Real Life 101, Lesson 17: In conclusion, it takes a strategy

This is the last of a series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

It’s time to sum up this series, since it has spanned sporadic entries over nearly five years. In fifty-four years on the planet I have made plenty of stumbles and encountered many setbacks. I have also had a fair number of successes. To the extent I have succeeded, it was part self-reliance and part because I was reasonably fortunate. I was fortunate to be born middle class in America. This gave me some opportunities to succeed but did not guarantee success. Regardless of whether you came into life as a child of poverty, a child of wealth or somewhere in between, what you have to work with is simply what you possess.

I attribute most of my successes to following strategies and my willingness to change them when needed. Success is not generally achieved by following a formula. You won’t find it in church, from the biases of a political party or from a self help book. The truth is one size does not fit all. It never has and never will. You are guaranteed to be unique on this planet, so any strategy that you follow has to work with you and your predispositions. Essentially, it is up to you to quantify your success and mostly up to you to achieve it.

However, I do believe strategies are critical to achieving success, “success” being something only you can assess. Thus it helps to first have a vision of what a successful life would look or feel like for you. When I graduated college, I was pretty much clueless on how I would spend my life. I knew I wanted to feel passionate about my profession and my life. I knew I wanted to make the world a better place through the skills and creativity that I possessed. Just as companies need a vision, so should you invest some time and thought in creating a personal vision of your future. How do you see your life at age 30, 40, 50 and 60? You may find that what you wanted at age 30 does not fit your feelings when you arrive at age 30. However, by working toward that vision strategically, you will at least come to that understanding, and probably sooner rather than later. My suggestion is to keep the vision achievable. It’s okay to aspire to be a Broadway actress or an NFL quarterback, but keep a backup plan in case that does not pan out. If you realize the vision that you created no longer holds the allure it used to, create a new vision that does. Your vision should be hopeful. It should be feel inspirational and welcome.

The strategies you use to get there will of course vary. Lacking any other resources, a self-help book may have a well-defined path that you can try. At least it will give you something to mull over. Based on my experience, simply having a strategy is critical. You don’t need to always follow the strategy to the letter, but you do need to move in its direction and be reasonably consistent following it. Aimlessness is not a strategy, but an admission that you will allow the universe to direct you rather than yourself.

If following a particular strategy does not work for you, either adapt it to better fit you or find a new strategy. A good example is dieting, or more specifically finding a strategy to have and maintain a healthy weight. Most of us Americans will be overweight or obese in our life and thus probably want to take off extra weight. There are lots of diets (tactics) to take off weight, but most of them do not succeed in the long run because they do not work with a person’s natural tendencies. If following a particular diet does not work for you, consider those aspects that aren’t working for you and find one that better addresses those aspects. A strategy is a means to an end, not an end of itself. It helps you realize your vision for yourself. It must work with your natural proclivities to help you achieve your personal vision. If it does not, it’s not a strategy for you. Once you have a strategy that aligns with your vision and seems to be helping you get there, follow it with as much dogged tenacity as you can.

I do feel it is very important to follow a sound financial strategy. For tactics on this, there are a few other lessons you can real in my Real Life 101 archive. In general, a sound financial strategy will minimize personal debt unless it helps you acquire wealth. There are two general components to a successful financial strategy: living beneath your means and saving the difference. Some corollaries quickly emerge: avoid as much debt as possible and get rid of debt as quickly as is prudent. My own experience indicates that doggedly following these principles works. It is not particularly fun or glamorous. To the extent that you will enjoy your wealth, it will happen later in life. If you do not you may enjoy marginally greater wealth now, but comparatively much worse wealth when you are older. Wealth builds on itself, which is why it is critical to get in the habit of saving and do it regularly. Doing it automatically is preferred. Have an allotment go directly from your paycheck into savings and/or retirement accounts. Always save the same percent of your income and adjust the percentage upward if your income allows. When you do this, you will find that you will naturally live on what’s left.

For myself, I have found that regular charitable giving comes back at you. It has happened so often in my life that it is almost spooky. I would not be surprised if you found this to be true as well. It’s like in doing so you clear a psychic space in front of your future that opens up new opportunities. Perhaps this should not be so strange because in truth we are all connected to one another. It is the law of karma working in your favor.

Okay young adult, you are on your own now. Expect to step on some mines going through life. This happens to all of us but if you follow my strategies you should encounter fewer of them. However, with sound strategies in place, you will find that these setbacks, no matter how horrible they first appear, can fade, often quite quickly. Good luck.

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