail to plan. My life was planned out, with contingencies, and contingent contingencies. Things did not usually go as planned, and life has been exciting. Having sensible plans and being willing to adapt them is important. We need to be moving toward goals, or we will lack the motivation to do what needs to be done for long-term success. We also need to not be overly stubborn and to not let failures crush us. There is always another goal, a better plan. “Have a back-up plan because the first one won’t work.” Sgt. Joe B. Frick
2. Failures can be educational opportunities that drive us to greater success. My first forays into investing were financially terrible, but I learned that listening to tips from a friend, trying to time short-term patterns (day trading), and investing based on a compelling article in a popular magazine are all fool’s errands. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.” This early education was more valuable than any finance class I took or book I read, as it showed me the need to educate myself, that there is no easy way, and that an investor needs to understand what his edge is, or just follow the crowd.
3. Learning doesn’t stop at graduation. It should never stop. In the first five years of my career, I read about one or two books per year. In the last twenty years, I have read or listened to 642 books. I guess at first I thought I lacked time, but it was motivation that was missing. Now I voraciously consume articles and podcasts, and am always looking to learn something new. “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Sir Richard Steele
4. Go above and beyond. I was raised with the mindset that life is what happens outside of work and work is what you have to do to fund your life. When I started my first job, my goal was to be ready to leave by 5pm, or as close to that as possible. I thought my peers who worked an extra 45 minutes or hour per day where suckers. They were still sitting at their desk working while I was outside on the racquetball court. I never arrived more than five minutes early in the morning. Over time I realized that coming in early and working late and finding ways outside of work to hone my skills were what would lead to long-term success. These efforts were an investment, not a cost. As Napoleon Hill said, “The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.” Rory Vaden’s mantra is: “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.
5. Strive for very challenging goals. I found that I do my best when I am extremely challenged. I suppose I have an underdog complex, maybe from being small and unathletic growing up. If I have something to prove, I give it everything I have. If the task is easy, I tend not to try very hard. One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech: “It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if her or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Far better is it to dare might things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
6. A little humility goes a long way. I graduated college short on experience and long on confidence. Over time I have begun to understand how little I know and how many things are out of my control. Winning arguments for the sake of being proven right is generally unhelpful. “Can’t miss” ideas often fail to have the desired result. As a result, I try to align my confidence with my actual certainty, reminding myself that I have been certain but wrong in the past. I am careful in executing plans to consider what will happen if things do not play out as expected. I seek to approach life as a student, rather than as a professor. We can learn from anyone, no matter how humble they appear. “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’” Isaiah 57:15
7. Relationships matter more than knowledge. I used to think “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” meant that the complacent children of rich and successful parents had an unfair advantage over the rest of us. Now I realize that having an attitude of service towards others means that when we need help, others will be happy to help us. Overwhelming others with my knowledge is no substitute for listening and genuinely seeking their good. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And relationships are about more than getting things done. Great accomplishments and any blessings in life are meant to be shared with friends. We are made for community. Ultimately, it is the relationship we have that bring fulfillment to our lives.
I am grateful for all that I have been able to learn over the last twenty-five years, and excited for learning opportunities in the next twenty-five. A few things I am most interested in learning are: how to improve at guiding others to success, how to rest and enjoy the victories – big and small, and how to get better at listening. I am thankful for my past, content with my present and excited about the future.