Editor’s Note: Welcome again to 2016. Today, we close out our “Pledge Week” New Year’s resolution series. Thanks for joining in.
As we set off into the New Year, Mark leaves you with the final, most important pledge for a wealthier 2016…
From Mark Ford, founder, Palm Beach Research Group: I was 14 when I first heard the word “underachiever.”
Mrs. Growe, my ninth-grade English teacher, used it to describe a student who had, in her opinion, failed to work to his potential. The student? Yours truly.
“Mr. Ford,” she announced to the class, “is the classic example of an underachiever. He doesn’t complete his assignments. He shows up late for class… and then wastes his time daydreaming. As a result, he produces C work. From a child with modest potential, I’d be happy with mediocre results. In his case, I’m very disappointed.”
I wasn’t surprised by the assessment. It was accurate. I couldn’t deny it. The female maturation process held my interest at that time. That and football. And goofing around with my friends. And just about anything else but schoolwork.
I wasn’t a good reader. And I couldn’t sit still during class. Much later, I discovered I was suffering from a combination of dyslexia and what is now called attention deficit disorder. But neither Mrs. Growe nor I knew about such things then.
As far as she was concerned, I was a perennial slacker. I shared her opinion. At least once a year, however, I promised myself I’d “turn over a new leaf.” I sensed, as Mrs. Growe did, I was not as dumb as my grades suggested. And I felt, deep down in my bones, that eventually I’d make a success of myself.
But before I could be successful, I had to change something very fundamental about myself.
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That change began at the end of my senior year. I woke up one day and realized I was disgusted with myself.
I was tired of being a screwup. I was sick of getting lousy grades and playing the fool in class. I wanted to become the person Mrs. Growe thought I should be. But it seemed to be too late. There was only a month to go before graduation… and it was obviously impossible to rectify four years of poor performance in such a short time.
Since my grades were mediocre, I had no chance of getting a college scholarship. And since my parents couldn’t afford to help me with tuition, I had no choice but to attend a community college.
The community college was happy to take my $400 a year. And it would be equally happy to give me the Cs I’d been earning in high school. But I wasn’t willing to live that life any longer.
Oddly enough, it seemed my lack of academic success at that point in my life was a benefit in disguise. I was about to put myself in an environment where mediocrity held sway—where I’d be competing with other high school screwups just like me.
But what if I used the remaining time I had in high school to prepare for a new and better life in college? What if I directed my energy toward developing skills and habits that’d help me succeed over the next four years?
And that’s exactly what I did. The Saturday after I made my big decision to change, I drove my ’56 Bel Air to Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York. I gathered together everything I could find about the school. I brought it all back home and spent the rest of the weekend carefully reading every pamphlet and brochure.
I was doing something I’d never done before: getting ahead of my competition by planning my success. In the next few weeks, I became a minor expert in that little college. I knew every course they offered, every major available, and every teacher who’d be teaching freshmen that year.
Taking the initiative to plan my success gave me a very positive feeling. I could actually feel myself changing. I was becoming—even before I began—a serious and committed student.
Which Palm Beach Research Group team member is pledging today?
I realized I’d be starting college as a brand-new person. None of my teachers would have heard about my high school antics, and none of my fellow students would be expecting me to be the class clown.
Starting college without the bad reputation I’d established in high school was like a gift from the gods. I could walk into my new classes as an interested, enthusiastic student who was there to succeed.
And that’s what happened. I showed up for classes in September on time, prepared with the required texts. I sat in the front row and raised my hand whenever the teacher asked questions. I did my homework assignments and spent my spare time studying. Between attending classes, studying, and running a house-painting business on the side, I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
By the end of the first semester, I had the reputation of being an A student. Throughout the rest of my college and graduate school career, I never regressed.
I sometimes think about what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t finally become disgusted with myself. Or if I’d failed to make those preparations that allowed me to turn over a new leaf.
It’s highly likely I’d be grinding out a living somewhere working a job I didn’t like, struggling to pay my bills, and making futile resolutions—knowing I’d live out my life as a bootless loser.
The difference for me was the simple realization that if I didn’t change myself, my life wouldn’t change—not then or ever. I’d wasted my high school years making promises I never truly meant to keep. But I was tired of doing that.
