Why Not Just Try Harder To Get Ahead? The Effort vs. Talent Debate

enjoying-sunshineAnybody who knows me realizes I’ve got very little talent in practically everything I do. Complex math was confusing so I stopped at Trigonometry sophomore year in high school. Who needs math, I told myself as a teenager who knew he could never become an engineer. My tennis serve is mediocre because I’m not particularly strong or tall. 205 lbs was the max I could ever bench and it’s been all downhill from there. Even after owning an acoustic guitar for over 10 years, I still can’t fingerpick quick enough to play Just Breathe, one the most beautiful songs by Eddie Vedder.

Even writing an article is often hard despite writing consistently online since 2009. My post on the recommended net worth by age and work experience took over 10 hours to write for example. Who the hell dedicates 10 hours of their life to write an article when I could be sipping a Moscow Mule on a beach in Bora Bora after an adventurous dive? An untalented writer who has to constantly double check his math and make sure there aren’t too many grammatical errors, that’s who.

Despite my deficiencies, I’ve managed to survive and lead a happy life. Serves are carefully placed while lullabies are simply sung. I argue that genetics plays a big part in happiness because when I was a poor college student studying abroad on $300 a month I was ecstatic. When I was getting Django Unchained on Wall Street, I was excited to be in the thick of the action. Now that I’ve retired, the happiness meter has stayed elevated as it should.

But what about effort? How much does effort play a part in getting ahead vs. talent? Every time the wheels start slipping, I ask myself, Why not try harder? Let’s discuss.


Make Time To Think Differently

Mexican fisherman and his catchThe stock markets surged to new highs in 2015 in large part because the Labor Department said the economy added 165,000 jobs in April, 15,000 more than consensus expectations. 15,000 is a rounding error in a nation of millions, but we’ll take it if we can see billions more wealth created!

Just think about this situation for a little bit. Is it not a little bit ironic that more jobs creates more stock market wealth, but once you have lots of stock market wealth you no longer have to work? I’m reminded about the parable of the Mexican fisherman who gets ridiculed by an executive with a fancy MBA for why the fisherman doesn’t want more than his catch. The whole point about investing our money is so that our money will one day work so hard for us that we don’t have to.


Finding The Motivation To Stay In Shape: A Conversation With Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton posing for me, FS, Oahu, 2013It’s hard to stay in shape as we get older. We move around less, our family demands more of our time, and our jobs stress us out to the point where we eat too much comfort food.

I’m about 10 pounds heavier that I was during college. I always tell myself it’s due to more muscle, but I know it’s a lie because I hardly ever lift weights anymore. When you no longer need to be in incredible shape because you’ve found someone who likes you just the way you are, why bother? All I do is play tennis and do the occasional push-ups and sit-ups now.

Motivation is something I’m perpetually looking for because my motivation meter never seems to stay full. I sometimes feel the paradox of freedom where America allows for a relatively correlated path to attaining what we want. If I want to get six pack abs, I’ll cut out the sweets and do 500 sit-ups every day for three months in a row. If I want to make more money, I’ll work harder at executing new ideas. I really don’t think there’s very much that’s inhibiting our progress other than ourselves.


How To Stop Haters From Hating You

Lucky Penny by Untemplater.comThe Boston attacks are a stark reminder of how much hatred there still is for America. Sadness has turned to anger as the country pulls together to understand why and move forward. It’s been more than a decade since 9/11 and yet I still think about what happened all the time after being on the top floor of WTC 2 for a conference just months before.

There are an estimated 7 billion people on Earth today. If only 0.1% of the population hates us, that’s still 7 million people who might very well be ready for war. We are a rich country full of opportunity, yet not everybody can have our same opportunity. The more successful we become, the more risk we face. The more we act as the world police, the larger resentment grows.

Whenever I meet someone in person, I do my best to downplay anything I’ve done that might seem successful. It helps that I’ve removed myself from corporate America and no longer have the desire to compete for money or status. I’m acutely aware of the widening gap between the haves and the have nots thanks to an unlevel playing field. The undercurrent of anger flows strongly through society, ready to drown anybody who is perceived to have more. Hate is part of the reason why I recommend everyone align themselves with the middle class. Blend in so that nobody can target you.

