I turned 31 a couple of weeks ago, meaning I’ve officially completed 30 trips around the sun. I’d like to say those 30 trips were glorious and filled with more life lessons than a decade of manning the patent office with Einstein, but they weren’t. Hell, I probably squandered a whole half dozen of those trips on stupid crap like video games, golf, and learning how to juggle. It took far more hours that I’d care to admit to learn how to throw 3 balls at the same time. Most of my prior experience came with two balls.
NOT WHAT I MEANT, PREVERTS.
Considering how I’m in the 30s now, apparently I have life experience. As my dad is fond of saying, I’ve been there, done that. I don’t have any grey hair yet (at least, I think, but I’m pretty blonde so it wouldn’t show up even if I did), and I’m pretty sure that under my unkept beard there’s still a baby face. I still feel young, but I’ve also done a few things. And, of course, I’ve learned a few life lessons along the way.
So let’s go ahead and condense my 30 years of life experience into little bite-sized quotes you can print out and put on your refrigerator. Because that’s what we do in the internet.
1. Take risks
Do you know what I regret? Although there really isn’t much, the things I do regret usually involve me being too much of a wuss to take advantage of something. If all it takes is asking, then ask. Having someone say no is much easier to deal with than wondering for the rest of your life what the answer would have been. It’s one of my most important life lessons.
2. Make mistakes
10 years ago, I didn’t know squat about investing in the stock market. I was 21, had taken the Canadian Securities Course and thought I knew everything. I made some terrible investments over those first few years, often with very little research. Luckily for my capital’s sake, I also made some good investments in those years. Which brings me to the third item on the list.
3. Get lucky
NO NOT LIKE THAT BUT MAYBE.
Two of the very first investments I made were buying shares in Nortel and General Motors, following my “blindly buy whatever stock is beaten up” rule. Both those companies ended up going bankrupt, as you probably already know. And yet, I made money on both of them. Hell, I doubled my money on General Motors, getting out within a dollar of its peak share price back in 2007. A lot of that was luck, admittedly, but it’s hard to get lucky like that when all your money is earning 1% sitting in
ING’s Tangerine’s pockets.
4. Don’t get greedy
Every time I buy a stock, I set a sell price. Why? Because at the end of the day, a profit isn’t a profit unless you’ve got the money in your pocket. Mr. Market can turn against you very quickly. This isn’t to say you should immediately punt something if it hits the sell target, but at least entertain the thought of taking money off the table.
5. Wealth is awesome
If the stock market cooperated, my year abroad could be accomplished while actually increasing my net worth without having to work a day. I don’t believe I’m at the stage where I can give everyone the finger and not work again, but I can say without a doubt that I sure am glad I exchanged all those hours in the early stage of my life for financial stability now.
6. People… meh
The people I hang out with at 31 are completely different than who I hung with at 21, and I assume I’ll have a new group of friends at 41. At the end of the day, people will come in and out of your life, and it’ll be okay. Just have fun now and have fond memories in the future. You never know who’s gonna stay and who won’t. Besides, you’ll outgrow some of your friends anyway. Don’t be sad, it just happens.
7. Remember your biases
Psychology will hinder you, unless you have a basic understanding of it. Remember two things:
a) We seek information that confirms what we already know
b) We value things more highly because we own them/they happened to us
Remember those two things, and you’ll be better at manipulating yourself than 90% of the population.
8. Say it loud and proud
That sounds a lot like the slogan for some sort of gay pride event, but let’s go with it anyway.
Do you know how much value somebody who just agrees with the consensus contributes? It’s pretty close to zero. It doesn’t matter the platform, well thought out contrarian opinions are worth far more than someone who acts like the Borg, just waiting to be assimilated. It’s not always easy to go against the crowd, but, again, the important things never are.
9. What I just said
The important things are never easy. Just about every overnight success has toiled for years in relative obscurity.
10. Learn patience
Remember how I said things weren’t easy? We’ve been conditioned to think they are. Which leads to a whole generation of university grads a year or two out of school wondering where their perfect life is. It’ll come, but not after a couple decades of really hard work. Or, from my experience, a decade of working hard and saving my ass off.