Thinking back, I can see there were several factors that allowed me to change in a serious and committed way:
First, I’d bottomed out emotionally. I’d finally reached a point where I truly detested myself for not achieving what I felt was my potential.
Second, I made a decision to change completely—to go from being a C student to the top of my class.
Third, I recognized I would have to change not just my work habits, but the way I thought about myself. I’d have to “become” the A student I wanted to be.
And last, but not least, I took action immediately. I didn’t wait until September to make the change. I started right away by preparing myself to succeed during my final months of high school.
Have you made resolutions you’ve failed to keep? Held dreams of success and happiness you’ve failed to fulfill? Do you sometimes feel that, however much you’ve done, you’re still, in part, an underachiever?
If so, there’s good news. Your past behavior has no bearing on your future work habits.
If you can change the way you work—even a little—you can change the way you live.
Most people reading this will think, “I don’t need another motivational speech. What I need is a change of luck.”
I’m here to say luck had nothing to do with the change in my life. And it needn’t have anything to do with whatever changes you’d like to make in yours. Had I waited for luck to come to me, I might be waiting still.
My life changed when I got fed up and started planning my success.
A final pledge for 2016…
We’re winding down on Pledge Week 2016, and I want to leave you with just one more pledge to add to the list…
Your goal is to become significantly wealthier than you are today. I’m here to tell you it can happen. And it can happen quicker than you suspect… if you implement the strategies I’ve been teaching you.
But you can’t sit back and wait for Lady Luck to arrive. As we’ve been discussing all week, you need to take action.
So on that note, here’s a final pledge for your 2016 master wealth-building plan.
You’re going to promise you’ll make a commitment to get a little bit richer every day in 2016.
How are you going to do that? In two ways…
First, you’ll commit to making more money this year than you did last year. Second, you’ll commit to investing a higher percentage of your gross income than you ever have before.
Start with a small goal: Saving $200 per month isn’t too much for most people. If your combined family income is $50,000, $200 represents only about 5% of your gross income.
Saving $500 per month isn’t hard either—provided you are ambitious, frugal, and willing to follow my advice. In fact, I’m completely confident you can save a good deal more than that—even if you haven’t broken through the $100,000-per-year barrier.
You can do that by following the program laid out below:
Step 1: Boost your income.
Calculate the total family income you earned last year. Then make a commitment to bring in an additional 10%. You can do that by convincing your boss to give you a raise (by working to become an invaluable employee), setting up and achieving some kind of bonus plan, switching jobs, finding part-time work on weekends, or starting a second, home-based business.
It doesn’t matter so much what you do—at least at first. The important thing is to bump yourself up to that next level of income and then direct at least half of that extra income to savings—not spending. Of course, the government will take its slice. But even if you don’t earn much—say, less than $35,000 per year—you should still be able to tuck away close to $200 per month by following this program.
Step 2: Spend less and invest more of your existing income.
Figure out what percentage of last year’s income you saved. If it was less than 10%, resolve to bring it up by five percentage points. If it was more than 10%, you might want to be more conservative—increasing it by two percentage points, for example.
Step 3: Reward yourself for making and saving more.
You could save all your extra income, but I wouldn’t advise it. When you improve your wealth-building behavior, you should reinforce that with some kind of reward. My best recommendation is to take some reasonable percentage of your extra income (say, 10% of it) and spend it on something you’ll really enjoy.
There’s no point in getting wealthy for its own sake. One can lead a perfectly good life without financial prosperity. If you make the extra effort to get wealthy, do the right thing and enjoy it. It’s good for you (the last thing you want to become is a rich Scrooge), it’s good for the people you buy things from, and it’s good for the economy in general.
So spend, but not too much…
Reeves’ Note: We hope you’ve enjoyed the last several days of resolutions in the Daily. May they be your inspiration for a richer New Year.
Keep up the momentum by becoming a member of the Wealth Builders Club. The content we featured this week is a fraction of the valuable insights and detailed lessons Mark provides inside…
Remember, the Club only opens to new members once or twice a year. Its doors are closing again at midnight tonight. Take the next step to a happier, healthier, wealthier 2016, right here.