My, how time flies. Seems just like yesterday that I was a 12 year old kid, going for long bike rides in Sherwood Forrest, the subdivision just around the corner from where I lived. Playing with William, Edward, and my little brother, climbing in the tree house, looking forward to Brent coming over to visit. Those were all good times and my only dread was finding out that we were having liver for supper.
By the time I was 22, I knew who I wanted to marry, was in the process of quitting college, going into debt, and thought that I would be a millionaire by the time I was 30 because I was so smart. Hey, it might take me until 35, but that was the top end. In reality, I was quite ignorant.
If I could go back in time, here are a few items I would tell my 22 year old self.
1. Stay in school. Don’t quit. Sure you’re bored now, but wait until you’re in a dead end job that you can’t stand but you’re afraid to lose. Getting finished with your degree will open up many more opportunities than you realize. I always wanted to go to law school, but without that sheepskin, I didn’t have a chance of even being considered. The lesson learned here is finish what you start by throwing yourself into it fully. Treat your college experience as if it were a job. Arrive on time, do your homework, study, and treat your learning process as if you were at a real job.
2. Money doesn’t spoil, it keeps. Start investing early. How much stuff do you have to show for the money you made in high school and college? If I had invested half of what I made during those years in a plain old, broad based mutual fund, I would have well over $192,000 with no other investments made since then. I’m still kicking myself. Invest early.
3. Don’t buy the first house you look at. Buy the cheapest house in the nicest neighborhood. No, I didn’t actually do this, but it was close. We were so excited to be approved for a mortgage, having just come out of Consumer Credit Counseling Services that we jumped at the first house we found that met our minimum requirements. I still love that house today, but I wish we had gotten a better inspection, had looked into building, or had found a way to buy a house that was closer to work and school. The lesson learned, don’t be desperate with a large purchase.
4. Establish the habit of living within a budget. Could anything be more important to insure you are living below your means? I tried on several occasions but I was never as faithful to this ideal as I should have been. Today, I make a salary high enough that a budget is a “yeah, we really ought to do that” kind of thing. My goal is to get that done. If I could do it over I would get myself in this habit at the earliest possible age. The lesson learned: budgeting is a freeing process, not a limiting one. If I had lived on a budget, I could have circumvented many painful events.
5. Learn how to negotiate a better deal on everything. Having read several books on negotiation just a little too late, I’ve recognized how I was duped by many people, mostly used car sales people. I wrote a review on Secrets of Power Negotiating that you can read here. Learning these skills would have saved me thousands. The lesson learned: prepare by educating yourself and always be willing to walk away.
6. Keep your medical insurance in force at all times. Several years ago, I quit one job and took another that didn’t offer medical insurance until you had been there for 90 days. You guessed it, my wife had to have emergency surgery at 89 days. True story. 89 days. Do you think the insurance company cared? I’ll let you guess. Thankfully, we were at St. Vincent’s Hospital and they had mercy on us. The business manager told me (after looking over my financial situation) that someone paid our bill. I still get choked up thinking about it all these years later. It took us years to pay off the doctor and anesthesia bills, though. If I had just kept my coverage in effect for a little while longer. The obvious lesson: keep that insurance in effect. It is cheaper than the medical bills.
7. It’s quality of time at work, but quantity of time at home that matters. Your boss really doesn’t care whether you have a family or not. Trust me. Unless you work for family members who DO understand that you need to pick the kids up early, or that you DO need to spend some time with your spouse, you are just a replaceable cog in the machine. When people are trying to grow a business, your need for personal time is secondary, so is the quality of your marital and family relationships. Just remember that when you’re old, sitting in a chair at the nursing home with a blanket on your lap and eating mush, you won’t regret that you didn’t get to spend more time at the office. The lesson learned: family will be there after the job is long gone. Value and treasure them.
8. Don’t listen to those who think there is a shortcut to wealth. NEW FLASH: there is no shortcut. Might as well get that out of your 22 year old head right now. Wealth is created when you provide something interesting, unique and valuable to people who demand it. Until then, you will be trading hours for dollars and you’ll always think you’re underpaid. “Find a need and fill it” is the old mantra and it is still quoted because it’s true. In today’s world it should read “Create a need that only you can fill.” Then you’ll be on your way to wealth. The lesson learned: figure out where there are unmet needs and figure out a way to fill those needs.
8a. Stay far, far away from any Multi Level Marketing “business” that requires you to sponsor new distributors. They are all scams. You are not “CEO of your own distribution network”–you are a commission-based salesperson relying on the liquidation of your social capital (i.e. alienating your friends and family) to make any money at all…and 99.5% of people in MLM’s lose money, as has been shown again and again in numerous studies. The only profit you can ever make is by turning what would be called “customers” into “distributors” and then taking the money from the 99.995% that lose money in the organization and giving it to the 0.005% at the top (the people who started the whole “business” in the first place). Stay away!
9. Make sure your spouse’s values line up with your own. This one step can single handedly determine your level of happiness more than just about any other. Scary isn’t it? If everything seems so right, yet he or she thinks credit should be used at will (and you don’t) or thinks that home schooled kids are strange (and you want your children to be home schooled), you are setting yourself up for heartbreak. Work these things out before you say “I do.” They say love is grand . . . and divorce is 50 grand. The lesson learned: talk to your spouse or potential spouse about what is important to you and the values you think should be taught to your children, even if you don’t plan on having children.
10. Learn how to network. Learn to stay in touch with old friends from high school and college. Learn the skill of asking for help without seeming to be asking for help. Watch how others network. Remember it’s not what you know, it’s not even who you know, it’s how you USE what you know and who you know. One step further, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows YOU. Get in the practice of networking without expecting anything in return. Make sure you don’t come across as a brown nosing leech who is always trying to get an angle, but stay in touch with people. You never know who you may be able to help. The lesson learned: stay in touch and make sure you come across as helpful rather than helpless.
11. Never accept a job just because the pay is higher. Life is more than money. There’s a reason they’re offering you more. Yes it may be that you’re the most qualified. It may be that you have the most experience and the most education. It may be that no one can stand to work for that particular department head and a high salary is the only way to fill the position. Always ask where the person who last held the position is working now. Ask to speak with them, but always do it away from the office. People will give you more information outside of the office than inside. Inside the office, they’re committing treason, outside, hey – they’re just chatting with a friend. The lesson learned: Get the full scoop before jumping out of a frying pan into the fire.
12. Trust, but verify. You can’t believe everything you hear, read, or were taught as a kid. You should always check references, ask probing questions, search out answers, and find ways to learn more about what you’re being told. This is a catch all but it is important. The world is full of schemers who are just waiting to take you for a ride. Don’t become cynical, but verify everything you can. The lesson learned: make sure you know who it is you’re dealing with and what their motives may be.
Learn who you are and what motivates you. Learn what motivates your spouse and children. Learn what motivates your friends. Learn what motivates your co-workers, your boss, and your boss’s boss. Never stop learning, never stop growing. By the time you reach 42, kid, you’ll be a millionaire!
What would you tell yourself if you could go back twenty years?