Measuring the wrong way

The years between 2008 and 2012 has been interesting times. It was a point in my life where I started planting the roots of my financial future, but only to have it sprout and lean towards the wrong way.

In the middle of 2008 I headed over to Singapore. I stay at a hostel in Chinatown that was managed by one of the co-owners. He was more than willing to have a heart to heart chat about my financial situation at the time, as well as some of the online business mistakes I had recently encountered. Luckily, he wasn’t condescending in any way, nor did he take any cheap shots at me. He knew I simply needed candid feedback about what went wrong. It helped, and I am forever grateful for the time he spent with me having those talks.

At the end of 2008, I visited and stayed with an acquaintance in New Zealand. She was the motivated entrepreneur that was on the rise and just a few years younger than me. On the surface, for where she was at her mid 20’s, it was impressive. She owned multiple rental properties and ran her own property management company. I spent several days with her talking and discussing real estate, business, and the mindsets that exist behind people that have this kind of motivation. As of today, she appears to have grown dramatically since the last time we met.

After New Zealand, I took a flight to Melbourne so that I could meet up with a good friend for a few days. Like the girl from New Zealand, she also ran her own business – a retail store for fashion accessories. She’s the same age as me. For business, its different for her in that she more or less kind of just fell into her situation when working with her family. From her, it became clear why sometimes business didn’t make sense. And that ultimately came down to the true desires of the individual. I had a chance to sit out in her balcony, have a few drinks, and thoroughly listen to her thoughts. While not in a bad situation, she pictured herself differently than where she is now. As of today, I don’t know what’s she doing for her career but she’s engaged.

Shortly after, I spent a few days in Sydney with a close friend. He is married, but at the time he didn’t have any children. His story is interesting in that it almost mirrors the earlier life of a typical business success story. He never completed college. When he had turned 18, he preferred to study stocks instead of studying during the night before a final exam. He bought his first property at the age of 18. Subsequently he kept picking up more and more year after year, as long as it financially made sense. He spent years saving as if his life depended on it. He always knew he wanted to be a wolf and not a sheep. One thing he knew for sure is that school wasn’t going to take him there – he simply didn’t fit the school system. I spent one day observing how he ran his retail store in the mall. Some of my other friends in Sydney were perplexed by this, given that they perceived vacation more as a time of partying and site seeing. I don’t disagree, but I also want to gain perspective and insight. Besides I wasn’t much of a sightseer. But more importantly, we had spent many nights and car rides together over the course of 10 days talking and sharing ideas about life, purpose, business, money, and anything else that we felt passionate about.

In between these trips, I spent many nights at Starbucks and bookstores, reading up on the latest financial and entrepreneur business books. Some were a bust, but a few gems did stand out. Needless to say, I gained some insight from reading a few key books – including the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series. As a piece of advice, I don’t recommend this book if you’re looking for a cook book recipe.

By the beginning of 2009, I felt a sense of “reboot” inside me. I felt fresh and ready to tackle challenges again. After gaining some perspective on my past mistakes, I embraced 2009, 2010, and 2011 as moments to take charge once again. I decided one of my strengths was real estate. Not that I am a professional or anything, I just knew for a fact that I had a better understanding about it relative to the average Joe. What followed later was many nights and weekends at Starbucks with reading and more research. I also spent time visiting many different cities and talking to the locals. What made these cities tick? Why would anyone want to live there? Even if lots of people were renting from an area, what was it that made it happen? Was that reason sustainable? These are just a few of many aspects I thought about.

It was fun and new. I went into things without knowing much, other than a belief in myself that things will work out. I wrote my first full blown business plan. It had reasons as to what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it, and how I was going to sustain it. I wrote it in such a way that it could be given to someone as a proposal to have them trust their money with me. Looking back, I never followed the plan step by step. In fact, it acted as a means to exercise and train my mind. The fact of the matter is, plans usually don’t go as planned. It’s our ability to adjust to the current climate that ensures our success. But the business plan gave me some confidence in knowing that I had the ability to think these things through. But more importantly, I knew why I was doing it. Personally, it wasn’t money just for the sake of money. I needed money to fulfill a bigger purpose to the ones I care about. To this day, I still continue the mission even if I have periods of down time.

