Why I Don’t Want to Be a “Millionaire”

A friend of mine posted a status on Facebook this last week that taught me something. It probably wasn’t what they intended to teach, but hey, learning works like that. It went something like this, “I want to be what God wants me to be. That may never be a millionaire.”

My first reaction was a bit of irritation. See, the term “millionaire” carries a lot of cultural baggage with it. There are preconceptions of a lifestyle, mostly dead wrong by the way, that comes attached with the term. There are a lot of attitudes assigned with the term, mostly dead wrong by the way, that aren’t exactly what most noble people desire to emulate. There are a lot of assumptions about how to become a millionaire, mostly dead wrong by the way, that make people not want to pursue wealth because it’s assumed to require greed or manipulation. Our society has so much misconception about what “millionaires” are really like that they’re scared of success. And that’s not a good thing.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized: I don’t care about being a millionaire either.

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I can say with a high degree of certainty that I eventually will be. Probably many times over. But it’s not the title or the association that I’m after. “Travis Lane, Millionaire” in itself means nothing to me.

What does mean something to me is the peace that I will gain knowing that I have set up my family’s financial future.

What does mean something to me is what that money will represent — the financial fulfillment of my responsibility as a husband and future father.

What does mean a lot to me is that I’m almost positive my wife and I have never had an argument about money, and that certainly won’t be likely to happen if our security continues to increase in the future.

What does mean a lot to me is that I can give, and will be able to give even more in the future along with my increased worth. Although I’ve occasionally been hesitant about my giving (and it’s okay to be — if you don’t feel like it’s sometimes a sacrifice, it’s probably not worthwhile), I’ve always been blessed enough to give, and I’ll certainly continue to give as the blessing increases.

See, it’s not about being “a millionaire.” It’s not about driving nice cars or owning expensive watches, although those things certainly aren’t bad side effects. It’s about peace. It’s about security. It’s about responsibility. If those things are your goal and you treat your money wisely over long periods of time, you’ll likely attain a seven figure net worth by accident.

Don’t focus on your net worth. Focus on what financial security means for you and your family. The money will follow.

How to Get Great Customer Service

The late great Zig Ziglar made it a habit to greet people with a friendly “Good morning!” no matter what time of day it was.

Why? 90% of the time, he said, he got “Good morning” right back. This little trick reminded him of one important truth: what you send out is what you’ll receive back.

I had a great example of this principle just this week. I’m refinancing my mortgage and had some inconvenience (yes, I still have a mortgage — don’t worry though, I’m working on it with more intensity than the Jersey Shore cast works on their tans).

If you haven’t read a news article about housing in the last 20 years, you might not know this, but lots of folks aren’t exactly pleased with the mortgage industry or the service they receive from mortgagors. You can find images all over the internet of flowcharts regarding the ownership of an individual’s mortgage. Large banks are not typically known for their stellar customer service anyway, and the heat gets turned up quite a bit when it’s a person’s biggest expense that’s on the table. So when I say I “had some inconvenience,” that could be a precursor to a lengthy tale of misery and torment.

So what happened to me? When my wife and I got married, we purchased a house, mortgaged through MetLife. We were very conservative since it was a big commitment and we were just settling into post-college working life, so we got a 30 year term. We’re more comfortable with our finances now (thank you, budgeting) and mortgage rates are ridiculously low, so we decided to refinance to a 15 year term at a much lower rate.

Well, during the refinance process, MetLife decided to stop servicing mortgages, so all existing mortgages were sold to Chase (ugh). This means not only do I have to deal with the details of refinancing, I also have to track down new mortgage information from Chase just so it can be closed. If only MetLife had waited another month, this would have been a whole lot easier. Poor me!

And yet, you know what it took in the end to resolve the situation? Two phone calls, about 5 minutes long each. I called Chase with my previous mortgage information, got my new mortgage number, asked a few clarification questions, then called my new broker and relayed the information. On both ends, I got fast, effective customer service. Why do you suppose that is?

I’ll tell you, thanks for asking. First, instead of getting emotional about the inconvenience, I just did what needed to be done. Sure, I could’ve been upset about the situation. I could have complained to any party involved about just how put out I’ve been. But what does that accomplish? Nothing. It just makes it harder to do what I would have had to do anyway. Second, I was nice to the people I talked to, and they were friendly and helpful right back. Common sense, right? The Golden Rule? And yet you’d be surprised at how livid people can get at how bad their life is and how the world owes them a favor.2013-03-06_Customer_Service_Representative

Trust me, I know all about this. I was a customer service representative for over a year (although I don’t look quite as stunning as the dude in that picture). I talked to 1,000 people a day for a year. I know better than most that the way you approach a service interaction majorly affects the service you’ll receive. I also learned how to diffuse anger and keep people calm. It’s a powerful skill on both sides of the equation. I don’t think I’ve had a bad customer service experience in the last 5 years. I’ve even gotten compliments from representatives about how easy I am to deal with. Compliments from customer service representatives. Who knew they were people too?

