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May 10

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Striking out

From the title of this post, was your first thought that this arti­cle would be about fail­ure, or did you think it would be about adven­ture? My guess would be the former.

We live in a neg­a­tive soci­ety. Peo­ple tend to hate suc­cess it seems, unless they are the suc­cess­ful ones. Let’s tax the rich more, to sup­port the poor (note: no one ever says let’s teach the poor to take care of them­selves, it’s we need to take care of them).

I’ve been in the sce­nario of being poor, and in the even rarer sit­u­a­tion of not being able to take advan­tage of the myr­iad of safety nets our soci­ety has in place, so I was really poor, not just poor on paper, while my bills are being paid kind of poor. To com­pound the prob­lem, I was also injured, so I do know what life is like at that end of the spectrum.

I’ve never lived a stan­dard life. When I got out of school, there were no jobs. Instead of wait­ing for the jobs to appear, I made my own. My fam­ily thought I was nuts, and wouldn’t make it. Peo­ple are sup­posed to get a job, work, save and retire.

When I sold my first house, I took the buyer’s old place in trade for the down­pay­ment and start off my real estate invest­ing. My fam­ily thought I was nuts, and would lose my shirt, or at least suf­fer from bad ten­ants. Rentals are noth­ing but a bad invest­ment, full of night­mare ten­ants, way to risky.

When I bought stocks, I invested in com­pa­nies I liked, under­stood, and that were out of favour with the “experts”. My fam­ily thought I was nuts, and could kiss that money good­bye. If you had to invest in the mar­ket, the only way to do it was to buy a well diver­si­fied port­fo­lio of mutual funds.

Being male, I already suf­fered from being inse­cure when I was grow­ing up. The fact that I never found sup­port for my life deci­sions was very hurt­ful, and still is. The good thing is, I didn’t lis­ten to people.

I’m always amazed at the num­ber of “experts” out there, espe­cially those “fam­ily experts”, who’ve never devi­ated from the path of “go to school, get a job, save money in a well diver­si­fied port­fo­lio of mutual funds, and retire”. These same peo­ple com­plain con­stantly about their crapy job, their lousy returns, and their fears that they’ll never be able to retire because they can’t afford it. Yet they still preach the sae mantra…and attack those who devi­ate from the cho­sen path.

The “stan­dard path to suc­cess” doesn’t work, yet mil­lions fol­low it each day, like lem­mings, or lambs to the slaugh­ter. Fever­ishly attack­ing those who even think of stray­ing… Fear of the unknown empow­ers them.

It’s tough to strike out on your own. I think it’s a human need to have approval of oth­ers, espe­cially fam­ily, but you’ll rarely get it. If you do suc­ceed, it will be dis­counted as luck, maybe some­thing nefar­i­ous, or at least exploitive. Soci­ety will want you to give more back to them, even if it means killing your com­pany (and destroy­ing the jobs you cre­ated in the process).

It’s a lonely path.

There were many times I ques­tioned myself, was I doing the right thing? When I hit the bot­tom (though I didn’t know it was the bot­tom at the time), I wor­ried I’d screwed up not just my life, but that of my fam­ily as well. Should I give up on my plan, which math said would work, sell every­thing, try to find a real job or stay the course I’d set. I knew what fam­ily thought, they were never shy to share their opinions…but they also never under­stood my lifestyle choice, it was alien.

I’ve never been one to heed opin­ion, I value expe­ri­ence. When I was start­ing out, I didn’t know many real real estate investors, but I had many peo­ple with opin­ions on it. If they’d never done it though, their opin­ions were about as valid as my own. I was for­tu­nate to stum­ble across one investor shortly after I got started. He con­firmed that, with proper choices, real estate invest­ing was prof­itable and that most peo­ple were wrong about it.

When I first started invest­ing in the mar­kets, I turned to my mother-in-law, for she had been invest­ing for years, so I thought she was knowl­edgable. Unfor­tu­nately she wasn’t really an investor, she fol­lowed the advice of an advi­sor and bought mutual funds. My first invest­ments fol­lowed her advice. Now, decades later, that orig­i­nal invest­ment is basi­cally at the same level as where I bought it. My mother-in-law is also con­cerned over their retire­ment as the funds have been stag­nant at best over the years, but then they had quite a cush­ion any­way. My indi­vid­ual stock pur­chases how­ever, the ulti­mate taboo in invest­ing if you read any­thing, have gone through the roof in most cases. War­ren Buf­fet doesn’t buy mutual funds, in fact picks indi­vid­ual stocks, but no one seems to men­tion that.

Finally, as to my job, I still run my own com­pany. Most of the crit­ics I had when I started have changed jobs sev­eral times over the years (so much for sta­bil­ity) and still com­plain about how lousy work is. My com­pany has changed focus over the years, it’s evolved as my tastes change. I’m at the point where I can choose my clients, and my projects, and I’ve been at it for decades.

Les­son: Strik­ing out doesn’t mean strik­ing out. Soci­ety will try to con­vince you it does, but then most of soci­ety is too afraid to even try.

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