Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dying to be Broke

When Edward was just a child, making money was of serious interest to him.  He made his first investment at 11 years old, buying just three shares of stock for $37 each.  The stock’s value went down at first, but Edward held on.  It finally turned around, and he sold his shares for just a small profit – but regretted the decision later when the stock shot up to nearly $200 a share.  It was Edward’s first lesson on patience in investing.

By age of 13, he was running his own business.  He sold chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and magazines door to door. He also detailed cars, delivered newspapers, and distributed his own horseracing tip sheet.  And, when he filed his first tax return, he took a $35 deduction for business usage of his bicycle.

Throughout the next decade, Edward would attend college to study economics, work briefly for a professional investment firm, and purchase his first home.  Following his instincts, he sought out undervalued companies with solid management teams and strong products in order to invest in them.  He was frugal, patient, intuitive, and did his homework.  Over the next fifty years, this approach made Warren Edward Buffett the most successful investor of the 20th century.

But then what?  What does a person do when they’ve literally become the wealthiest person on earth (which Warren Buffett was ranked in 2008)?  Buy an island?  Build a spaceship?  Pay whatever it takes to get us another season of Breaking Bad?  Some of us might do those things.  Warren Buffett, on the other hand, decided to give his fortune away.

Warren never made extravagant purchases.  He and his wife certainly never wanted for anything, but they lived an essentially normal life.  His children rode the bus to school, grew up in the same house that Warren bought in 1957 (and still owns), and attended public school.  He’d talk to the family a bit about finances, but more about his general philosophy on life.  He also believed in letting his kids fail and succeed on their own, telling them things like, “You don't have to swing at every pitch,” and then leaving them alone.  In this way, he made sure that their successes would be entirely their own.

For most of his adult life, Warren had it in mind to donate his money.  As early as his late 20s, he began talking to his wife about doing so, explaining to her that there would be a lot of money coming in their life.  At the time, she laughed.  But, as years passed and his statement about the wealth they’d amass gradually became fact, they agreed to find the right avenues to give it away. 

Warren’s view is that it would actually be selfish to keep the wealth in one’s own family when there are so many people struggling in the world.  It wasn’t that he wanted to deprive his children; he simply wanted to give them just enough so that they’d feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they’d feel like doing nothing.

At the age of 34, Warren started a foundation, into which he funneled millions of dollars each year that would be directed toward a variety of charitable causes.  He also started separate foundations for each of his three children; not for their own use, but to run when they were of age, giving them each the opportunity to direct a portion of the family wealth toward humanitarian efforts of their choosing.

In 2006, Warren Buffett demonstrated the Live to Give Mindset as powerfully as anyone ever has, announcing his plan to give his personal fortune, billions of dollars, to charity.  More than 80% would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest transparent charities, which focuses on world health issues and education.  He also made staggering gifts of several billion dollars to each of his children’s foundations.  At 84 years old, he is on track to have just enough left for funeral expenses by the time he passes away.

Many people spend their lives trying to get, get, get.  And yet, when you look at an example of one of the most successful individuals in history at “getting,” you see a man who, for more than fifty years, has been focusing on how to give, give, give.  You’re never too young or too old to start thinking about what you can do to serve others while pursuing your own dreams.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nobody's Fault

John was a quiet, unique kid who often felt like he didn’t fit in.  He struggled academically in middle school, not because he wasn’t smart, but because feeling like an outcast occupied more of his attention than his studies did.  He was intelligent and enjoyed learning, but often fell behind and failed to complete his work.  To make matters worse, he was frequently bullied.

When high school started, things weren’t getting much better.  At last, John had a moment of significant self-awareness.  He recognized the troubling direction his life was taking, and so, in a desperate move to change things, he asked his parents to send him away to boarding school in another state.  John felt like he needed a fresh start to get his future on track, and his parents were supportive.

The new environment altered the course of John’s life.  He felt more welcome, which freed him to be himself.  He was well-liked, and began spending time with a group of fellow students who read and debated poetry and philosophy.  The experience made a lasting impression on John, creating a belief in him that, no matter how isolated and alone someone might feel, their ideal community was out there somewhere.

John graduated from college with a double major in English and Religious Studies.  For a short time, he planned to become a priest, even going so far as to enroll in Divinity School while working as a student chaplain in a children's hospital.  However, the experience of working with children suffering from life-threatening illnesses inspired him to change directions, and John decided to become an author of young adult stories instead.

