Mar 272012
 

The world is full of wishful dreamers. They dream of their first book, their first product, their first business, their first million, their tenth million.

Within this vast multitude of dreamers are a minority of people who are both optimistic and action-oriented. These two qualities, more than any others, ignite the engine of achievement. Starting something is far easier to do than finishing a project with gusto. I’ve personally have plenty of experience at starting without finishing. I have outlined nearly a dozen great book ideas but only finished two. I’ve wasted dozens of business ideas without getting nearly all of them to first base, watching others create successful enterprises that I had imagined years earlier. We tend to regret what we did not do, what we did not finish. Finishing is priceless.

Our society rewards those select few who create something real, not just dream about it on a bar napkin. This one of the most  famous bar napkins of all time because it became real.

If you want to succeed more, start less projects — a lot less — but finish everything that you start. Nike made “Just Do It” famous, but I personally like “Just Finish It” better.

“We rate ability in men by what they finish, not by what they attempt”

Before you turn over a new leaf, forgive yourself and forget the past. All of us have started a lot of things that we did not finish in our past. Don’t regret. Learn and move on. Yesterday doesn’t matter. You must believe that you can and will become a finisher. Decide that you are a finisher. When you look in the mirror, you must see a finisher. If you can forgive yourself, you have seen the light.

You must become highly selective. Evaluate every idea and decide against nearly all of them. There are always many more worthy projects than a person can tackle. Opportunities are everywhere.

Less is truly more. The trick is not to start more projects. Don’t multi-task when you are chasing your dream — multi-tasking is over-rated while focusing is under-appreciated.  Refuse to procrastinate — procrastination makes simple tasks much more difficult.  Choose where you will invest your best time carefully — there are only a few hours of high-quality, sharp-mental-state time in each of our days. Get obsessed about finishing whatever you started like your life depends on it.

Plan to overcome. Count on every project requiring more time and effort than you imagined. Then there is pesky Murphy and his unescapable law: whatever can go wrong usually does, in fact, go wrong. You have to plan for things to be difficult. You have to decide to adapt, persist, and overcome. You have to anticipate that you will lose momentum but you must not stop until you finish. Become relentless.

If you have not been finishing in recent years, the trick is to start small. Pick small baby step milestones. Write them down and review them daily. Keep your promises to yourself. Be flexible. Setbacks are not failures but lessons along the road to final success. Your momentum will grow. Pretty soon, your bar napkin might turn one of the most profitable airlines in the world.

Don’t be one of the dreamers… the many who spend their life starting without finishing. Successful people get the job done after the excitement and the novelty have worn off. They get the job done when it is no longer fun. They get the job done when they run into roadblocks. They don’t use excuses. They don’t give up.

A few posts back, I mentioned that the gates of opportunity are often overlooked because three fierce guard dogs scare people away. Those guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. Perseverance is not easy. You will have to sacrifice to finish projects. You will have to put off things that you want. You will miss events that you will wish to attend. You will have to choose to work long hours and burn the midnight oil to finish what you start. Success only comes before work in the dictionary.

Optimism is the secret ingredient. It is optimism that sparks the successful, the extra energy that helps people get over the hump, even when it looks too difficult to see it through.

Believe in yourself, believe in your ideas, start less, always err to the side of action, always finish what you start, follow the commandments of financial success, and you will be rewarded with an awesome life.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Here is a great quote from one of the authors of the bar napkin above. Herb is one of the most optimistic, action-first, business leaders that I have ever met:

e

Mar 252012
 

There is so much debate today about taxes — the question always framed as “who should the government tax” for more Benjis — so that the government can reap more money that it can subsequently spend it on all kinds of “worthy” things.  This is the wrong question.

The imbalance is unsustainable and taxes are not the answer. Here is the math in easy to understand terms:

For every $100 Ben Franklin that the United States government spends today, $60 comes from taxing hard-working Americans and American companies and $40 is borrowed.

Imagine that your 25 year-old daughter is gainfully employed at Bank of America and bringing home $60,000 a year. So far so good. But she is borrowing $40,000 a year and spending every penny of it, living in a swanky high-rise condo near the fun downtown district, taking lots of beach vacations, and driving around town in a new Porsche convertible. This year, she runs out of commercial lenders that will loan her the money, so she comes to you to borrow the $40 grand to keep her life rolling. What would you say? How long will her spendy lifestyle last?

