There are things you want to achieve for which goals are an insufficient tool. For example, you get down on a knee to ask your girlfriend if she’d marry you, and you say, “Honey, if you’ll agree to marry me, it’s my goal to never sleep with another woman for the rest of my life.” Some things you want require a promise.
One of those things is financial independence.
You can set goals for your weight, playing the guitar, and working out, and you’ll get some benefit, perhaps. Probably because an intention makes us feel good in the moment. But goals are just intentions, and you know what the road to hell is paved with. We are acknowledging to ourselves this noble purpose; we are taking that first step to an improved life.
But progress isn’t a one-step thing. It takes two steps to move yourself forward; the first is to learn something new, and the second is to act. As Nike promoted in their ads, “Just Do it.” Of course, just doing it is the rub. Life (in the form of your kids, your job, your spouse, and your need to just chill out) gets in the way of your good intentions. And it does so repeatedly.
I often have good intentions well up in me when I’m watching some 1am infomercial. These good intentions don’t last, almost ever. And so, I have a place in the cellar that has a stack of boxes labeled “Learn Spanish by Sleeping Through the Lessons,” “How to Not Embarrass Yourself with Yoga,” “Martial Arts for Old Men,” “Woodworking Without a Saw,” “Pickleball for Seniors,” etc.
This is not where you want your goal of “Financial Independence” to end up, down in the cellar of your life, covered with dust and regrets.
So, you make it a promise, not a goal.
And you make it a promise that is specific.
Advice on the Secret to Success
When I was starting out as an investor, I was fortunate to get to know Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the Salk Polio vaccine that cured polio. I met his son, Peter, a brilliant research Doctor in his own right, at a series of evening lectures titled “The Science of Creative Intelligence .”
We bonded over our mutual ruthless logical attacks on the concepts being presented, and Peter invited me to the Salk Institute to meet his dad. This great man took the time to encourage me to commit to my goal of becoming financially independent. He said that without a full commitment, he would have never persevered through all the trials he faced developing the polio vaccine.
He believed in the concept of a full commitment so deeply that whenever he was given an award at a fundraiser, he’d insist that the event producers place a card on every seat with the following quote:
I took his advice to heart and made myself a promise to become financially independent. It worked.
Starting with almost nothing, five years later I had a liquid $1.45 million.
Making Your Own Financial Promise
There are a few things I think I did right when I made this promise to myself:
- I put this promise in writing.
- I put it where I could see it daily – on the back of a business card.
- I made it for a specific amount of money so there would be no question about what I was going for. I decided on $1 million. (This was in 1980, so that would be about $2 million today).
- I made the promise for a specific amount of time because I didn’t think I could pressure myself forever if I weren’t being successful. I decided on five years.
- I dated it, and I signed it, and with that I committed to going after financial independence with everything I had for the next five years.
- I looked at the card most every day.
Years later, a friend of mine, John Assaraf, went public with a more thoughtful version of this that the producer’s called “The Secret.” And apparently, it actually was a well-kept secret that had been handed down from mentor to student for decades, maybe centuries, just as Dr. Salk handed it down to me.
The real secret about “The Secret” is that it’s real. Promises work.
Your First Promise of 2023
Start with a big promise. Promise yourself and your family financial independence. $2 million. Five years.
Something like that.
Now you promised to eat an elephant. How do you do that? One bite at a time.
Each bite of your elephant starts with another promise; the promise to take a small bite. Just what you can chew. Not a big thing; a small, very doable thing.
After you make your big promise, your next promise of 2023 is to promise you’ll do one small thing: take a bite out of the elephant that is financial independence.
Your Next Promise of 2023
Here’s one good promise to start with. Promise to pick a mentor. Then do it.
I was fortunate to have dinner at a friend’s home with Jim McKelvey and his wife, Anna, and other members of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, where Jim is now Chairman. He is also the founder of Block (aka Square) with Jack Dorsey. And he wrote the best book on entrepreneurship that I’ve ever read – THE INNOVATION STACK. First among all the lessons this book has for us, is that a mentor can be a dead person.
Jim wrote that he considered the biographies of brilliant entrepreneurs to be as much a mentorship as a direct relationship with a living person. He pointed to a book on A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America, and autobiographies by Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, as wonderful mentorships, books that taught him about being an entrepreneur, possibly as well as a personal relationship could.
You can fulfill this first promise with a bit of research. Start by picking an industry that you already love, one with businesses that make products that you are passionate about.
Now Google who the biggest successes have been in that industry. If you look at the computer industry, you will find Steve Jobs. Read the biography called JOBS. You’re a fast-food fan? Try making Ray Kroc your mentor with his book, GRINDING IT OUT. You want to own restaurant companies? Anthony Bourdain is there, ready to mentor you with his great book, KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. These guys have gone on, but they left us their mentorship in the form of these great books.
Financial independence is the promise. You achieve it with smaller promises, promises that will be fun for you to make and to keep.
Start 2023 with these two simple but profound promises. The small one is going to be awesome. Finding a mentor is one of the most uplifting and confidence-building things you can do. It’s a perfect start to a great year. Just keep the small promise and you’re well on your way to keeping the big one.
Phil Town is an investment advisor, hedge fund manager, 3x NY Times Best-Selling Author, ex-Grand Canyon river guide, and former Lieutenant in the US Army Special Forces. He and his wife, Melissa, share a passion for horses, polo, and eventing. Phil’s goal is to help you learn how to invest and achieve financial independence.