The Best Advice Your Parents Ever Gave You

What is the best advice your parents gave you?

There’s probably a long list to pick from – good and bad.  But now that I have my own children, much of their advice seems to be resurfacing for me.  This includes the all too famous answer to the “Why?” question –  “Because I said so.” Quickly becoming a favorite of my own.

But another piece of advice my dad shared has taught me multiple lessons through the years. He would remind me of it regularly, often as he was relaying a story from his own work day…

“Your best asset is how well you communicate in front of people.”

He was obviously on to something as the majority of people fear public speaking more than spiders and clowns. I was reminded of this while reading a piece on overcoming your fear of public speaking from Ben Carlson at “A Wealth of Common Sense” recently.

“If Only…”

As a 12 year old boy, my dad suggested I enter an oratorical competition through his local Optimist Club.  Even though I had been in plays and sports in front of bigger crowds, this was the first moment I would have the attention of an audience alone. Needless to say I was petrified.

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Our topic was “If Only.” And given my love for the Back to the Future Trilogy, I crafted a speech around the idea, “If Only I Could See Tomorrow.”

I discussed what it would be like to see your future self with all the potential successes and failures (similar to scenes from Back to the Future 2). I also broached ideas of what might happen with the hot button issues of the time – the hole in the Ozone, the rise of technological advances, and education improvements.  Maybe the most fun was detailing my fascination with the potential for flying cars.

To my surprise, the audience liked the speech.

So much so, I managed to win the local chapter’s competition and move on to the regional competition.

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Lessons Learned

Being a young boy (with questionable hair choices but a decent judge of basketball skill – see pic above), I was thankful for the opportunity as I learned some valuable lessons through the experience:

  • Express things clearly – I learned the importance of being able to communicate simply so people understand your message. People hear concepts differently. As fiduciary financial advisors, we are required to put our client interests first. We also need to be able to communicate those topics clearly and effectively. This enables people to make measurable changes that actually improve their lives.
  • Embrace the fear in taking risks – The last thing I wanted to do as a 12 year old was speak to a group of adults about my fantasies of what the future may hold. But embracing the fear helped me to create an incredible experience that’s stuck with me ever since. Investing can be just as scary. Whether it is in our retirement accounts, our businesses or ourselves. We all have to make decisions in uncertain situations. But if we have a process and are prepared for the potential outcomes, our lives can be enriched in ways it’s difficult to imagine before taking the risk.
  • Don’t let ego get the best of you – After winning the first competition, I felt like my head grew a few sizes before the next competition, only to come in second place. This is where having a team or accountability partner can help to remind you of your blind spots. Making a few right calls, or being a top performer can easily go to our heads. Our goal should be to spend time doing the things we do best. We also should strive to control the things we can and then set up accountability relationships to assure we stick to that. This is where a team approach is most beneficial. Having others to discuss ideas with and share workloads helps to serve clients better.
  • Don’t Worry – Is there any good that ever comes from worry? In my college days, the anticipation of stumbling over words, forgetting my thoughts, or failing miserably in front of older more experienced students would maximize my stress levels. But once the first word was out, things went smoothly. This came from hours of preparation beforehand. Worrying is only good if it motivates us to do something to decrease it. As financial planners, one of our main job requirements is preparing for unexpected scenarios. This helps us think through the potential mental shock, before it actually occurs, preventing us from acting on impulsive emotions in the moment. As a result, our time is free to be used in a more enjoyable way.

Fear Doesn’t Always End in Failure

On his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, Tim often describes his approach to life as a series of experiments. Instead of failures, he is testing hypotheses to see what works and what doesn’t.

This mindset minimizes much of the fear, allowing us to succeed at things we may never try when seeing failure as the downside.

When planning our financial lives, fear has a way of hijacking our rational thoughts.  The fear of investment losses prevents us from investing because stocks are bound to fall. Then when losses do occur, fear drives us to sell and preserve what we have so we can invest when things look better.

When facing uncertainty, fear is often a byproduct.  But acting on the fear is what does the damage. This is where having someone to talk through your decision making helps. Identifying what is preventing you from moving forward helps you begin to re-frame the way it has influenced you in the past.

Today, I still get butterflies each time I have an opportunity to speak. But now, I see those feelings as more excitement than nervousness. And just before I start, I hear my dad’s voice reminding me – “what’s the worst that can happen?”

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