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What is your WHY?

October 26, 2020
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What is your why? Why do you get up at 4am to workout, why do you give up ice cream (more like HOW) and choose a healthier snack, why do you make sure you dress to impress? Everyone has a "why" for the things they are passionate about, we all have a reason for doing the things we do. It's that little internal voice that pushes us to go further, work harder, and push for the things that mean the most to us. For me, it is my family and my career. I didn't have a why when I started my career. Just a little backstory, my path to graduate college was a bit longer than most- I had to take extra classes in sleep and beer before I could get my degree. When I finally graduated I had no clue what to do or where to do it. Like most people who want a job, I asked google what she thought? After applying for countless jobs, filling out the same info in the applications that were on my resume (seriously, can someone fix this?), I got an interview with a small financial firm that helps people with investing, retirement planning, life insurance, and just savings in general.

During the interview they played a video that talked about investing. I thought to myself, what is a mutual fund, life insurance is for old people, don't you have to be rich for stocks, and retirement planning? Come on I'm in my 20's. But... it sounded really cool and having a sweet title to brag about to my friends was intriguing. This was my first interview for a career instead of a part time or filler job. The important things, though, I really liked: I would get to help people with their money, hopefully change lives, be an important resource to families, and do very well for myself (this one sounded the best, of course.) My current job was delivering furniture so I thought, what do I have to lose? I have a degree in math, maybe I'll be good at it.

Well, they were right. I was changing lives; selling life insurance, helping people save for the future, and generally just calling everyone I had ever known so I could try to sell them something. It was very hard and frustrating. Honestly, I was smiling through misery... I was stressed for money and always felt like I was only a salesman bugging people who didn't want to talk to me. All I could think was, I'm offering the ability for people to make money by doing nothing but saving it so who would say no? I was trying to sell products that put people in a better place but the "no's" were putting me in a worse place. After the first year I told my manager I couldn't do it any more. I had gained almost 30 pounds from the stress, my income was hardly enough to live on and was so up and down it was almost impossible to put together a budget. I was simply not happy. I had to ask myself, "can I do this for the next 30 years? Can I make hundreds of phone calls per week just to set 5-10 meetings to try to sell to people who don't want to buy from me? Can I deal with hearing NO over and over?" 

Instead of telling me to hit the road or begging me to stay, my manager and mentor advised me to sit down with the people who matter the most to me and ask them if THEY think I should stay in this industry. The first two people I spoke to were my Grandmothers. They were my role models and the two most amazing women on the planet, so their opinion mattered the most to me. One told me I could do anything I wanted to do, and that I could succeed where others had failed because I was so smart and beautiful (I think it's in the grandma by-laws to say that, but a nice pep talk always feels good.) I expected that from her because she is the backbone of my family, always ready to lift someone up. My other grandmother hit me with a story I will never forget. You know when you hear or see something that gives you that "pause" moment, where you get an aura-like feeling and everything sort of just blurs around you. Her life and story is one of the main reasons I decided to stick with helping people with their finances for almost 9 years now. It is my WHY.

The whole story follows:

My grandparents owned one of the more prevalent coal companies in Kentucky. They employed hundreds and the company profited millions. As a child, I remember loving going to their house on the weekends. Hide n seek games lasted forever because the house was so big! At times you had to give up your hiding spot so you wouldn't be lost forever, even giving "hints" at the top of your lungs would go unheard. My mom even tells me I would always ask if they could build a road from our house to theirs because it took too long to drive there. My grandparents were very well off, so well off that my Dad and uncles would ride in the private helicopter to their high school football games, generally landing in the center of the football field. Financially they were "set."

She goes on to tell me that a close friend of theirs was an advisor. He would ask my grandfather to meet with him multiple times per year, but being the proud man that he was, he would always reply "We've got it taken care of, we're all set." I told my grandmother that I hear that phrase so many times that I mock the words with the face of a third grader on the playground. Well, come to find out, he did not have it taken care of. The coal business had taken a turn. Other types of energy were being pushed, new regulations added, and the company he was so proud of was starting to go under. He had offers to sell to the larger coal firms that would have set my grandparents for life and leave a legacy for their family. Like I said, though, my grandfather was a very proud (and stubborn) man. He loved what he had built, he had his "why" and wouldn't let go of it. The thought of cutting hundreds of jobs would leave him sleepless and sick. So he turned down the life changing offers and put every dime they had saved in to his business. He was paying his employees with his own earned money, doing anything he could to save what he loved.

Fast forward a bit. The inevitable happened and his business he had built from day one in to a power house in the energy sector was bankrupt. Since he used all his savings to pay for the company expenses and payroll, he was completely broke. The house they built, their vehicles, just about everything was sold so they could start over. My grandparents went from a 10 bedroom mansion to a double wide trailer. He was a different man after that, he lost his glow and his chest now sunk in instead of perching out like a peacock. His demeanor had changed so much I was almost intimidated and scared of him. He was stressed, broken, and seemed so heartbroken. So much so, that he had a fatal heart attack not long after. Terrible story, I know, but it gets worse.  

This is what punched me in the face so hard you would think a ghost was wearing boxing gloves with bricks in them. My grandfather was so proud and stubborn, that he thought he would have time to make up for his losses. He thought he would be able to take care of his family in other ways. Unfortunately, he ran out of time. He had every intention to get back on his feet, but intentions without actions amount to nothing but lost time. My grandmother told me of the plans they had, plans to work longer and meet with an advisor to get their finances in order. Well, they waited too long because my Grandmother ended up spending her last days in a small one bedroom apartment living on less than $100 per month to spend after her bills and medication. She had anything and everything she could have wanted- jewelry, clothing, vehicles, anything that money could buy. But when my grandfather passed away he left her nothing. Not that he didn't love her, because that was very evident in their relationship, they were very much in love. It's that he waited too long. He could have made sure that they would be taken care of should something happen to either one. My grandmother took steps on her own to make sure he would be okay if she had passed way first, but he pushed it off until it was too late. She literally went from riches to rags - all because their financial professional didn't help. 

WOW... I was speechless. She looked me in the eyes and told me not to quit, not to take no for an answer. She didn't tell me to do my best, didn't say I could do it. Only that I HAD AN OBLIGATION to help if I were capable enough to do so.

When I left and called my manager and asked for more advice. I needed a plan. After telling him the story, he said, "You have your WHY." 

"My what?" I responded.

Your "WHY!" 

From that moment, I realized I was going about this business completely wrong. I was doing this all for ME. I was SELLING financial tools because they were pretty and fancy and had potential to make people money and make me money, I had not yet understood the impact they make on people's lives. I knew my clients would benefit from them, but didn't have them as a plan. Then something crazy happened... I started to get REALLY into this career. Instead of dreading waking up and starting my day, I began working with purpose and conviction. I couldn't help but think how many people I could help just by making one more phone call, or asking one more person to have a conversation with me.

My "why" came from someone else's story, something I could relate to. Your why may come from within, from personal experience, something you see on the news, it can come from anywhere. Once you find it, take off with it and with any luck you'll succeed.


Note: The book "Start with Why," by Simon Sinek is a great place to start finding your why!