Lessons Learned in the First 80 Years
The first person that comes to my mind when I think of investing lessons, especially coming from someone with over 80 years of life experience, would be Warren Buffett. However, this post is not about him.
This is about Byron Wien. He is an American investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners LP, a subsidiary of The Blackstone Group (BX). You’ve probably at least heard of The Blackstone Group; it is a private equity, investment banking, alternative asset management and financial services corporation. While I don’t currently own it, I do own some shares of one of its peers, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).
BX currently pays a 6.08% yield. It has a payout ratio of 66%, a 5-yr dividend yield average of 4.52%, and a 3-yr and 5-yr dividend growth rate of 45.8% and 16.4%, respectively. There’s a lot to like of it and KKR. However, this post isn’t to discuss any merits of investing in these companies.
A friend shared this article with me awhile back. I rediscovered it when looking through my email and thought it would be great to share it here. It highlights 20 life lessons that Mr. Wien says he learned over the first 80 years of his life. These lessons highlight things you can do to better yourself while enriching the lives of others.
These should help us realize that acquiring wealth shouldn’t be the final goal.
The 20 life lessons:
- Concentrate on finding a big idea that will make an impact on the people you want to influence. The Ten Surprises, which I started doing in 1986, has been a defining product. People all over the world are aware of it and identify me with it. What they seem to like about it is that I put myself at risk by going on record with these events which I believe are probable and hold myself accountable at year-end. If you want to be successful and live a long, stimulating life, keep yourself at risk intellectually all the time.
- Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life, and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible. Nurture your network by sending articles, books and emails to people to show you’re thinking about them. Write op-eds and thought pieces for major publications. Organize discussion groups to bring your thoughtful friends together.
- When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. Assume he or she is a winner and will become a positive force in your life. Most people wait for others to prove their value. Give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. Occasionally you will be disappointed, but your network will broaden rapidly if you follow this path.
- Read all the time. Don’t just do it because you’re curious about something, read actively. Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author. If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.
- Get enough sleep. Seven hours will do until you’re sixty, eight from sixty to seventy, nine thereafter, which might include eight hours at night and a one-hour afternoon nap.
- Evolve. Try to think of your life in phases so you can avoid a burn-out. Do the numbers crunching in the early phase of your career. Try developing concepts later on. Stay at risk throughout the process.
- Travel extensively. Try to get everywhere before you wear out. Attempt to meet local interesting people where you travel and keep in contact with them throughout your life. See them when you return to a place.
- When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen. It is my belief that some important event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.
- On philanthropy my approach is to try to relieve pain rather than spread joy. Music, theatre and art museums have many affluent supporters, give the best parties and can add to your social luster in a community. They don’t need you. Social service, hospitals and educational institutions can make the world a better place and help the disadvantaged make their way toward the American dream.
- Younger people are naturally insecure and tend to overplay their accomplishments. Most people don’t become comfortable with who they are until they’re in their 40’s. By that time they can underplay their achievements and become a nicer, more likeable person. Try to get to that point as soon as you can.
- Take the time to give those who work for you a pat on the back when they do good work. Most people are so focused on the next challenge that they fail to thank the people who support them. It is important to do this. It motivates and inspires people and encourages them to perform at a higher level.
- When someone extends a kindness to you write them a handwritten note, not an e-mail. Handwritten notes make an impact and are not quickly forgotten.
- At the beginning of every year think of ways you can do your job better than you have ever done it before. Write them down and look at what you have set out for yourself when the year is over.
- The hard way is always the right way. Never take shortcuts, except when driving home from the Hamptons. Short-cuts can be construed as sloppiness, a career killer.
- Don’t try to be better than your competitors, try to be different. There is always going to be someone smarter than you, but there may not be someone who is more imaginative.
- When seeking a career as you come out of school or making a job change, always take the job that looks like it will be the most enjoyable. If it pays the most, you’re lucky. If it doesn’t, take it anyway, I took a severe pay cut to take each of the two best jobs I’ve ever had, and they both turned out to be exceptionally rewarding financially.
- There is a perfect job out there for everyone. Most people never find it. Keep looking. The goal of life is to be a happy person and the right job is essential to that.
- When your children are grown or if you have no children, always find someone younger to mentor. It is very satisfying to help someone steer through life’s obstacles, and you’ll be surprised at how much you will learn in the process.
- Every year try doing something you have never done before that is totally out of your comfort zone. It could be running a marathon, attending a conference that interests you on an off-beat subject that will be populated by people very different from your usual circle of associates and friends or traveling to an obscure destination alone. This will add to the essential process of self-discovery.
- Never retire. If you work forever, you can live forever. I know there is an abundance of biological evidence against this theory, but I’m going with it anyway.
These life lessons are packed full of so much good information that it is hard to choose my top one. If I had to narrow it down I’d say my favorites are to network intensely, treat new people as a friend, travel extensively, and, on a philanthropic level, choose to relieve pain rather than spread joy.
Knowing as many people as possible is definitely a recipe for success. It always seems that luck favors those that develop large networks. As opportunities generally don’t fall into people’s laps on their own, you don’t really know where you’ll end up unless you take the initiative. How better to jumpstart that process than by expanding the people you know?
As far as traveling, one of my goals for when I’m able to retire early is to travel extensively. (Note: when I say “retire early,” I don’t mean staying at home doing nothing…see #20). I’d like to be able to enjoy the activities that you’re only really able to do when you’re still able bodied. For that matter, much of the fun of travel isn’t just visiting new places but also experiencing the people and the culture. If you haven’t yet used Airbnb on your travels, I highly suggest you try it. You are basically renting someone’s room or house for a day or two (or more). The cool thing about it is that, in my experience, it can be significantly cheaper than staying at a hotel, it can be in a location where there are no nearby hotels, and the people that choose to host are typically very friendly and social people. Staying in a hotel now seems “sterile” in comparison.
Here’s how one of my actual Airbnb experiences went: I was attending a radiology conference in Sonoma, CA a few years ago. The conference was held at a hotel that charged around $400 a night for the discounted rate! Since the conference was 4 days long, there is no way I could have afforded it. However, literally a couple minute drive from the conference center I found an Airbnb for $100 per night. The owner was a mountain biker and recommended a couple of great nearby hikes as well as his favorite local restaurants.
When the conference ended, I had a few days to kill before flying back out of San Francisco. I had never driven Route 1 so made my way west and ended up in Occidental. There were no hotels close to Occidental so I looked to Airbnb. The couple I stayed with was great. I got a recommendation for a local sports bar and was the only out-of-state guy there watching the Giants play in the World Series. I then did a hike through the red wood forest that they recommended. That evening I was invited to the main living area to talk, enjoy a bottle of wine, and even had the opportunity to show their daughter how to juggle. It was terrific experience. And, while I didn’t know this upon booking the room, the family was well known in the San Francisco tech community. What a great networking opportunity!
Philanthropy is also very important. I would love to have the financial wherewithal to be able to give back to the community. Setting up some sort of perpetual fund kicking off dividends to pay for educational scholarships would be really fun but also helpful in breaking some cycles of poverty. In many ways the frugal Seattle man that secretly amassed a $180 million fortune and then donated it all away, embodied much of what Mr. Wien wrote.
Which of Byron Wien’s life lessons is your favorite?