I strongly believe if you do one hard thing for 10 years in a row, you will achieve results far beyond your expectations. Don’t quit before giving your effort a chance to produce amazing results.
My belief of working on something for 10 years to achieve mastery first came from going to high school for four years, college for four years, and then finally business school for three years part-time. It wasn’t until after I went to business school that I felt like I had a solid grasp of finance.
10 years also comes from my experience working at one firm from 2001 – 2012. After 10 years, I realized a lot of good things can happen to one’s career and net worth.
10 years also comes from investing in the stock market and real estate market. Unless you’re extremely unlucky, chances are high that you will earn a nice return on your investments in any 10-year period.
10 years also comes from my adventures in achieving a 5.0 tennis rating at age 39 after starting with a 4.0 at age 29. Tennis ratings generally plateau or go down after 30. But after hundreds of hours of practice, it’s possible to get better.
Finally, 10 years comes from publishing 3X a week on average between July 2009 to July 2019 on Financial Samurai. I expected there to be a correlation between effort and growth. But I did not expect this site to grow to its existing size.
In this post, I’d like to share some personal thoughts to help you stick to your craft for 10 years or longer.
You Don’t Have To Be Special
Regular people get ahead all the time.
I came to America when I was 14 years old, where only 5.6% of the population looked like me. I had no mentors or connections. I had to start all over and find new friends. It was very hard at first because all my classmates had grown up with each other since elementary school. I was a misfit who constantly got in trouble.
Growing up, I lacked the ability to think quickly on my feet because I found my thoughts constantly juggling between English and Mandarin. It would have been nice to get my English language fundamentals down as a kid.
My grades and SAT score were nothing to write home about. As a result, I went to a public university after attending a public high school.
The only reason why I got a job at a major investment bank coming from a non-target public university was because I got on a 6 am bus on a Saturday. The career fair was two hours away in Washington D.C. Thirty people signed up to attend but I was the only one who showed up. Seven months, six rounds, and 55 interviews later, I finally got that damn job.
There is absolutely nothing special about me. Not my looks. Not my intelligence. Not my physique. Not my wit. Not my writing. Not my voice. Not my personality. The only thing I do is keep on going.
Grit is by far the most important attribute for achieving your goals. Don’t think you need to have special skills to get ahead. Who you are is good enough already.
You Will Eventually Catch Your Lucky Break
The great thing about doing something for 10+ years is that you will eventually catch some sort of “lucky break.” It is practically impossible to dedicate so much time to a craft and not get noticed by somebody.
Success is a numbers game. I have a friend who admits he’s not very attractive. But he’s always on a date with someone far above his level because he’s constantly putting himself out there. Finding luck is truly a numbers game. If your success rate is 1%, you’ve got to ask 100 people to go on one date.
My lucky break came when the LA Times profiled an article I wrote in 2010 about the importance of getting an umbrella policy if you have teenagers. I was writing about my experience driving in SF when a teenage driver side-swiped me and almost crashed. This lucky break was so random.
Once Financial Samurai got featured in a legitimate newspaper, other journalists started reaching out. From there, things snowballed.
When people see that you plan on sticking around for the long-term, they tend to give you more credibility. The more credibility you have, the more good things tend to happen.
Cherish The Criticism
If you are getting criticized, know that what you are doing is making a difference. People who don’t care, don’t criticize. Listen to what your critics are saying and make any necessary changes.
For some reason, any time someone says something nasty to me I get pumped up! I love criticism. It’s like getting a dose of Popeye’s spinach that motivates me to keep on going.
One time, I got mobbed on Twitter for saying I was a high school tennis coach making $1,100/month when looking for other educators to interview. I then got inspired to write a new post about raising a family in pricey SF as a tennis coach. That post ended up generating a tremendous amount of new traffic.
Criticism helps improve weaknesses and shines a spotlight on blindspots. Use criticism to get better and prove your critics wrong.
Be A Super-Optimist
When an ambulance wails by do you feel sad or happy? I used to feel very sad knowing that someone was suffering until a friend changed my perspective. She said, “Instead of feeling sad, feel happy that help is on the way!”
You must believe in your mission. If you don’t, nobody else will. Do your best to see the positives in every situation.
Sprained your ankle? Be thankful you didn’t break your ankle!
Got screwed by a client who didn’t pay? Be thankful you got screwed sooner rather than later when the stakes are larger. If you never got screwed, you never would have dedicated more time to diversify your clientele.
Your pet only has six months left to live? There’s no escaping the sadness. However, think about how much happier you guys have been due to all your time spent together.