In Washington, our Representatives are arguing about how to increase the income side of the ledger. Given the 60/40 reality, taxes would have to double so that we could meet this budget and start paying back the trillions already blown.

The answer is obvious: Spend a heck of a lot less. 40% less would be a great. Period.

Quit playing stupid games with raising taxes. More and more taxes sinks a country. There are always unintended consequences. Here is a good article that shines the flashlight on the unintended consequences of poorly thought-out taxation. Let Americans decide where they want to spend and invest their Benjis. More taxes simply means that the government decides where your money gets spent.

Even at $14,000,000,000,000 (wow!), our debt is still manageable because we have a big, successful country.  Lots of people have mortgages several times larger than their annual income. Our debt today is about equal to our annual GDP which isn’t great but isn’t the end of the fiscal world either. But it is high time to curtail the growth in the debt.

If our government spends a lot less, our kids will have a brighter future. I am optimistic that it will happen, because common sense says that the current 60/40 scenario is unsustainable.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> By the way, do you ever wonder who we owe all the money to? Our representatives and the media like to yell “the Chinese” at the top of their lungs, because they know it will get a rise from the citizens. Just in case you are interested in facts over political spin, see a clearer picture below:

Who we owe doesn’t change the fact that government must spend a lot less per year.

Mar 222012
 

If you read any paper or magazine, few writers find anything good about the United States economy and its financial system. The election year has every candidate saying that this car wreck of a country has to be fixed.

But is America really a car wreck?

Yes, we endured a scary, stormy night. The United States financial system had dark days a few years ago, and we survived the difficult test. Today, banks and corporations have greatly reduced their risk exposure to derivatives while adding lots of cash to their balance sheets. They are much better prepared for another stormy night. America is capitalism and capitalism adapted and is moving forward.

What’s the state of our best corporations?

Strong companies make for a strong America, lest the Occupy people forget. Corporate earnings are solid and growing. Price / Earnings ratios are very low by historical standards. Yes, stock prices are up, but generally not because stocks have gotten more expensive as measured by P/E multiple expansion. Prices are up because business is solid. Prices are up because markets tend to predict the future.

The government is still a mess, but that’s not new news.

There are numerous challenges and our elected representatives seem unwilling to make any tough calls, choosing to procrastinate and defer all decisions time and again. No elected official wants to  fix the country if it means losing the votes of some constituents. The burgeoning deficit is a top topic and the politicians are all falling over each other with ideas to tax our way out of the hole. Higher and higher taxation doesn’t work. Few are willing to admit that the government simply spends way way too much and borrows $4 of every $10 that it spends. The budget “Supercommittee” is the poster child of everything that ails Washington D.C.

A friend of mine who is nearing retirement (not that I personally believe in retirement — my must-read post on that subject is here) approached me to discuss “where to invest” after he read numerous articles tearing down the prospects for the U.S. stock market. The market has been on a great run since the financial subprime uglies of late 2008 and all the pessimists are scratching their heads.

After thinking about it for several weeks, I have come to the one logical conclusion: right now, the U.S. stock market is the single best place on Earth to invest one’s money.  That is why the market is going up. I am comfortable that it should continue to outperform other investments for this decade to come.

To understand my optimism, you must first take a global view of rich individuals and organizations. There are many trillions of dollars in many countries around the world that must be invested if the capital is to be preserved. Wealthy individuals hire plenty of investment professionals to help them invest these trillions, so these funds know no borders.

Imagine that you are an investment manager with $20 B to invest, residing in oil producing Saudi Arabia. Where would you put the funds? Lets compare the countries that are viable options.

Invest in China? Well, China is looking to stave off a housing collapse. The economy is slowing. The Chinese stock market does not have a stellar record over the last few decades. Chinese companies do not do a good job reporting factual numbers. Government oversight is lacking and there is favoritism. The government is communist. No, investing the money in China is too much like gambling.

Invest in Japan? No, Japan has been struggling for decades and on life support. There is little reason to believe that a sustainable decade of investment growth is about to start.

Invest in Europe? Europe is in worse shape than the U.S.  The hangover from Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Ireland is not likely to go away soon, even though Germany is flourishing. But Germany is tied to the common currency and they must keep it that way, as it favors their export-centric economy.

What about Great Britain? England is outside the Eurozone currency-wise, but its economy is just not growing at all. No, not there.