The point is, you know how to treat people well, so just freaking do it. When we get overly emotional or personally offended about little things, we forget the most basic rules of courtesy and decent communication. Give kindness to get kindness. Give service to get service. It’s as simple as that.

Hurts So Good

Today’s post is brought to you by Boundaries, the book I started this week and that you’re therefore stuck with for the next several posts. Enjoy, and welcome to November!

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Have you ever been hurt?

Your answer to that is without a doubt “Yes,” but there are many different ways of taking it. Someone may say yes — I broke my arm when I was 10. Somebody else might say yes — my partner was unfaithful. Hurt runs the gamut from minor to major, from physical to emotional, from harmful to beneficial.

…wait. What?

Have you ever dislocated a joint? Your arm is a-floppin’ around out of socket, can’t do anything, and is in immense pain. Then they set it. I’ve never experienced this, but I take it from action movies that it’s about the most grueling pain ever. Sylvester Stallone can probably shrug it off but most of the rest of us can’t.

How about dental work? When the dentist has to drill out that cavity, it sure hurts. Of course, the purpose is to prevent your tooth from rotting out and causing the Black Plague epidemic in your mouth. On the flip side, did the candy that caused the cavity hurt when you ate it? Nope, it felt pretty good, didn’t it? But it sure wasn’t what you actually needed.

Now, have you ever been told your attitude was poor? Maybe you’ve been told that the way you’re handling something in your life is immature or self-destructive.

When dealing with our own hurts as well as with our ability to inflict hurt upon others, we need to separate temporary hurt for the eventual good from hurt for the sake of hurt. In other words, we need to separate hurt from harm. Hurt is a fleeting feeling, something short-lived and ephemeral. Harm is a long-term consequence that can change your life.

When you’re feeling hurt, especially when it’s an emotional or relational hurt inflicted by a friend or loved person, you should investigate whether the hurt was meant in love, for your eventual benefit, or for your harm. If someone is willing to put the truth on the table, they’re willing to sacrifice your opinion of them in the moment for your benefit later on. That’s a mature action. That’s a true friend. Listen to them. If someone hurt you with the sole intention to harm, then they’re petty and childish, and shouldn’t have any control over your emotions or your future. Ignore them. Develop the personal maturity to recognize the difference.

Sometimes being told that something is your fault helps to remind you that you’re in control. Maybe you screwed up. That’s okay, if you had the power to get here, you have the power to get out.

A good friend in high school once grabbed me by the collar, threw me against a wall, and told me he loved me, but my attitude lately had sucked. What were my options in that moment? I could fight back… who was he to tell me off? Or I could ignore him… who cares what he thinks? But this was a trusted friend, and I knew he had my best interests in mind. In light of that truth, I had no option but to investigate my attitude. He was right. It sucked. And he was willing to risk hurting me and our connection in order to benefit my future. These are the kinds of people we need to associate with. Luckily I got to return the favor to him (and probably back and forth several times over the course of our friendship). Having accountability with your friends, coworkers, and romantic partners is key in good relationships and in developing yourself.

So, when dealing with friends, peers, people in general, whether you’re the hurtee or the hurter, remember to be aware of the difference between hurt and harm. It might not happen exactly in the moment of conflict, right when the doctor pops your arm back in socket or drills your cavity, but remember that sometimes hurt can hurt so good.

Why I Like the Minority

I have a good friend who likes to haul out this line every now and then: think of how stupid the average person is, then realize that half of all people are stupider than that.

Clearly this is a bit tongue-in-cheek (and technically it should be median instead of average), but it serves as a good platform to talk about something that I have to mention every now and then: being weird.

I love being weird. Average people are broke. We’re getting closer and closer to a majority of people in the US being clinically overweight — average people are unhealthy. Average people are scared of the uncertain future because they don’t have a plan to be proactive about it. Average people don’t think critically, because in the majority opinion or way of thinking, you’re rarely challenged. It’s easy to be average, and harder to be weird. But it’s not very rewarding to be average.

In many ways, my desire to be weird spills over into other areas of my life, often symbiotically as in politics, where I would rather be run over by a bus than labeled as either of the major parties in this country, but sometimes in awkward ways like technology. I own and operate a BlackBerry phone and love being on the fringe and watching the development of BlackBerry 10. It’s a little fun to be different and root for the underdog. This philosophy probably drove some of my utter and complete distaste for the Occupy Wall Street movement. “We are the 99%,” and you’re proud of that? “We’re broke and angry about life and there are more of us than you!” Compelling argument. Or not.