At the end of 2009, I started building the team. First I needed a property management company. Next I needed a trusted Realtor that could give me the real deal on what was going on in the rental market. Luckily those two people became one. The ball started rolling. I couldn’t stop when 2010 rolled around. Offers were made left and right, and I was excited to look at even the most ugly fixer uppers. Long story short, success reared it’s head. I later built my team by adding a good CPA to make sure my taxes were done right. Then 2011 and and half of 2012 became more or less the same. I kept running and building. It was like crack – I loved the feeling. To top it off, I had a supportive group of friends that cheered for me. In return, I was more than willing to share my experiences with them, hoping that they could chase their dreams too (it didn’t need to be in real estate).

But then suddenly things went the other way. I remember as a teenager, a time when I really adored and thought highly of the friends I spent time with, my parents warned me: things are cherry now, but it will change as you grow older when money is involved. At the time, I thought it was nonsense, but regardless those words remained inside me as the years went on. Eventually word spread, and now I am 30 years old. Within the same college, unless you failed out, no one was really better than the other. Everyone, for the most part, felt like they were on the same level as others. After graduating, if you found a job, then you felt like you were on equal footing as other graduates. But then 10 years later, it sinks in. It becomes common for many people to measure themselves by their salaries, job titles, and materials they own (i.e., cars, big homes, investments, etc.). And it’s an ugly thing.

I met one guy recently, through another friend (her boyfriend), that was cool in the beginning. He owned a house, and I owned my house. We had some good conversations about real estate. But later, my friend told him about my other investments. Then things changed. It started with, “oh, you have more than one house?” He continued to ask how many homes I had, in which I did tell him. That night, nothing happened, and it all seemed great.

But then, subsequent visits became awkward and tense:

  1. He would ask me how much I paid for property management, only to tell me how I was over paying. Yet, he’s never hired or worked with a property manager before.
  2. He would ask me what my interest rates were, only to tell me my mortgage broker didn’t work hard enough. At the time, he had only bought one house, and probably refinanced just once.
  3. He would ask if I was paying any HOA dues, only to tell me I messed up because HOAs messed up my purchasing power. Yes, he also pays HOA dues on his house.
  4. Subsequently, anytime I visited again, he’d always ask item #1 again and respond to me in the same manner.
  5. Any conversations we had about real estate resulted in him interrupting and pushing his point across without listening to what I had to say. Of course, he was talking and promoting ideas about RE stuff he hadn’t done yet.

Part of the problem, in addition to his already over-inflated ego, was that my friend used me as a measuring stick. I had done a lot more, and done it a lot earlier than him. Before he made a decision, she’d routinely tell him to check with me first. I’m sure that infuriated him. All of a sudden the visits became unpleasant because of him, so I simply avoided them unless it had been some time since we talked (usually 6+ months). I wouldn’t go as far as saying this guy wanted to get back at me personally – this is simply who he is. While observing him interact with his friends, he uses every opportunity possible to give unsolicited advice.

I had to stop visiting because I was starting to become him. I gradually started measuring myself the wrong way, not just with him, but with others, out of habit because of my interactions with him. Any time I sensed someone wanted to challenge my worth or status, automatically a check list fumbled through my head. It became such a bad habit and for a period of time, it consumed my thinking pattern:

  1. Job title
  2. Job salary
  3. # of investments
  4. Other assets
  5. My age

I’d scan through each of these items and compare it with the other person. If I was “better” with at least 3 or more of these items, I suddenly felt confident and secure. But, this is for all the wrong reasons.

I suddenly became the person I worked so hard to not be. I didn’t want to be “Keeping up with the Joneses,” but unfortunately I unintentionally started to, and it eventually became a normal reaction to any stimulus that challenged my worth as a human being. When I had first started my path to wealth, it wasn’t to compare myself to others. During my travelings years, when I had nothing, I was seeking others more for inspiration, an exchange of ideas, and their own personal stories in this journey. I was never using them as a measuring stick. And I had fun on this journey more so for the sake of doing the work, and not because I wanted to be better than someone else. It is fun seeing my estimated ROI become a reality, not that my ROI is better than “the Joneses” next door.

Now it’s clear, so damn clear. I had become the jerk I never wanted to be. Obviously things are different now. I’ve come to this realization and have made the adjustments. The first thing was to continue avoiding conversation with people like this. Second, I keep my investment conversations strictly with only those that thrive in the exchange of ideas, not ones that thrive in a battling of egos.

This is one of the most honest posts I have ever written, one that is truly an open book that puts my mistakes out there and my realization of how silly I was. I managed to turn something that was once fun and fulfilling, into a pointless race that drags on forever with no end in sight.

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