If you practice seeing the positive side in every situation, you will live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Make Sure You Focus On What Matters Most
There are many shiny objects on your way to glory. Try to ruthlessly focus on just one or two things at a time.
The one thing I need to do is write three times a week without fail. I can get easily distracted by social media, e-mail requests, PR requests, backend tech stuff, conferences, and money.
As a result, years ago, I started spending less time on social media, created a massive e-mail autoresponder to answer 90%+ of the inquiries, and outsource tech issues to a guy I have on retainer. I also started the FS Forum so more readers can help each other, instead of me always having to answer all the questions.
Print out a reminder of one thing you must do each week. Do that one thing first before doing anything else. This is the same concept of paying yourself first before spending any money.
Reduce Your Time On Social Media
Social media can be a real time sink where nothing really productive gets done. Some people even ruin their careers based on what they’ve said online. Try to limit your time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to 30 minutes a day or less.
In Nasim Taleb’s book Skin In The Game, there’s a great quote that says, ‘You don’t want to win an argument. You want to win.”
Instead of spending time on Twitter or Facebook trying to convince someone you’re right, just spend time living your life exactly the way you want.
Focus on your offline relationships 10X more than your online relationships. They are so much more important.
Give As Much As You Can Without Asking For Anything In Return
The more you give, the more you will get. Too many people ask first and then (maybe) give. Even more people just take, take, take.
Find ways to endlessly help someone in your field that you admire. I promise he or she will take notice and eventually help you out.
Realize Some People Will Always Hate You No Matter What
You cannot expect to be universally loved. Therefore, do not try to please everyone. Instead, be true to your own principles. People who share your principles will eventually gravitate towards you.
Every week, someone will tell me over social media, in the comments, or over e-mail how bad of a writer I am. If they don’t denigrate my writing, someone will say something negative about my race, my sex, where I live, my attitude towards XYZ, etc. But I keep going because of my promise to last 10 years.
Now that I have a podcast, people have left reviews saying that I have a terrible voice, have too many pauses, am out of touch, etc. But I keep on going because the only way I can improve is if I continue to practice my delivery. Years from now, I’m sure my podcast will be better. Besides, I’m determined to build an audio library for my children in case I die before they become adults.
I’ve accepted the fact that some people will always hate me for who I am. So should you. It’s not our problem if they don’t like us, it’s theirs. No matter what, you will feel great knowing that you’re living a life true to your principles.
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Learn to laugh at yourself, especially during impossible situations. You’ll loosen up and be less offended by random things.
Learn to make others laugh as well. They’ll appreciate you more for making them feel good.
Below is funny audio clip I made when I was consulting with Personal Capital part-time in 2014. I was given a massive amount of copy to read in under a minute for an ad on Sirius Satellite Radio.
I kept telling the radio ad agency and my colleagues that what they were asking of me was impossible. But they told me I could do it, so I gave it my best shot! After around 20 attempts, they finally agreed to cut it down. You can hear my wife laughing in the background.
The more fun you have, the greater your chances of reaching the 10-year mark.
Change Your Inertia
You can always find ways to minimize or solve your pain points to help you focus.
One of my worries is publishing a post full of errors. Often times, no matter how often I review a post, I cannot catch all the errors. As a result, I enlisted my father to help edit most of my posts for the past several years. He’s helped a lot and I’ve also changed the way I send out my e-mail RSS blast so that it doesn’t capture the entire post with errors.
Another pain point is getting bombarded with incoming requests on Mondays since nobody seems to work on the weekends. Thus, I like to relax Monday – Friday and do more of my writing on the weekends. By publishing on a weekend, I free up time for other things on Monday.
If you have nagging problems, stop letting inertia force you to do things the way they’ve always been done. Take some time to see if you can do things differently.
Good Enough Is Good Enough
Stop feeling like you need to be perfect in order to launch. There is no such thing as perfect.
The largest, most resourceful tech companies in the world are not perfect. If they were, they wouldn’t push out app updates every week to fix bugs you had no idea existed.
If you can get 80% of the way there, ship it. Once live, continuously work to make your product better.
Find Your Competitive Advantage
If you have a competitive advantage, you can last far longer than those who don’t. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
As someone who worked in finance for 13 years, got an MBA, and actively invests in multiple asset classes for the past 20+ years, writing about financial topics comes naturally to me.
I’m also not as driven by money because I had already made enough money before I started Financial Samurai. As a result, it’s much easier to write for free for so long.
If I started a cooking site, I’m sure I’d quit within 12 months because I have zero competitive advantage and no great interest in cooking. I’d rather go out to a restaurant and eat food from an expert than spend an hour or two eating food prepared by myself.
Do what you’re good at and outsource tasks in areas where you lack interest and expertise.