Within a few years, John completed his first novel, a school story based partly on his own life.  His firsthand experience with bullying and feeling like an outsider shaped his ability to connect with young people, and he recognized that feeling lost and experiencing pain are difficult but meaningful parts of maturing.  The novel was published in 2005, and it was recognized as the year’s best book written for teens by the American Library Association. 

John Green balances being an adult with still being able to empathize with the challenges of adolescence.  This sense of understanding infuses each of his books, and has helped elevate him to international recognition as a young adult author.  His most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, is an homage to the time he spent working in the children’s hospital.  Its tragic tale of love and the search for meaning in the face of mortality has far more to say to young readers than many other books in the YA genre.

John’s affinity for connecting has also played a significant role in sparking humanitarian efforts.  In 2007, John and his brother Hank started a YouTube video correspondence in order to keep in better touch, since they were on other sides of the country.  By posting the videos in a public forum, they were able to build a community of followers who enjoyed and identified with what the brothers had to say.  This led to their creation of the Foundation to Decrease WorldSuck.  The name was a bit of a joke, but their efforts are real.

Each year, the Foundation sponsors a charity event called the Project for Awesome, in which the brothers mobilize their massive YouTube following of over a million subscribers to create innovative videos promoting their favorite charities, with the aim of gaining awareness and donations for them.  In 2013, $869,591 was raised by the Greens’ Project for Awesome.

It’s easy to think about the problems of the world and assume that they’re too big for us to do anything about.  But if everyone thought that way, nothing would ever be done.  We Are Connected is about recognizing that we’re all in this together, and doing something, anything, to help will only make the world better for each of us.  Who would guess that a series of teen novels and weekly video conversations between two brothers would create an army of devotees ready to put their time and energy toward supporting causes they believe in?  You don’t have to be a full-time philanthropist or humanitarian in order to make a difference.  But don’t be surprised if just doing what you do well helps make the world a better place along the way.

Until Next Week,

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Any Given Sunday

When my wife and I first moved to Atlanta, I took her to a football game because her favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, was playing the Atlanta Falcons.  It was a televised Monday night game, and she wore a 49ers jersey even though we were sitting with the Falcons’ fans.  San Francisco clobbered Atlanta that game, and the only person cheering in our section was my wife.  I think that was the last time we went to a game together.

As a new season of football begins here in the United States, I thought it might be interesting to look to the past and learn the story of how one of the most popular professional sports in America got started on the road to becoming the frenzied national spectacle it is today…

It began in Pennsylvania in the 1890s, when matches between local athletic clubs were so competitive that one of them, the Allegheny Athletic Association, hired a Yale football star to play for them in a game against a rival club.  William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was paid $25 to play, along with a $500 bonus if they won.  He scored the only touchdown, won the bonus, and became the first official professional football player. Within four years, the entire Allegheny team was made up of paid players.  As football became more popular, teams were organized all over the country.

Despite its growth, football was considered a secondary sport for the next few decades, being overshadowed by boxing, horseracing, and baseball.  It drew crowds as a spectator sport, but lack of organization and vision were keeping it from realizing its potential.

In 1920, a young athlete named George moved to Decatur, Illinois to take a sales position with Staley Starch after a hip injury ended his professional baseball career.  George had played a bit of football as well, and he became the player-coach of the company football team.  The team had 13 wins and just one loss under George in his first season.

In August of that year, four Ohio football team owners met in an automobile showroom in Canton, Ohio to form a new professional league.  They nominated legendary decathlete and football star Jim Thorpe to be its president, hoping his fame would help get the league taken seriously.  On September 17, a second meeting was held in Canton, and George was present on behalf of the Decatur Staleys.  Sitting on the running boards of cars, the men officially formed the American Professional Football Association, made up of 14 teams.  Within 2 years, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League, and Staley Starch turned over control of its team to George. 

George moved the team to Chicago and renamed them the Bears.  Over the course of nearly five decades, George Halas made huge contributions to what would eventually become the most popular sports league in North America.  He helped perfect the T Formation, an offensive approach that redefined the sport by making it more fluid and exciting to watch.  He achieved numerous coaching records, and participated in not just the creation of the league, but in helping get the sport televised.  He had the kind of impact that only perseverance, along with talent and intelligence, can make possible.