Even if you don’t convert to BlackBerry, you definitely should adopt the “Be Weird” philosophy in certain areas of your life. It’s true that most people don’t have a plan for their health, their finances, their career, their friendships and relationships, and all the other stuff I talk about. Break free from normal. If you need help crafting that plan specially for you, that’s what I’m here for.

Give it a try this week. Divorce yourself from conventional and normal. Look for ways to be better than normal, stronger than average, smarter than the median person.

Be weird.

Causality and Contrarianism

Catchy title eh? This week’s discussion is a bit philosophical in nature, but basically, the point I want to make is to not do normal things if you do not want normal results.

Simple concept right? To understand, yes, but to live according to, less so. Mob mentality is a form of survival, and it’s gruesomely effective. In college there were bunches of times when you’d get back a rough test and the first thing you’d do was look over at your pal’s paper to see how you stacked up. If enough people did badly, you’d argue the test. If a majority did poorly and argued it well enough, you could get a curve or some other mercy.

Much of life is the same way. We hold to statistics and averages because often they release us from personal responsibility. As the phrase goes, when a bear is chasing you, you don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than somebody else.

The average net worth of people under 35 is just over zero: about $3,000. If you don’t know, net worth is assets minus liabilities, so what you own minus what you owe. A house, for example, is usually a break-even on net worth. If you mortgage a house purchase, you have the mortgage value as a debt, but you also have an asset that would stand for that debt if it was called in: the house itself. Cash in hand or in a bank account or in investments is positive, obviously, as an asset without any liability. Student loan debt (which I suspect is the cause of the aforementioned figure) is a liability without a value-bearing asset, insofar as an education is not a measurable asset.

Does the fact that the average net worth of people under 35 is around $3,000 put you at ease? How would you perceive someone who was well in excess of that figure? Lucky? Greedy? A mere statistical anomaly?

Let’s go back to the test analogy. Inevitably, somebody in the class would pass with flying colors. Depending on their personality, their perception of the test difficulty, and a host of other factors, they’d either sit there silently while people asked for extra points, knowing with the bonus they’d surpass the 100% mark, smile while the proles asked for a curve knowing that with his score it’d be a small handful of points, or, the most entertaining (or infuriating), he’d actively mock the others who couldn’t pass “such an easy test.”

I found that very few tests were so difficult that they produced no winners. Life is much the same way. Even something so statistically overwhelming as the lottery spits out a winner every now and then. So, since there was and is almost always an outlier who passed, due to sheer brainpower, total luck, or just good old hard work and principle, the fact is that IT WAS NOT IMPOSSIBLE. And furthermore, something they did caused their success. The next logical inquiry would be, “What caused the success, and can it be controlled or mimicked?”

In essence, you know that what causes outliers is behavior that is not normal, so the most strictly effective iterative process is to take an action outside the norm, judge if the results were positive or negative outliers, and act accordingly. This was the Edison approach to the light bulb. It worked out pretty well for him. Back in high school physics (I was pretty good at physics), I had a friend who wanted to study together for the tests, so we tried something a little bit different. I went over to his house and he cooked dinner (this was not part of the studying, but he was an excellent chef), then while we ate, instead of reviewing the homework or notes, we would read straight through the chapter that the test was over. We would stop at any experiments and do them if they were feasible. We would do any example problems found in the chapter, but none of the homework problems. The first time we tested this method, we both got over 100%. Fair enough, so we did it again for the next one, with similar results. Once, a third friend joined the party. We were the three highest scores on the following test. We had stumbled upon a study method which, for one reason or another, had almost perfect accuracy. Also I ate a lot of good rice that year.

Even better is when you can make an educated guess at what kinds of irregular behavior will result in positive irregular results; let other people’s experience eliminate some of the iteration for you. This is what I try to teach: ways to be weird that will set you apart from the crowd in a good way. This is the basis of all my reading, studying, and testing; find out why normal people stay normal and exceptional people rise from normality to greatness. Jim Collins says simply that good is the enemy of great. Finding comfort in “average” precludes you from being “excellent.” There are NO stories of heroes or revolutionaries who were for the most part just satisfied with the status quo because their friends were or their culture was and their friends and culture got along “just fine.”

Warren Buffett says to be greedy when everyone else is afraid and afraid when everyone else is greedy. Once again, this contrarian thing seems to be pretty worthwhile. I’ve found it actually encouraging when people disagree with me on things that I know for a fact have worked for my good in my own life. When angry, unsatisfied, broke people say that I’m stupid, I get a big smile. If being smart makes you common, poor, and spiteful, I’ll take stupid any day of the week.

Are you unhappy or dissatisfied with some aspect of your life? Complaining about it or burying the emotion is normal, taking action on it is not. Let’s all strive to be a little bit more abnormal.