Invest in emerging markets? Well, Russia has corruption and the Kremlin to run off investors. If there is a place where you face the risk of investment confiscation, Russia is the place. Brazil has a lot of people, but now faces slowdown issues. They are just starting to cut rates so an instant turnaround is not in the cards.  India?  India has inflation problems and government controls up the wazoo. Australia? Australia is rich in natural resources, but it heavily linked to China and its current slowdown issue.

Compared to the rest, the United States has a stable government, low inflation, an economy that is improving, a housing crisis that is unwinding, corporate balance sheets that are strengthened, and better transparency and oversight than everywhere else.

The USA is the best choice, given the alternatives. Nothing else comes close.

Here is the U.S., the choice then comes down to stocks vs. bonds vs. cash. Keeping the money in cash is a fools game unless everything else melts down, and even then, cash is not a for sure winner. Bonds are paying so little that it makes the next decision simple. Real estate is now very affordable but not liquid or flexible — you have to have time and patience. U.S. Equities win. This is why the U.S. stock market continues to climb. If you have serious money to invest, you are far more likely to invest in America than any of the other usual suspects until conditions change dramatically. It is not that we don’t have issues, but that the alternatives are far worse, and our companies are definitely performing well.

Don’t listen to the pessimism of the writers. They are missing the big picture story. Few writers are good investors anyway. Buy good companies with low P/E’s and excellent growth prospects and strong competitive advantage / barriers of entry to competitors. Times are much better than Main Street believes.

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 132012
 
Poker Hand_7

When it comes to income and our job, we all get dealt a hand at the poker table of capitalism. If you have ever played poker for more than a couple of hours, you quickly realize that hitting a straight flush is an exceedingly rare event in real life — 64,973:1 when dealt five cards — although James Bond makes it look quite a bit easier than that in Casino Royale. The same odds hold true in receiving super-high-income wages.

Every time you change jobs or get a significant promotion, the income producing “poker hand” that you are dealt changes. But for most, you wind up playing less than 10 or 15 hands during your career, and the hand you hold is one of employee. Make no mistake: capitalism is the best economic system on the planet, but the capitalism game is slanted to reward the business owner over the employee. Employee earnings are bound by supply and demand of people with similar capabilities and experience, not by the economic value they directly produce for the company. Risks are higher for the owners but rewards are better too, for they are tied to economic success of the enterprise.

Because of the employee dynamic, unless you received smart advice while growing up, heeded that advice, played the game well, and got a bit lucky too, your hand looks something like this:

Employment is designed to keep a person content but not independent. Jobs usually require so much of a person’s week that barely enough time remains for family and rest. This balance ensures that the employee stays loyal to the employer, in essence putting all their eggs in one basket. Few people diversify their sources of income. When a job is lost, the only logical choice is to find another job as soon as possible or face financial ruin. Most people are like hamsters on a wheel, going nowhere fast and never escaping the gilded cage.

One must improve their poker hand and not just sit on the 5 cards dealt. Everyone I know would prefer to have multiple sources of income but only the optimistic, decisive few actually improve their odds. Most people have a pair of fours and stay pat. Wishful thinking does not result in a new stream of income.

There are multiple ways to escape the hamster wheel of employment. You have to start making money on the side. You have to actively draw new cards to try to improve your income producing poker hand.

The most common and reliable way is to save and invest. When your savings starts paying back dividends or gains, this passive income is truly a blessing, especially when measured against the limited hours one invests to earn the windfall. Savings and investments take time to compound, so the earlier you start, the more likely investment income becomes a substantial piece of your financial pie. Every teenager should be required to read this book: The Richest Man in Babylon. If the simple lessons sink in, your teen will be better off for the rest of his or her life. If you have not read it, consider doing so: It is short, simple to read, and easy to understand.

Another way to improve your hand is to find a new job with higher potential. You have to seek if you wish to find. In practice, people do not change jobs often. Surveys find that the single most frequent reason a person changes jobs is because they seriously dislike someone they must work with on a daily basis, rather than to enhance their income. Yet in truth, the compounded effects of climbing the income ladder faster are incredible when you look at a 40+ work year career.

Your chances of becoming the Millionaire Next Door are not very good if you have a pair-of-fours job and don’t do anything about it! One of the more interesting facts from Dr. Stanley’s extensive surveys of American millionaires is the relationship between self-employment and financial success: “self-employed people make up less than 20 percent of the workers in America but account for two-thirds of the millionaires. Also, three out of four of us who are self-employed consider ourselves to be entrepreneurs. Most of the others are self-employed professionals, such as doctors and accountants.” This clearly shows that the capitalistic system does not favor the “normal” employee. (this link above is a summary and well worth the 5 minute read – one can’t help but be optimistic when you realize that 81% of millionaires in America inherited no money!)

