I am the child of two public servants. Growing up, I thought making $80,000 a year was a big deal.
Sure, there were doctors and lawyers in town, and I knew they were wealthier (one ophthalmologist had a pond in his backyard, which was amazing)—but I couldn’t put an exact number on it. The number of people in the top tax bracket in Norwich, Connecticut in the eighties was probably very small.
Norwich is a super interesting place. Full of smart people, with one of the best high schools in the entire country. That school produces some of the best artists, teachers, and social workers around.
Growing up, I didn’t know what a “trader” did. I hadn’t even heard of the term, let alone “portfolio manager,” “investment banker,” or even “management consultant.” Anyone who said they were going to get into business was weird.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was farting around in a used bookstore, that I picked up some books on the stock market and said, gee whiz, this is interesting.
From there, I decided I wanted to be a trader, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I knew someone who was an “over-the-counter” trader. I assumed he stood behind a counter and exchanged stock certificates for cash.
Somewhere along the line, I came across a great book called The Fast Track: The Insider’s Guide to Winning Jobs in Management Consulting, Investing Banking and Securities Trading by a woman named Mariam Naficy. In the book, she had a table of what you might expect your compensation to be after a certain period of time in the industry. She said that after 4-6 years, you might expect to earn $600,000 a year.
What had happened? In an instant, I had undergone a profound intellectual transformation. For the first time in my life, I became motivated by money.
You ever notice that everyone who works on Wall Street comes from either New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut?
This is because they have parents, friends, or relatives who worked in the securities industry, and they hear about what it is like to work in the securities industry. They have had exposure to it.
Someone in Wyoming has no exposure to the securities industry. Growing up in Wyoming, it likely never occurs to them that they could get a job on Wall Street. Probably the only way that happens is if they get into an exceptionally good school and gain exposure to it while they are there.
I’m not saying that getting a job on Wall Street is the only way to make money. I’m saying that most people grow up without having any exposure to someone who has been financially successful. They view money as a static quantity that is only looted or plundered or rearranged from one pile to another—they look at the economy as one giant zero-sum game.
Since I have pivoted towards personal finance, one thing I have found in my conversations with people is that it doesn’t usually occur to them that they can make more money. Yes, you can get yourself out of debt by cutting expenses, but you can also get yourself out of debt by… making more money.
More money solves a lot of problems. In fact, there are few problems that cannot be solved by more money. You can slice the pie into smaller and smaller pieces, or you can try to make the pie bigger.
Not many people know how to make the pie bigger. You can do this by working harder (getting a second job), working longer, working smarter (getting a higher-paying job), or—gasp—starting your own business.
There are two ways to look at money. Statically, or dynamically. The few people who know how to look at it dynamically have probably had some exposure to it at some point in their lives.
Smells like Petunias
A few weeks ago in my class, I had a little free time, so I showed the old Oliver Stone Wall Street movie. The “Greed Is Good” speech is amazing—Stone did a pretty terrible job of trying to turn Gordon Gekko into the villain. I don’t get my philosophy of life from Hollywood movies, but there is a reason this movie was so compelling, and why Michael Douglas won Best Actor.
“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
Lots of people feel trapped by their personal finances, that there is no way out. There is a way out. It is the hardest way out, but it is also the most rewarding.
Instead of trying to slash your way out of it, or starve your way out of it, you can work your way out of it, think your way out of it, or grow your way out of it. It requires a dynamic view of money, not a static view of money. If you didn’t get it growing up, hopefully you got it from this letter.
Attention Street Freak Subscribers…
Please put December 11, 2.00 PM ET in your calendars. I’m going to be hosting a call for Street Freak subscribers only, where I answer your questions.
No topic is off limits, so it’s going to be fun! Please have a think about what you want to ask me—maybe it’s about personal finance, or my publications, or Lehman Brothers, or my philosophy of money, or my cats. Just keep in mind that I can’t give out individual investment advice.
I’ll send out an email early next week with a link for you to submit your questions. One more thing—even if you can’t listen in live on December 11, send in your question anyway. You’ll be able to listen back to the call whenever you want.