When I believe in something strongly, I will tell you so. If you demonstrate kindness, I will try to show more kindness. If you attack my honor, I won’t hesitate to defend it by confronting you and kicking your ass. What’s the point of studying martial arts for so long anyway? I do enjoy the occasional conflict if there is an intellectual debate. It’s when things start getting personal where I draw the line.

When you have what someone wants but can’t have, you’ll undoubtedly encounter some sort of conflict. One quick check at the background of your haters will reveal they have the most insecurities about themselves. Maybe they are lonely or work a deadend job they can’t escape. Constantly comparing ourselves to others is a sure fire way to zap happiness from our souls.


Don’t Forget To Dream

Dreaming Of A Ferris WheelPersonal finance is wonderful because it allows us the opportunity to dream of possibilities. When I was a freshman battling for a spot on the varsity team, I fantasized about being a professional tennis player signing balls after sliding on the red clay of Roland Garros. Every time I attend a tournament now, I feel like a kid again.

As a poor college student, I dreamed of making big bucks on Wall Street every time I passed the overly diligent business school students huddled around a TV showing CNBC. I imagined whipping around hundred million dollar positions on the prop desk as traders on the other side wondered what the hell I was up to. After a profitable day’s work, it would be off to Peter Luger’s Steak House in a black car with some clients, some friends and a corporate card of course.

After a couple years of marathon workdays in New York City, I dreamed of being free to set my own schedule. My health was fading and I didn’t know how much longer I could last getting in before sunrise and leaving after sunset. As a poker fan, I always imagined winning the WSOP multi-million dollar first prize. Some would hand in their resignation the next day while giving their boss the bird. I would continue working because work becomes incredibly more fun when you don’t need the money. Besides, I’m the WSOP champ, baby!

Now that I’ve retired from the corporate world, I continue to dream about all the possibilities. A dream within a dream if you will as I never imagined the ability to break free so soon. Why not run different financial scenarios and imagine what type of opportunities might arise in 25 years?

A reader commented in the 2013 Goals post how surprised they were to find “Live Free” as a goal. Paradoxically, it’s hard to live free when you’ve got to make all your own choices. But, I’d rather have choices than have no choice at all.

I dream of progress. I dream of adventure. The best part of dreaming? Anybody can do it because it’s free.

What do you dream about?

Financial Samurai 2012 Predictions Recap

IMG_1347Another year has come and gone. Hopefully, all of you have made strides with your finances and your personal lives. Financial Samurai would be a failure after writing ~250 articles in 2012 if I wasn’t able to help you save more money, invest better, take more calculated risks, and take one step closer to achieving financial freedom.

2012 will go down as one of my most defining years because I managed to break free from the corporate world. There’s no doubt I would still be taking a 7:15am bus to work if it wasn’t for launching this site. It feels exhilarating to start anew!

It’s going to be tough to match the accuracy of my 2011 predictions because I was off by only 0.5% with my Dow Jones Index target (+5.5% instead of +5%). North Korea’s Kim Jung Il passed away as predicted as well. No, I do not work for the CIA. But, maybe I do. You don’t want to know.

I have not revisited my predictions for 2012 until the writing of this post so I’m curious to see what was on my mind one year ago. December 2011 was still a time of disarray, with 8.5% unemployment, tremendous uncertainty in Europe, the Occupy Everything movement, and a US President whose hopes of re-election loomed on a improving economy.

Here’s to looking like a Big Donkey or a Small Donkey!


There Is No Monopoly On Being Rich

Oakland Bay Bridge SunsetI’d like to think most of you come here because you have a desire to improve your finances, hang out and connect with like-minded folks, and get entertained. Despite some rather highly opinionated posts, there’s not a lot of nasty comments at all.

I am a perennial optimist. Sprained ankle? Thank goodness it’s not broken! Ever since I was about 12 years old, I knew I did not want to be poor. Seeing ubiquitous poverty growing up in third world countries makes me appreciate how lucky we are to live in America.

It was in the 9th grade when a senior told me to stop messing around if I wanted to have a better life. And it was the first month of work that I told myself if I could just survive these brutal 5:30am-7:30pm+ workdays for the next 10 years, that I would be rich.

Thirteen years later, work is but an option. The biggest irony is that in order to stop caring about money, you first have to care a great deal about money. I could have worked for many more years and saved many more dollars, but money is no longer a driving force. I’d much rather have the freedom to do what I want.