The logical conclusion is that most of us should have a goal of starting an income on the side in addition to our primary job and income we receive from investments. This is not an easy endeavor but it is well worth it. The first step is to become a professional at time management. Using your time well, balanced across your primary job, your family, and your secondary income stream ideas is required. A person who becomes great at time management can often get their primary work done in less than 40 hours per week. It requires great discipline to change gears and reserve quality hours for your secondary ambitions.

What can you do to earn more income?

Buy low, add a bit of value, sell high is a proven formula as old as the sands of the Sahara. Explore the multitude of manufacturers peddling their products on Alibaba — if its made in China, you can find it on Alibaba, buy it, and get it here with more than a 60% profit margin at U.S. price points. Selling it becomes the trick.

Another proven idea is to own rental properties that turn a profit. This works especially well if you have good knowledge of real estate values, skills at fixing up houses, and a decent credit rating. Right now, mortgage rates are very low while demand for rentals remains high.

Creating things from scratch that then sell for good profit is much harder, but the strategy works for many as well. When you create something that becomes a successful brand, the payoff is usually handsome. Be careful to not try to make a new market where nothing exists. It is exceedingly risky to create demand.

We have a service economy so there are a multitude of ideas in the services front, although services usually don’t scale well unless you hire employees, because the primary input is often time, the one precious resource that you are trying to juggle across your primary job and family. Spot a great idea that is working in big-metro neighborhoods and bring them to other neighborhoods. As with all business, the idea doesn’t have to be brilliantly new, just well done.

The long-term tortoise-beats-the-hare goal is to improve your poker hand, year in and year out. In fact, you would like to have five or more sources for income, making you bulletproof against any one venture going south. When you have five sources, your optimism, freedom, and security will reach extraordinary levels. This gives you the ability to pursue an endeavor that you desire. Isn’t this the definition of “Be All you Can Be”?

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 112012
 

Here is a fact of life that is obvious, but it seems that few remember it: No one gets rich following the herd.

Don’t let the opinions of the average man sway you. Dream, and he thinks you’re crazy. Succeed, and he thinks you’re lucky. Acquire wealth, and he thinks you’re greedy. Pay no attention. He simply doesn’t understand.

Robert G. Allen

Mar 062012
 

The pursuit of Happiness sounds simple, but I think most people don’t have it framed correctly in their heads. The mistake was seeded at the time of America’s founding, when “pursuit of Happiness” appeared as a God-given unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence. I don’t think that it is a pursuit.

The basic flowchart many people believe looks like this:

This flowchart is wrong.

I believe happiness is a state-of-mind that comes from forward-looking optimism and being thankful for everything that you already have and enjoy. Both happiness and optimism are available to you today and during every step of your life’s journey.

Happiness is not a destination.

Happiness is an enabler during each step of the flowchart scribbled above. Happiness helps a person:
(1) do the hard work,
(2) overcome the tough challenges,
(3) succeed at the endeavors,
(4) ultimately enjoy financial windfalls,
(5) among other, often more important, things.
Happiness does not come sequentially from success or money.

Shawn Achor agrees with me. His truly excellent presentation is my nominee for Best Video that Can Change Your Perspective for 2012. Please watch it now — its just twelve minutes long — and let’s see if he can convince you that happiness is a choice and happiness leads to greater success. Shawn is the winner of numerous distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in one of the most popular classes offered at Harvard.

I’m not alone 🙂

Do you want to be above average? Start by being above average happy. Below was Shawn’s action steps for how to start today.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Mar 042012
 

Dreams are so very important. Dreams of a better future can create that future. There is nothing more powerful than the human imagination when combined with the extraordinary power to communicate and the amazing ability to inspire dreams in others. A dream well-conceived, well-timed, and well-communicated transcends one man’s life and can carry on for many generations to come.

Do you have a dream for your family and the future of your grand kids and great grand kids? You might want to plant those seeds with your kids now, so that there is time for the seeds to sprout and get watered while you have unlimited energy.

 

The words below are well worth reading once each year. Not only is the dream right for America, and right for the world, it illuminates how powerful a dream can be. It shows why you must communicate your dreams. The potential of dreaming is extraordinary.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Anything that you can envision is possible.

I.M. Optimism Man