If there is one word that describes my personal journey I hope that word is enduring. I’ve always believed in building relationships, businesses, and institutions that take on purpose and value to withstand the ebbs and flows of time, the ups and downs up markets, and the trials and tribulations of families. In other words, building enduring relationships, families, and businesses.
One wouldn’t describe my roots as privileged or financially and emotionally secure. I come from a family that was embroiled in turmoil. From a very young age I knew I had to define my own destiny. As a child I understood my parents had to make trade offs. I heard them constantly stressed about finances. I recall one day shopping for a toy I really wanted but when the moment came to buy the toy I cowered and told them I no longer wanted it. I feared for the family finances and any resulting stress. I was already wearing the responsibility to take care of myself as a primary school boy and wiring my brain to help me thrive in what I observed as a very chaotic world.
It was at this very young and impressionable age where many of the financial and life values that defined and continue defining my personal journey were imprinted. Material gain and pursuit were never part of the dream. I chased experiences, knowledge, personal growth, physical challenges, and was constantly driven by an insatiable curiosity to learn everything about anything and anybody. Finances were a means to fund experiences and not a path to “riches”.
In my early twenties I graduated from university with five hundred dollars in my bank account and six thousand in school debt. It wasn’t a lot of debt compared to many but it was my financial status. Within a year I paid off my school debt and by the age of thirty I built a respectable portfolio. I didn’t buy a car and opted for public transportation, cycling, or walking to get around. I continued living like a student in a downtrodden slumlord apartment instead of buying a big house, getting a mortgage and buying a car. I recall many friends and colleagues making fun of my apartment, but it didn’t matter, as it wasn’t essential. I shared expenses with a roommate and ultimately saved more than fifty percent of my salary. I put up with subpar living arrangements and the inconvenience of not having a car as I never felt they were important… at least not important enough to take on the associated debt and commitment or constraints to a job that required me to be subservient to the loans.
At the time I didn’t realize it, but my frugal lifestyle afforded me the opportunity to take risks with my career. Being constantly curious I always pushed to take on more and more responsibility and to persistently get out of my comfort zone. Had I had a big mortgage I may not have taken these risks, joined a startup and moved continents to pursue new career opportunities.
But when I look back at my twenty years since university I’ve come to appreciate the enduring nature of what I’ve built.
In the 1990s so many businesses were built on the Internet bubble. I knew something was fundamentally wrong with these startup.com businesses. What value were they creating for their customers, partners and shareholders? Would they actually last? I always strived to identify the true market problem and build products and solutions to address these real needs, and work with customers to ensure they best exploited the products to obtain the best returns. To me there is nothing more enduring or satisfying than watching a customer get enjoyable rewards from using a product I built, or played a key role in bringing to market with other members of my team. Ultimately, we built enduring and renewable businesses that delivered value and continued delivering value daily.
It took me many years to build a family that made me feel secure and welcomed me with unconditional love. I finally married the love of my life in my thirties and had our first child when I was thirty-six. Our second child arrived when I was just turning forty. It took me several years to work on myself, at work my professional career was thriving, but to build an enduring family with respect and love, it took a lot of personal and emotional development. I had to learn to first respect myself, be comfortable in my own skin, laugh at myself, and accept others for the immutable beauty that they are.
Today I have a wonderful family with two vibrant girls that love me to no end… but this is earned. I don’t take this love for granted. It takes time, investment, and devotion. It takes compassion, understanding, and more importantly it requires celebration. We need to celebrate each other’s lives and encourage everyone to be unique and true to their own calling.
As for building an enduring financial portfolio I followed two rules. The first was to always live frugally and the second was to make as much money as possible in my career (ethically and with integrity). This meant I always had more income than I needed and invested the difference. Today I have an enduring portfolio that gives me the financial flexibility to continue taking risks driving my persistent desire to grow, experience new life challenges and learn new skills.
There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts to wealth or meaningful relationships. It takes time and commitment to build anything that is enduring. By focusing the time and energy into building a solid foundation, that foundation becomes the cornerstone or fulcrum for creating amazing new opportunities for yourself and others.
Ultimately, I needed to build myself into a productive and enduring foundation, not built on the size of my financial portfolio but built on my skills, my network, my integrity, what I give to others, and my desire to learn. Even in my mid forties I still feel like a child constantly amazed at what I’ve yet to learn and where and from whom I learn be it a child on the streets, an old man on the bus, my wife, or colleagues at work. Everyone has something to teach everyone.
It took me a long time to build myself into an enduring person who can manage the daily journeys. Yet, I still feel anxious when I’m about to embark upon a new mission or sign up for a new challenge. There is a kid inside of me both scared and exhilarated at the possibilities of anything new. But there is something deeper within me still pushing myself further. Perhaps my insatiable thirst for knowledge will never abate and deeper within my emotional roots there is this constant push to always raise my personal bar, to discover new limits, fail, and then push again. But I do so knowing that I’ve built a solid and enduring foundation in my life and family.