“I wish I knew back then what I know now…” The famous old line lamenting the fact that our lives are so much harder until we learn and figure things out. I want to help you learn to be “50” smart long before you are fifty years old. Don’t laugh, it’ll be here in a blink. There are things you just have to experience to really understand, but there are a few things that if you just knew how to do better, you likely would. I am going to share some of the most obvious ones with you now. Allow me to preface the rest of this by saying that I am 52 now, and have learned much of this the hard way.
Easy on the Alcohol. It is so easy to stay in the party groove just a little longer. It is almost pure habit at this point, right? Friday night rolls around and you are tuned into what is going on tonight and tomorrow night, knowing you’ll be out late partying like a rock star. you think you need to show up at a party or a bar and get lit up to have a good time. You’re wrong. You don’t have to, you just think that you do. Let me break some unsettling news to you: You are not going to have the same set of friends two years from now. You will have a few, but only those who are willing to evolve with you, assuming that you choose to grow and be different than you were in high school or college. If you choose to “stay put”, then you will keep some of those friends. And they will keep you too, and together you will keep each other in place. You will turn into a group of dudes that hang out every weekend, drinking and spending money you shouldn’t on stuff that has zero return to it. You’ll end up in three different fantasy football leagues, tailgating and all the other classic distractions of “typical” adult male life. Not for me thanks, mediocrity was not my target. There are only so many hours in a week, don’t waste a bunch of them stuck in the cycle of partying, recovering and repeating. You don’t have as much time as you think.
Start investing early. This one I am still kicking myself over, and I will never get back the years of compound interest opportunity that I lost. See this chart for how easy it is to set yourself up for future financial success versus waiting until you have money to start saving/investing. Skip the ads, but the info in the article from Forbes.com is solid. Like anything else, investing is a habit. If you set your lifestyle up in a way that automatically pries a couple hundred bucks out of your bank account and invests it in a good investment plan, you won’t miss it. You didn’t have to physically take cash out of your wallet and put it somewhere, and now you feel like it is “missing” or that you need it for some frivolous expense. You set up systems that help ensure you stay on track to be a millionaire by retirement age, DESPITE not having to add any more money into the system after a certain amount of time (depending on when you start). Albert Einstein even stated that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world….don’t miss out.
Your choice of partner is the biggest financial decision you’ll make. This could not be more true; if you end up with someone who is a saver, you may end up following suit. If you don’t, it will be an area of friction throughout your time together. Money is the number one reason for divorce, and misalignment in this area will cause a lot of fights. If both of you are spenders, you may find yourself with lots of toys, many of which you don’t use often enough to justify owning, and yet living paycheck to paycheck. If the two of you can get on the same page, and have a structured plan on getting to where you want to be financially, a lot can be accomplished in a short time. I know, my wife and I dug out of a $70,000 debt hole (all mine) in a two year time frame. We are now debt free other than our house payment; we chose not to pay the house off. We both feel better with that money on hand in case of emergency or job loss versus not having a house payment.
You are expendable at your job. Unless you own the company, you are replaceable. And in my book, that is not reason enough to incur the risks and stress of actually being the owner, but that is another thought for another time. I love the fact that I can clock in on Monday and out on Friday and not think about my job during the off time. I am in sales, so nothing is ever on fire or broken over a holiday or a long weekend. The CEO’s phone might ring, but mine doesn’t, and that is how I want it. But this does mean that I, too, am expendable. It doesn’t matter if I generate almost every single sale our company has, I can be replaced. It would be a difficult period of time if I left or was asked to leave, but the company would survive. And they have that attitude about it as well, so why would I kid myself and think that too much loyalty is going to pay off in the end. Do you know what working really hard and extra hours and all that typically “rewards” you with? A promotion which includes more work and more responsibility for a little more money. Is that how you want to spend you life? If it is, that is totally fine. But if it is not how you envision your life, then don’t get sucked into that trap in the first place. Put money aside as a shield against getting fired or laid off and help yourself through that time with ease instead of it being one of the most stressful times of life.
Live within your means. Sounds easy enough, but this one gets people all the time. It is a trap that many of us, myself included, get sucked into, and that is trying to look rich before we actually are. Many people go broke trying to look rich. We lease cars, we live in big houses with rooms we don’t need or use, we take the kids to Disneyland and put it on the credit card, all in the name of “I want it now, whether I can afford it or not.” This is how I ended up in $70,000 of debt in the first place, guilty as charged. I had a bad relationship with money and it showed. I did debt consolidation loans and everything else wrong too. It took a while to get my money game right, but I did. Don’t wait as long as I did, get your sh*t together ASAP and avoid much of the pain and heartache I went through.
Don’t accept your life, design it. It is easy to go through the motions and just go with the flow of life and take things as they come. So many people end up following the usual pattern of society: Go to high school, go to college, graduate and marry the person you met at college, get a job in the corporate world, have two kids or more, buy a house, all by the age of 30. Then what? Your life is relegated to school plays and soccer games and a family vacation per year. If you truly want this, that is great, have at it. Live your dream. But for some of us, there is more to be had. And if you have a plan for yourself, or at least ambitious goals and dreams, you might want to do one of two things: hold off on the marriage thing for a while OR find someone who wants the same things as you and make those a priority. You need to live your life now, to the fullest extent, before you settle down and get into that groove that society expects. Once you do, the door slams shut on a lot of other things. I heard it all the time, when was I going to quite playing racquetball and get a real job, when was I going to quit serial dating and settle down? Was I ever going to find a real job? Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I have my own agenda. I may not have exactly laid everything out in advance, but I knew that the “traditional path” was not for me. I got close, but luckily I dodged that bullet. I am not obligated to settle down and have kids just so there are grandkids running around the house during the holidays. And besides, my sister went that route, and provided that to the rest of the family. And her life has by no means been an easy one, far from it at times. Is that what everyone wanted for her? Of course not, but sometimes that is how life works out. There are no guarantees, and if you are going to struggle, you might as well struggle at things of your own choosing. Struggling for someone else’s dream is called stress, struggling for your own dreams is call passion. We all get one shot at this life, might as well maximize it as best you can.
Looking back over the course of my life, I am happy to say that I got it right. By that, I don’t mean that I did everything right, but I did things my own way, rarely needed help but was brave enough to ask for it when I did, and I learn and grew and lived a life that most would be envious of to some degree. I didn’t cave to the pressures from those around me, I made my own decisions, and lived with the consequences thereof. Given a choice, I would have been a top 20 Pro Tennis Player versus the same in racquetball, but that wasn’t in the cards. But I can tell you, without a single millisecond of hesitation, these two things:
–I maximized my potential as an athlete
–I am the person I am today because of this journey, including all of the wins and losses and failures and struggles and backtracks.
Looking back, there is really nothing I would do differently. Here is a perfect example: if I had one “do-over” in my professional career, I wish I would have stayed in the industry of Medical Sales. I loved it, it was high pressure and difficult and challenging, all of which I am okay with. The pay would have been good throughout that industry. But if I had, I never would have ended up coaching the ASU Racquetball team for 15 years. That chapter of my life was some of the most personally rewarding times I have ever had. I learned a lot about myself as well how to be a better man during that time. I learned to lead by example, I learned how to be soft at times the situation called for, and rock hard and unbending when necessary. I learned that people can do amazing things if you believe in them and teach the to believe in themselves. It was good practice for learning patience with others, and to not always put myself first, both things I needed to improve upon before I met my wife.
I am very happy with who I have become and where I am headed. I do my best to honor the time I have left, whatever that may be, by serving others and trying to continue to grow into a better version of myself compared to yesterday. I hope someday you can say the same for yourself.