6 Years ago I had an interview with a successful financial adviser in a small town in Southern California. I got the job. It paid ~$36,000 a year. This wasn’t a lot of money but at the time I was just happy to get a job. I was fresh out of college and had no real world experience. This dude needed some help around the office and took a chance on me.
The first thing he asked for after he offered me the job was to write down what I wanted in the next 5 years. Now many people have ASKED me where I saw myself in 5 years but I never had anyone ask me to write it down. I remember writing down these goals:
- Have a 6 figure income (>$100k/yr)
- Bring my long distance girlfriend at the time to California
- Move out of the small town I lived in to Los Angeles
When I wrote these things down I had no idea how I would accomplish them in 5 years. Goals 2 and 3 seemed more attainable at the time. After all people of varying income levels live in Los Angeles and I lived only an hour and 30 minutes east of central Los Angeles at the time. So living in LA didn’t seem like a stretch. Note: I had no idea how expensive living comfortably in LA could be. Had I known I probably would have thought that was pretty unattainable within that period of time.
Goal #3 also didn’t seem far-fetched. People move for relationship reasons all the time. Of course there was a financial aspect to be considered because I would have to support her but again I wasn’t really thinking about the details at the time.
Goal #1 however was something I couldn’t wrap my head around. It was hard to see me reaching it at the time. Both my parents made less than $100k/yr and they were much older and more experienced than me. Most of their friends also around the same amount as them. The ones that didn’t were doctors who obviously were much older and made their first substantial sum at least a decade after their undergrad. So how was I, a 23-year-old, fresh out of college with no experience or any niche skills going to make it happen? Nevertheless, I wrote it down and gave it to my boss. He read the goals over and looked me in the eye and said “You will accomplish all these things. Don’t you worry.”
He was right. Below is a picture of a document I received from the social security office to verify my earning over the last 5 years. Notice it took exactly 5 years to reach my goal. The year he hired me (and when I wrote down my goals) I made $11,700. Of course this was due to him hiring me at the latter half of the year. In 2014 I made $102,413 hitting my goal just barely. The following year I made $179,521.
At the time I thought his promise meant that he would take care of me. Perhaps he would give me a portion of his business as he retired and that is why he affirmed my goals. Now looking back at it I can see how misguided I was. Nobody owes you shit. As a man you don’t want anyone to give you something you haven’t earned (applies to women as well). There is no pride in that. I believe he understood something at a deeper level – We can manifest our aspirations by writing them down. The act of writing down your thoughts is the first step in materializing them. If you think about it, writing down your thoughts is to literally turn them into the physical materials of ink and paper. If you digitize them you are still manifesting them into physical bits and bytes. Whereas, a thought left solely in the mind is like the foam we grasp in the ocean; it’s fleeting.
Now one can argue that I either got lucky or writing my goals down was the first step in a series of disciplined steps I undertook to reach them. Sure, the first argument is valid. People get lucky all the time. However, I choose to believe it was something more. Like I said; I didn’t know anyone in my circle beside my boss or my parents friend’s who were doctors who made more than 6 figures. I didn’t know anyone personally who was my age that made that much as well. There are numerous people I met at the time and still keep in touch with that haven’t improved their financial condition significantly. Yes it could be luck. It could also be that the advice espoused by numerous successful individuals to write down your goals and aspirations might have something to it. After all, many people don’t actively write down their goals. The ones that do swear by it.
The second argument is that the act of writing down my goals put me on this structured path of attaining them. After all I did work for a successful money manager. One would expect the trajectory of events to have unfolded something like this:
- The adviser took me under his wing.
- He guided me every step of the way and like my goals we wrote down a formal plan.
- I executed the plan and got successful at acquiring clients.
- I grew my business over the years and therefore in a few years ended making over a $100k as most financial advisors who are even remotely successful make.
Bellow is an illustration of the perceived steps that I thought I would take to attain my goal
The reality however turned out like this:
- Worked for the adviser doing mainly admin work. Wasn’t learning new skills. I did get a series 7 and series 66 (these are licenses that all financial advisers in the United States need to have).
- Tried my hand at sales but was not passionate about it. Granted sales is hard work but a salesman is not how I envisioned myself.
- I constantly thought about what my passions were.
- In between doing his admin work I spent a lot of time reading and discussing about financial markets. I felt a career in financial analysis and portfolio management would be my calling.
- I started trading options at work. I made a little bit of money but wasn’t doing anything complex. I also didn’t have a lot of money that I could risk. I wanted to learn more about financial markets, products and instruments.
- I looked into the Chartered Financial Designation or CFA.
- I connected with a portfolio manager for a small cap fund. The sales people who were selling my boss on putting his client’s money in their fund brought him around as part of their sales pitch. We hit it off. He agreed that the CFA would be valuable since everyone on his team had it and he was a CFA charter holder himself. He did warn me that breaking into portfolio management was extremely competitive.
- I registered for the CFA. I spent ~$1000 for registration and materials. There was 6 months of study ahead of me. I studied every evening after work. I did not tell my boss about this as he thought it was a waste of time and would not help me become a successful adviser. He was right. Financial advisers are salesmen. They don’t need to analyze investments. They just need to get clients and convince them to buy into investments managed by CFAs.
- The portfolio manager that I kept in touch with got me an interview with a company that provided his fund research. This company specialized in small cap research and needed a technical sales person. This would be a person that would reach out to portfolio managers but would be able to explain detailed financial concepts.
