Burn Your Boats

It’s funny.  I do so many videos that people ask what will I do when I run out of material to talk about.   That will never happen for a couple reasons:


  1. Economics and financial planning are about HUMAN BEINGS more than anything else.  And with human beings the world of discussion is endless.
  2. I LOVE what I do and as such the problem I find myself having is not scarcity of material but rather scarcity of time.  I can only do so much in a 24 hour day. 


Which leads me to my point I want to make here, if it weren’t for a stupid business decision at USAA to move our suburban, and profitable, office to Buckhead, I would have been quite content to stay at USAA for years to come. 


I was getting paid VERY well, especially for the requirements of me. Paid well enough in fact, I was able to overlook the incessant insanity of corporate politics. 


I enjoyed my clients and colleagues. 


My commute was only 15-20 minutes.


All in all, I was content.  Not happy, mind you, because I still had a nagging feeling that I was settling for the “safety” of the corporate gig.  But I remember thinking, “if I can stay here until I’m 55, I’ll have over a million in my 401k and will be able to get onto the corporate health insurance after I separate from service.”


So that was my goal. Stay until 55. Not happy, but content. I didn’t wake up each morning and say “everything is awesome!”.  I didn’t get excited about coming to work. I did it because it was a good situation, all things considered.


Then, the consolidation to our Buckhead office, a call center. It was a dumb move andeveryone, except the higher ups of course, knew it.  No longer was I able to meet clients in person in the comforts of my small office. But now I was in a cubical, sitting in a call center, as I helped to coordinate the affairs of my financial planning clients. 


Premium office space on the ground floor in one of the most desirable blocks in all Atlanta, if not the entire South, we occupied…as a call center. 


Clients who previously were able to meet with us in person were now told “sorry, no help wanted.”  Oh, they could still actually see us if they so desired as we did occupy the first floor of this office building with floor to ceiling windows.  They just had to walk up to the window and knock, pick up their cell and we could have a prison-like conversation, separated only by the glass plate.   Good times!

To say that our clients were not happy with the arrangement would be an understatement. Especially because many of these clients were paying thousands for individualized financial planning services with a one-to-one “trusted” advisor. 


Think about this, you are leasing premium office space with signage informing the immense foot and vehicle traffic of your presence yet you’re using that space to operate a call center!  Most call centers are run in the cheapest places in the world, India comes to mind. But not us. 


And to put the icing on the cake it, it took me over an hour to drive, each way, again, To. A. Call Center!


Thus, began my foray into leaving the firm my family has been members for 4 generations and I was gainfully employed for a decade. 


I thought long and hard about starting my own thing, but man oh man, that’s some scary stuff right there.  To quote George McFLy from “Back To The Future”, “What if I fail?” I wasn’t ready for that experience, so I did what most people do, I took the tried but try way, work for someone else. 


But the problem with working for someone is you have to sacrifice your soul and do as you’re told. At this point in my career, I had seen too much B.S. in the business and while the pay was great, I simply couldn’t go along with it anymore.

After discussing with my better half, we came up with a plan and that’s when I made the jump to do my own thing.


Will I be successful? I’ve no clue. After a year and a half, though, I’m successful beyond my wildest dreams.  It’s nuts, actually. Financially, emotionally, spiritually, the switch has been incredible. Not without a lot of hard work, as you can probably attest by seeing the number of videos, blog posts and podcasts I do. 


What helped me most, other than my years and years of experience, is a “burning of the boats” mindset.  You may recall the story of Hernan Cortes and his Conquistadors.  In attempting to conquer the Aztecs, Cortes knew they had to fight with everything they had, that there was no going back.  So he had the ships they came from Spain on burned. Crazy, no? But if you were a Conquistador and knew the fate that awaits you if you lost in your attempt at domination, you then fight with every ounce of your soul. 


And they did. And won. (Save the gnashing of teeth about the “evils” of the European conquest for someone else please. I’m way over that.)


So for me, I decided this was it. I’m going to take on the industry for the harm it is causing AND yet glorify it for when they are doing good things for people.  I told myself from day one, I’ll never work for another firm in this business, ever. I let all my investment licenses expire. I dropped my membership in various groups I’ve been a part of for years.  Who knows maybe at some point I’ll even drop my CFP.  


The point is, I ‘burned the boats”. There is no going back.  


On a side note, if you ever wonder why so many immigrants do so well here is because they essentially “burn the boats” when they come here.  They leave Vietnam, Taiwan, Nigeria, etc. with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs and no intention of ever going back. They come here to do two things, 1. Drink beer and 2. Kick ass.  And it looks like they’re all out of beer so they proceed to kick ass and take names. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. 


I am of the Milton Friedman school on immigration. I am all for unlimited immigration, but first we need to get rid of the welfare state.  Can’t have both. 


So, two years in, I am kicking butts and taking names too. I couldn’t be happier. I have no regrets either.  A lot of people who become successful in their own business venture say “I wish I would have done it sooner.”  Not me. I needed the backstop of the money I was able to squirrel away while I was at USAA in order to allow me the confidence to do this how I wanted to do it. 


If I were desperate to make money right out of the gate, I truly don’t think I would have been able to attain the success I’ve had up to this point.  People smell desperation a mile away, even over a Youtube video. 


Obviously, my success could be fleeting. Who knows? But the thing I always tell myself is that even if I fail and fall flat on my face, I will have the knowledge that FINALLY I tried it my way.  If it doesn’t work out, oh well, but now I know. And that one piece of knowledge is really all I ever wanted, the answer to “can I do it?” If so, great. If not, hey, I tried and it didn’t work.  I’m okay with that too. As at least I would know.


Remember…Burn Your Boats – but wait until when the time is right. 

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