Pivot If You’re Not Growing Or Getting Better
After about three years of working on your craft, if you’re not getting better or growing, you’ve got to change your approach.
When it comes to growing a business, if you’re not growing the way you want, you’re simply not adding enough value. Find new ways to add value.
When it comes to getting better at a sport, if you’re still losing to the same types of players, then you need to find a new coach and/or work on a new skill.
When it comes to increasing your net worth, if you’re falling farther behind, it’s important to do a deep dive on your income, savings rate, types of investments, and returns.
You can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
Think Much Bigger
Whatever your vision, think much bigger. When we’re in high school, most of us just dream about getting into a great college. When we’re working, we dream of getting that next promotion. Instead, how about dreaming about being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a lifestyle entrepreneurship, or the next mayor of your city?
When I started Financial Samurai, I had a small goal of making enough to fill the gap between my passive investment income and my desired lifestyle expenses. After I started thinking Financial Samurai could be a billion dollar business, the site started doing better. It’s nowhere near a billion dollar business today, but it’s large enough to fully provide for my family, my parents, and my in-laws.
The bigger you dream, the more you will achieve.
Recognize How Lucky You Are
The more grateful you are, the more you will appreciate what you have. The more you appreciate what you have, the harder you will work because you will never take what you have for granted.
Because I grew up overseas where I witnessed a lot of poverty, I feel blessed to be able to live and work in America today. Living in America is truly like living in paradise compared to living in so many other countries.
Over 10 years, plenty of other websites have grown far greater than Financial Samurai. But I am thankful for Financial Samurai because it has kept me intellectually stimulated in my post-work life. I’ve also met plenty of online and offline people from Prague to Honolulu thanks to Financial Samurai.
We’re living in an age where technology doesn’t require us to work in an office for the rest of our lives. If you’ve come from a pre-internet era, this new way of life is simply incredible.
Recognize how lucky you truly are by writing out the things you’re grateful for each day.
Always Know Your Why
Knowing your why will help keep you focused.
In the beginning, I wrote on Financial Samurai to cope with financial loss during the 2008-2009 crisis. As the site grew, I began to write for the community and to help figure out how to escape work. Now, I write mainly to keep intellectually stimulated while also building an archive of content for my children.
Money is a difficult primary motivation to have. Money will disappoint you because it will either never feel like enough or you will be sad when you realize money doesn’t make you happier once you reach your financial goals.
Know That Things Get Easier
The great thing about doing something for 10 years is that you finally become an expert at your craft. No longer do you take as long or have to spend as many resources to produce the same results. You won’t feel like an impostor either.
The problem with becoming an expert is that you can end up doing way more because things are easier. When I wake up, there are at least five new topics I can write about because there is so much going on. Eventually, you might burn out if you’re not careful.
Make sure to take lots of breaks. Force yourself to throttle down your workload. You want to produce a steady stream of output over the long run instead of big spikes and then nothing.
You’re Stronger Than You Think
You can do more than you think. It’s only after challenging yourself to the extreme will you realize your true abilities.
I remember running track in high school and puking my guts out after a 200-meter race. My coach offered no sympathy. She said, “Now you know what it’s like to give everything you got. Now go run a cool-down lap.”
I thought working 60-70 hours a week for 13 years in finance was hard until I decided to go to business school part-time as well. Adding another 20-30 hours a week of classes and group projects made my life hell for almost three years. When I finally graduated in 2006, working 60-70 hours a week in finance felt like a walk in the park!
I used to think that publishing something interesting on Financial Samurai 3X a week while also responding to comments and e-mails was a grind. But after my son was born in 2017, I realize now that writing on Financial Samurai without children was like getting a full-body massage compared to full-time fatherhood!
Now, I’ve got to do both. Trying to write when you’ve got a toddler who just wants to play with you is impossible. Therefore, I’ve been forced to wake up by 5 am for the past two years to write before he wakes up. Damn, I thought my days in banking were over!
The Ultimate Goal
My one motto in life is, “Never fail due to a lack of effort because effort requires no skill.” The saying helps remind me to keep on going whenever I feel like making excuses. I hope this saying will help you too.
Your ultimate goal is to be proud of your effort. No matter what happens, so long as you know you did your best you will be at peace with the results.
Do your best to stay committed to something you care about for at least 10 years. If you do, great things will happen.
Update 2021: Now that Joe Biden has been elected president, I’ve decided to return to early retirement life in 2021+. It was good to make extra money after the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed for 2018+, but I’m exhausted. Two young kids and a pandemic don’t go well together! I will use the extra capital earned to build more passive income to take care of my family.
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