- I did the interview and was told that I was not what he was looking for. Maybe in 5 years I would get there but I had a long way to go. That job paid a $40 k base with a pretty substantial commission for each sale that would have put me over $100k.
- I continued studying the CFA feeling like this was an uphill battle. I also wasn’t passionate about the material at the time but told myself this was the only way to hit my goals. The CFA consists of 3 exams that take an average of 4 years to complete. From my research passing the first one didn’t do anything for one’s career but passing the second one would open up doors and could potentially land a high paying gig.
- My boss realized I wasn’t invested in the financial advisory side of things. He also found out I had aspirations to get into asset management which he felt didn’t provide any value for his business. I had also asked him for a raise to increase my salary to $45k. On all these accounts he said we should part ways.
- I had no income so I needed a job. The only thing I had were my financial adviser licenses (series 7 and 66) and some experience. So although it wasn’t what I saw myself as; I started applying to other positions as a financial adviser. This time, however, I applied to larger companies like B of A Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo etc. I also applied to insurance companies.
- I got many interviews especially with the insurance companies. However, most of these jobs were commission only and were pure sales gigs.
- While all of this was going on I remember writing down what new opportunities I could pursue other than the financial services industry. I remember writing down 3 potential industries. Keep in mind I didn’t know much about any of these industries but believed there was demand there.
- The clean energy / oil and gas industry
- Information technology.
- Healthcare on the business side.
- My dad randomly tells me about a guy he met giving people information technology training. He was thinking about introducing him to my younger brother who was interested in computer science. I tell him “Hey what about me? Can I talk to him?”
- I talk to the technology instructor about the service he provides. He tells me about datawarehousing and business intelligence. I had no idea what those were but they sounded complex and cool and felt very niche. I remember asking how much I could expect to make starting out and he says “Around 45.” I respond “Oh OK $45 K a year is fine”. After all this is the raise I had asked my former boss for before he let me go. He laughs and responds “I meant $45/hr. that’s like $90k a year”. I was sold.
- I stopped studying for the CFA and started the information technology training. I paid the guy $1000.
- I get an offer to join the Merrill Lynch Financial Adviser Trainee program. The job pays a base salary of $50 k. I am expected to hit a quota every year. If I make it to the second year the base goes away and the commissions are meant to replace it.
- I take the job at Merrill Lynch. I work during the day and study the information technology material at night. I again realize that I am not truly into the advisory side of things. I don’t see my self as a salesman. I also don’t find spending the next couple of years cold calling business owners and physicians appealing (not that there is anything wrong in it). The technology stuff I am learning however is interesting and intellectually stimulating. I make up my mind to give my notice to Merrill Lynch at the same time I start applying for technology jobs.
- I nail a phone interview and get offered a 6 month contract to help build a data warehouse for a large bank that eventually turns into a career. I quit the Merrill lynch job and the following year I hit my 6 figure income target. The rest as they say is history.
You can tell from the haphazard sequence above that there was no plan I was executing. My desire to hit these goals I had set for myself did however keep me seeking opportunities that would help me fulfill them. Another observation when reading through these series of 21 steps is that they weren’t really steps at all. In fact there were a lot of things happening simultaneously, a few that led nowhere (filled in red) and a good deal of back tracking – In other words it was a random occurrences that came together in a synergistic way to fulfill my goal. Below is a visual illustration of the reality :
If the above illustration is hard to follow then that means it is successfully conveying the point that there was no structure to how I accomplished my goal. The only thing I can say for sure is that I wrote down my goals (the first step to materializing them) and through some phenomenon that I cannot explain I arrived at them in the allotted time. I could not foresee how things would play out. They just happened.
You might feel that I have focused a great deal on my first goal and not the others. That’s because achieving my first goal also fulfilled the other 2 goals I had set. My new career took me to Los Angeles where all the technology jobs were. With my improved financial status I was able to afford comfortable accommodations and bring my partner to LA. All 3 of the goals I wrote down were accomplished within 5 years.
You might also feel that these goals were not extraordinary. Perhaps they aren’t objectively lofty goals but for me at the time they were very important. Accomplishing these 3 things changed my life and I do attribute it to intent, prayer, belief and perseverance. I was also able to help others who were in a similar situation to where I was years ago and that has given me satisfaction.
One important point to note is that I believe the time I set was arbitrary but it is something that your mind has to accept as reasonable. Maybe if I had changed the timeline to 2 years instead of 5 I could have attained my goals earlier. I will never know for sure but I did get positive results the other times I wrote down by goals.
I hope this personal story serves as an incentive to record our goals and aspirations. Writing this post definitely has reminded me of the power of formalizing my intentions and the transformation I had experienced by doing so that day in a small office in a small town in Southern California.
Let me leave you with the below points:
- Consciously manifesting your thoughts and desires is important. Take some time to assess what you want. Ask questions about what life you want to have and come up with goals that you believe will help you get there.
- Write down these goals with a time frame. Having a time frame creates a sense of urgency.
- Writing your goals is the first step in materializing them. This is meant literally as well as figuratively. Pen and paper/bits and bytes are of the physical world. Thoughts left in the mind are not. They are just temporary surges of electricity in your brain.
- The path to attain your goals will likely be unstructured and surprising. Please be flexible and patient.
- Revisit goals and reassess. How close are you to them? Have they changed? We are dynamic beings so it makes sense that our goals might change with us. This is completely OK.
- Believe in the power of intention. There is no good that comes out of not believing in it. However, the belief in it could open up the gates of abundance and purposeful living.