11. Balance comes at a price
How many times have you read advice about investing or paying off debt that says you’ve got to be balanced? Be balanced all you want, but remember — it comes at a price. For every beer you drink while out with your friends, that’s a few more dollars that have to be earned to be financially free. A lot of us spend too much on the comforts of today, get in debt, have an awakening, and then preach balance when paying it off. Not the ideal solution, in my view. Let balance be for the person who didn’t screw up in the first place.
12. Try things
10 years ago I was just a guy working at a store. A few years later, I was a terrible mortgage broker and equally bad real estate agent (one of the reasons why this blog was initially anonymous). Sometimes the new things you try will work out, and sometimes they won’t. But you never know unless you try it.
13. Invest early and often
Investing doesn’t have to be with money. You can work at mastering a skill, or go to school, providing the subject matter is marketable. You can even go work for free somewhere, although that rarely works out. We waste so much time that could be put to better use.
14. Alcohol is a waste
And topping the waste of time list? Partying. You’re living a delusional life if you think that any experience that needs alcohol as a lubricant is somehow more interesting or fun than time spent sober. Most people figure this one out on their own by the time they hit 30, but we all have that pathetic friend that still hasn’t grown up. Don’t be that friend.
15. Embrace your faults
For some reason, it’s a taboo to admit you’re anything less than a perfectly rounded person. It’s okay to have faults. If you’re the best musician in the world, do you really think anyone gives a crap that you aren’t very good at doing your taxes? (Well, besides the government?) If you make your strengths truly shine, the weaknesses will be forgiven.
16. Learn humility
In the 3+ years as a chip guy, I had countless conversations with front line retail employees about various work problems they were experiencing. Without exception, each problem was someone else’s fault. As we know, the truth isn’t quite so black and white. Once in a while, your biggest problem will end up being you. Entertain the thought of that once in a while.
17. The comment section sucks
I constantly get sucked into this. Do you know how much time I’ve spent reading the dumbest crap on Reddit? Too much. 15 minutes is too much. For every gem in a comment section, there’s a whole lot of crap. There’s an argument that life is all about wading through crap to find a gem, but the internet isn’t the place to do it.
18. Internet activism
Which brings me to the other form of wasting time on the internet — activism. Your #yesallwomen or #freeourgirls tweets? They’re pretty much useless. So is filling up comment sections with your thoughts on guns, or pro-choice rights, or the cause du jour, LBGT rights. But we feel good when we support the latest social issue. That’s fine, but realize that comments on a website are literally the least you could do. Aim higher if you’re really passionate about something.
19. Learn from everyone
Even the crazy guy that nobody likes has wisdom about something. Sam Walton, the guy who founded Walmart and grew it into the behemoth that it is today, was famous for going into other stores and stealing their ideas. You don’t have a monopoly of good ideas, so steal away. Hell, I’m the 1,380,839th guy to do this exact same format of blog post.
Having mentors is an important life lessons, but realizing that your mentors have faults is far more important. Success is like history — it doesn’t quite repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Don’t just blindly follow your mentor and make the same mistakes they did. Copy the good parts, and discard the bad. And realize that if you don’t outgrow your mentor, you’re not doing things right.
21. Experiences vs. stuff
The internet in general spends a lot of time favoring experiences over stuff, with very little emphasis on something really important. At the end of the day, if money is exchanged for trips or if it’s exchanged for things, it’s still gone. If you’re going to spend it, do it responsibly on what makes you happy.
22. School is a poor predictor of success
There were certain times as a 19 or 20-year old where I felt pretty inadequate. All my friends were off in university earning degrees, and I was stuck working night shift at a grocery store. These days? Some are doing well, others…not so much. I came to realize that simply going to university was a pretty poor predictor of success. It’s the other attributes that matter, not the amount of time you spend in a classroom. It is very possible to get a valuable education without stepping foot on a campus, and no, I’m not talking about taking courses online.
23. Be ambitious towards accomplishments, not things
Too often we gauge success on where someone lives, or the clothes they wear, or what they drive. After a while, I came to realize that these were pretty pointless things to be jealous about. Instead, focus on what someone has accomplished, and use it for motivation. When that other salesman in the office is so successful that he drives a luxury car, don’t be envious of the car. Motivate yourself to beat his sales record.
24. Don’t be afraid to quit
I was a poor mortgage broker for 3 years before I hung up my proverbial skates. I should have realized it after a year. I just didn’t have what it took, no matter how much I tried to will myself into it. I used to procrastinate doing simple tasks for hours because I hated asking people for their business. Either become effective at your profession or don’t do it.