It’s been three and a half years since I first started this blog and I’ve encountered a plethora of different attitudes about wealth. Some people believe it’s their destiny to remain poor while others have an unwavering desire to make it big beyond their wildest dreams. If you believe you will always be poor, then that is what you will be. If you believe you deserve to be wealthy, you have an infinitely higher chance of succeeding.

There is no monopoly on being rich. You don’t have to be angry at others who have more. You’ve just got to be confident that you belong and survive long enough to succeed.

Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not all right, then it is not yet the end.” – Unknown

Related Posts:

A Day Job Is So Much Easier Than Entrepreneurship

In Search For Empathy For The Unemployed

I’m Not Supposed To Be Here… 

Photo: Bay Bridge Sunset, SD.




Overcoming The Price Hurdle To Find Value And Succeed

Priceless Crowns At Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

We all know that it takes money to make money. If you want $10,000 a year in passive interest income at a rate of 2%, you’ll need $500,000 in capital to get there. If you’ve only got $25,000 in capital, well then here’s $500 a year, just enough to buy yourself a round-trip ticket to Hawaii. Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound too bad!

I’ve been highly anticipating the response to my introductory $980 Get On The Map (GOTM) service where I help bloggers and small businesses get noticed on the web. There’s a lot of art behind the science of pricing. Price too low, and you might be signaling an inferior product or fend off too much demand. Price too high, and you might not get any clients. Finding the intersection between marginal utility and marginal cost is a journey that changes over time.

Going about pricing a product out of the necessity of money vs. the necessity for fulfillment is quite different. I get fulfillment out of helping others by providing more value than the price I charge. That’s what keeps me excited. If I had to sell something to put nutritious McDouble cheeseburgers on the table for five children everyday, I’d feel the heat, underprice and likely provide poor value.


Learning From The World’s Happiest People

Our tour guide in Stockholm was not Swedish, but Albanian. She stood 5 feet 1 inch tall thanks to three inch heels. As we walked towards Old Town to see the Royal Palace, I often wondered whether she had ever twisted her ankles traversing the uneven cobble stone roads.

Bianca told us she’s a full-time lawyer who enjoys playing tour guide on the weekends as a part-time job. She’s been studying for six years and is getting a second Masters degree in international law. When I asked her how much tuition costs in Sweden, she surprisingly mentioned, “Free!

All citizens and EU residents have free tuition if they want to study university here in Stockholm, Sweden,” Bianca went on to say.

I can’t verify the veracity of her statement, however, with law school tuition commonly over $35,000 a year in the US, Bianca clearly has a good deal!

I love everything about Stockholm! We have 1/3rd parks, 1/3rd water, and 1/3rd land. The government cares about us and you don’t have to work very hard to live a good life. Back home in Albania, the average person only makes 300-350 Euros a month ($390-$450 dollars),” Bianca explained.

I asked Bianca about the local tax rates. She didn’t know for sure, but said she pays about a 32% income tax through the Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) employer witholding system. She also pays a 25% VAT tax (consumption tax) on all goods. I was expecting Bianca to highlight a much higher income tax rate since 32% is similar to my effective tax rate, so I was surprised. But then again, our income levels are drastically different as you will discover below.


I’ve Seen The Future And It Looks So Bright

Copenhagen Sunrise

Part of creating great wealth and happiness is anticipating the future, understanding the future, betting on the future, and adapting to the future.

With President Obama in power until 2016 (and Hilary Clinton likely succeeding him after), he can be more aggressive with his policy initiatives given he no longer has to compete for another term. If Obama gets his way, taxes will go up for higher income citizens, government spending will go up to help care for our most impoverished, debt will increase, and more people will be saved from the perils of capitalism.

In other words, America will become more like Europe. We just need to be careful not to be Europe in its existing form where too much debt torpedoes our entire economic livelihood. But even if we go overboard, there will always be the Federal Reserves of our greatest nations to help us out. As the world police, they owe us!

Given America is becoming more like Europe, I decided to go to Europe and see for myself what our future might be like. You thought I was just going on a 2.5 week vacation to inject $10,000 into the Eurozone to help save the world didn’t you? Au contraire mon frere. My main purpose was to conduct some front lines investigative reporting to provide readers with unique, real-time insight into how to live and prosper over the next four years!