Thinking about George’s lifetime as an NFL coach makes me think about patience.  Most people don’t have enough of it when it comes to getting where they want to be in life.  And while it’s easy to say “just have patience,” we all know it’s never really that easy.  I’ll admit that even I’m not always the most patient person.

As hard as it is to be patient, it’s vital to realize that everything that happens is going to help you in some way.  If you’re trying to move forward in your education but it feels like it’s never going to end, try to recognize that every single thing you learn is positively impacting your personal growth.  If you’re trying to progress in your career, remind yourself that every experience is building you into the person who’ll be ready to seize that big opportunity when it comes your way. 

Today, September 17th, the NFL celebrates its 94th anniversary as a league built on stamina, resilience, patience and passion.  It’s a good time to remember that, even if something doesn’t appear relevant now, you may be surprised at how it comes back around to help you at just the right time.  Your big chance may be just around the corner, and no matter who your team is, I’ll be rooting for you this Sunday!

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Wish I Was Here

At the age of eleven, Zachary went to summer acting camp.  It was the first place he’d ever been where it wasn’t unusual to care more about acting than sports, and he loved it.  There, Zachary was noticed by a talent manager who encouraged him to begin auditioning.  He only landed one small role during his teens, but learned a lot about the process of putting on shows and organizing film and TV productions.

Zachary studied film in college, during which time he also got his first role in a major movie.  He was wide-eyed and terrified to be in a scene with several big Hollywood figures, but made the most of the experience. He also earned a significant role in a theatrical production of Macbeth, but acting work was so scarce that he eventually decided to try his luck out west.

Zachary relocated to Hollywood, and got a job waiting tables in a French-Vietnamese restaurant.  That year, three very small independent films in which he appeared were released, the last of which got him some positive attention.  Restaurant guests would say, “We just saw your movie!” to which he’d answer, “Thanks… now let me tell you about our specials.”

After several years of waiting tables and auditioning, Zachary landed the starring role in a major TV series.  He immediately quit his serving job, then learned that the series wouldn’t start filming for several months.  With almost no money, he panicked, realizing he may have quit too early.  Ultimately, though, he decided it was a sign that he needed to stop procrastinating, and finally work on writing the movie script he’d been thinking about for some time.

His script focused on a mostly out-of-work Los Angeles actor who returns to his New Jersey home for his mother's funeral.  It garnered little studio interest.  Zachary’s TV show was doing well, but almost every production house he pitched passed on his movie due to his unwillingness to change what they felt were basic structural problems.  Finally, Zachary managed to find a financial backer for his project who had no experience whatsoever in the entertainment industry.  It was perfect, because the novice producer did something no major studio would have done:  he agreed to let Zachary star in the movie, direct it, and have final approval over the finished film.

Zachary “Zach” Braff’s first movie, Garden State, transformed his life.  He had become recognizable as the likeably-bumbling star of NBC’s Scrubs, but the positive reviews and enormous financial success of Garden State marked him as a filmmaker to be taken seriously.  Moreover, he had done it without sacrificing his vision for the movie, something few first-time filmmakers get the chance to do.  But even so, repeating the success of that process wouldn’t be easy.

Over the next eight years, Zach pursued numerous filmmaking projects, and learned that getting a movie made the normal Hollywood way wasn’t easy.  In one case, he had a commitment to direct one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, until that star called back to say that his wife didn’t want him to work that year.  On another occasion, Zach was scouting locations for a film and got word that he had lost his star to a bigger, more famous director.  Two other times, he was set to make movies at major studios, but his champion at the studio was fired.  Without a champion to fight for a project and studio resources, a production was as good as done before it began.

In 2013, Zach decided to stop trying to do things the Hollywood way, and went back to what had worked for him the first time:  going outside the system.  Instead of looking for major film studio backing, Zach appealed to all the fans he had made with his first movie, inviting them to help fund turning the new script he and his brother had written into a movie.  It was an overwhelming success.  Surpassing his funding goals by over a million dollars, Zach was able to direct and star in Wish I Was Here, a movie that would have hardly been recognizable if he had let Hollywood do it their way.

Sometimes we let other people dictate how our dreams are supposed to turn out.  I hope Zach’s story will remind you that your future is yours to write. If nothing could get in your way, what dream would you pursue next?  Lights… camera… action!

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

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