25. Opportunities are everywhere
Once, while golfing, I was faced with a difficult chip shot. My friend came over and told me as much. I looked at it, and decided it wasn’t that tough. I swung, and put the ball within two feet of the cup. I’m fully convinced my confidence allowed me to make that shot.
You have the choice to look at the world in two ways — you can believe everything is stacked against you, or you can choose to believe that there are opportunities everywhere. If you choose the latter option, there will come a point where you’ll have to turn down opportunities because you don’t have the time to pursue them all.
26. You’ll bounce back
After finally quitting my real estate agent/mortgage broker career, I was the weekend chip guy for Frito-Lay. I was working with someone who I grew to hate. I was making less than $30k a year. I spent every weekend lugging chips when I would have been much happier hanging out with my friends.
18 months later, I was running one of the biggest routes in the province, making six figures a year, and impressing management to the point where promotions were discussed. A certain plagiarizing blogger once made fun of my profession, which made me laugh because I was 100% sure I made more money than he did and 1000% sure I had a higher net worth.
If you work hard and are patient, success will come. Sometimes though, you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.
27. On being busy
I’ve touched on this before, so I’ll be brief. Being busy is great, providing you’re doing something of value. Often, the things we think are important are anything but. Leave some leisure time for yourself.
28. Realize you’ll always have bosses
I think if you have the desire to do so, you should start a business. It teaches you all sorts of lessons about things that are important. But most importantly, it’ll teach you whether you’re any good at running a business. Because a lot of you won’t be.
The wrong reason for wanting to start a business is because you don’t want a boss anymore. You’ll always have a boss. If you’re a freelancer or even if you cut grass for a living, your customers will be your boss. And spoiler alert: sometimes they’ll be unreasonable too.
29. Realize the other party’s motivation
Whenever you enter into a transaction for anything, look at the other party’s motivation for doing it. If something seems too good to be true, then maybe it is. And once you figure out how to identify when the other party of a transaction is desperate to sell something, you’ll end up profiting. Don’t ever buy something when the seller is just testing out the market.
30. Don’t stress it
Before I dropped off Vanessa at the airport to go to Korea, we stopped in for dinner. I ordered a nice hamburger, which according to the menu, came with toppings I like. It showed up and there was mayo slapped on BOTH BUNS. It was a travesty.
I immediately got upset. I tend to internalize things when I get mad, so my mind started racing. I was at this nice meal with my girlfriend and I was expected to eat a burger with g.d. mayo on it? I’m gonna get charged $14 for this? Why doesn’t the menu list the stuff on the burger? You’d think people would be interested in that stuff.
And then I shrugged, and realized it wasn’t a big deal. I asked the waitress for a new bun, and transferred my burger over to it. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but I actively made the decision to not be mad about it. Remember that when you get mad about something that doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.
That was more words than I expected.
I’ll end with this. There are things I’m better at as a 31-year old than a 20-year old. I’m an infinitely better investor. I’m more patient, mature (really!), and tolerant. 20-year old Nelson had just read Atlas Shrugged and had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was a relatively smart guy, who worked hard and was well on his way to building a nice financial foundation.
And then he grew up, mellowed out a lot, and realized the world was a lot more complex than what Ayn Rand said. I made money on good investments and lost it on terrible ideas, like that time I thought I was going to rent out space at the farmer’s market to sell things you could only buy online to old people without the internet. Or that other time I thought I’d lend money to co-workers and charge slightly less than payday loan rates.
But the important thing is I continued to learn. I picked up a few life lessons along the way. Almost every day I crack open my laptop and dish out advice on all sorts of things, focusing on finance. The more I give out advice, the more I realize it’s important to continue learning and expanding my knowledge. The most important life lesson I know? That’s simple. I can sum it up in a math equation.
Hard work + intelligence + time = success
I know smart people who cruise through life, who do okay. I know people who are dumb who work hard who do okay too. But when you combine both? You’ll almost always end up being successful. If you’re not, either you aren’t as smart or hard working as you think, or you just need to learn patience. The more time you spend on something, the easier it gets. Once you embrace all three variables, success will inevitably happen. And when you’re missing all of them? Yikes. We all know those people.
But the best part? It’s not very crowded at the top. I’ll meet you guys there.