When Harlan Sanders received his first Social Security check, he got mad. Up to that point in his life, he had been a self-described failure. When he received that Social Security check, it felt to him as if the government had confirmed him as a failure, and said, “OK, you tried. We’ll take care of you now.”
In his anger and frustration, he decided to start selling his “11 herb and spices” chicken recipe. That, in turn, became Kentucky Fried Chicken, and he turned into Colonel Sanders. The last third of his life was enormously successful. He finished much stronger than he started.
You may have spent 30–40 years or more in this profession of ours. Your humble correspondent will hit 43 years of practice this fall, and arrived at what Social Security calls “full retirement age” a few months ago. You’ve seen a lot and overcome tremendous obstacles.
You may be contemplating retirement, or you may feel like you are building momentum. What can you do to make the rest of your career the best of your career, and why should you? Instead of retirement, do you still have something to accomplish? Instead of retirement, have you considered “re-firement?”
Who finished strong?
- Grandma Moses’ paintings are displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. Yet she first picked up a brush in her 60s, and wasn’t well-known until her 80s.
- At age 51, future President Harry S. Truman was a failed haberdasher and a county official in Kansas City, Missouri.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing in her 40s, but it wasn’t until she published Little House in the Big Woods in her 60s and later Little House on the Prairie that she gained a following.
- Ray Krok was a salesman of milkshake machines in his 50s when he met the McDonald brothers and started a chain of restaurants with golden arches.
- Warren Buffett has accumulated 97% of his wealth after age 65.
I have enough gray hair that clients sometimes ask my younger partners, “When is Bill retiring?” They know to answer “Never.”
My plan comes from an advisor I had lunch with years ago, in Richmond, Virginia. He told us that he had been a civil servant until he was 59, and then a financial advisor for 30 years. I asked him, “Am I doing the math right on that?” He replied, “Yes you are. I’m 89 and when I leave this meeting, I’m going up Machu Pichu with my grandkids!” There’s my goal. Working at 89 and going up Machu Pichu with my grandkids.
Consider the advantages you have as a ‘chronologically gifted’ advisor:
- Gray hair and wrinkles. In any profession, people give credit to experience. Rookie mistakes are behind you.
- Perspective. When investors worry about the market or feel irrational exuberance, you have the quiet confidence of one who has seen it all before. Like an experienced white water rafting guide, you can bring them safely through the tumultuous journey because of your lived experience.
- Teaching talent. You are at the peak of your ability to explain financial concepts, especially through illustrations and stories.
- No fear. This change in your personality has occurred so gradually that it may have gone unnoticed. Unlike in your salad days, today you can walk up to any center of influence or prospect confidently because you know beyond question more about money than they do. Any rejection is just amusing to you, rather than felt in your soul. Like a veteran performer on stage, you’re relaxed and confident.
- Your peers are baby boomers or Gen X-ers. They are likely at the peak of their asset accumulation and earning power. And you know everyone in your community. If you don’t know someone, you likely have a mutual acquaintance.
- You have achieved a certain level of business and financial stability. Because no prospect is too important to you, that comes across. People are drawn to the person who doesn’t “need” the business. You are the person being selective in new clients you take on, almost like a doctor with a “closed practice.”
- You know who you are.
That doesn’t mean there are no obstacles to finishing strong:
- Technology. Although it provides great opportunity, changing technology requires constant learning, and perhaps getting help from younger team members.
- Role and goals. You may have to update how you think of yourself and your role. Your biggest role now may be to be a leader and a mentor. Clint Eastwood as a young man in the 1960’s starred as “Rowdy Yates” in the western T.V. show Rawhide. Now in his 90’s, Eastwood is still productive, but he no longer plays the hard-riding cowboy. Some would argue that the films he produces or stars in during his last few decades have been better and more meaningful than any work he did when he was young.
- Time. Gone are the years when you worked 12-hour days, or felt like it. No worries; these days, one well-placed phone call or email can be more productive than 1,000 cold calls in your early years.
Why finish strong
- You are vital to someone’s future. Your clients, their children, and their grandchildren need your advice in order to leave them the best possible legacy of wisdom and wealth. A reporter once asked the great baseball player Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every day, even after his position in baseball history was secured. “Because there might have been someone in the stands today who had never seen me play before, and might never see me play again.” There is still someone out there who will hear from you, and believe what you say because they trust you about some of the important principles of investing.
- Your team and your associates need you to finish strong. A strong finish contributes to their future, and can provide an inspiration to them for their lives, and the next generation, and so on.
- You need it. How we finish determines how we feel about ourselves.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955–1967