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Month: June 2017

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Overcoming the Odds: J.K. Rowling

Over the past few months, we’ve been sharing articles about different people who achieved their goals despite facing enormous odds.  This article is about:

Overcoming the Odds: J.K. Rowling

It may seem odd to feature one of the most famous, and wealthiest, authors in the world.  But Joanne Rowling, as she is formally known, is actually the perfect example of what these articles are all about: how anyone can be successful, regardless of their background, upbringing, or circumstances.

As you undoubtedly know, Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter novels.  What is less well known is how similar both creator and character are.  If you’ve never read the books, the story starts with an orphaned Harry living inside a cupboard under the stairs in the home of his less-than-affectionate aunt and uncle.  Rowling, meanwhile, grew up with a mother suffering from multiple sclerosis, and a father with whom she was not on speaking terms.

In the books, Harry eventually learns he is a wizard, and travels to a magical school called Hogwarts—a place very strange and unfamiliar, and where he doesn’t always fit in.  As a young woman, Rowling also traveled to a strange and unfamiliar place.  Needing a job, she moved to Portugal to teach English.  Here she met her first husband, but it was not a happy marriage.

After the birth of her daughter, Rowling separated from her husband and moved to Scotland.  It was a brutal time, for several reasons.  First, her mother had passed away from multiple sclerosis.  Second, she was forced to file a restraining order against her husband.  And third, she now had a child to provide for, but no job or prospects for a career.  She even suffered from clinical depression, and at one point considered suicide.1  But it was then that Rowling made an important discovery—about herself, and about life.  Here’s how she explained it:2

I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, I had failed on an epic scale.  An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.  By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew. 

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun.  So why do I talk about the benefits of failure?  Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.  I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.  I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.  And so, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable.  It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.  Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations.  Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.  I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I suspected.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.  You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.

The “one work that mattered” was a novel called Harry Potter.  For years, Rowling had dabbled away at it, often writing in cafes where it was easier to get her daughter to fall asleep.  Then, having come to her realization about failure, she resolved to finish, and did so in 1995 while at the keys of an old typewriter.

Her challenges weren’t over yet, of course.  It’s almost impossible to become a true “overnight success,” and Rowling was no exception.  It’s incredible to think now, but her book was rejected twelve times by twelve different publishers.  She was told, probably more than once, to “get a day job,” because she had little chance of making money off her dreams.

Permit yourself a chuckle here, because you know what comes next.

Today, Rowling is the author of the best-selling book series in history.  She is known the world over.  And it wasn’t because she was born wealthy, or because she “knew the right people.”  It wasn’t because she got lucky.  It’s because she realized that failure actually made her stronger.  It’s because she was dedicated and disciplined.

If there’s one takeaway from these articles, it’s this: anyone can become what they want to become.  Anyone can overcome the odds.  All it takes is passion for your goal.  That passion, in turn, creates dedication.  That dedication, in turn, leads to discipline and hard work.

Armed with those tools, we can always overcome the odds.

Whatever your goals in life, we wish you the best of luck in overcoming your own odds.  Just remember: never be afraid of failure.  Never stop loving whatever it is you do.  Above all, never stop dreaming.  Never stop doing.

1 “Harry Potter author: I considered suicide,” CNN.com, March 23, 2008. http://edition.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/03/23/rowling.depressed/index.html

2 “Text of J.K. Rowling’s speech,” Harvard Gazette, June 5, 2008.  http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/06/text-of-j-k-rowling-speech/

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Newton’s Laws of Finance

When you were in school, you probably learned about Newton’s Three Laws of Motion.  First published by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687, these laws explain how physical objects move.  They are so important—and easy to understand—that most of us still remember them even decades later.

We were thinking about these laws the other day when we came upon a realization: each of the laws can also be applied to finance.

Now, we know this isn’t quite the same as watching an apple fall from the tree and developing the theory of gravitation.  But we are financial advisors, not scientists, so to us, it’s equally interesting!  That’s why, over the next few months, we’re going to share what we call:

Newton’s Laws of Finance

In this article, let’s look at Newton’s First Law.  Here’s how we all remember the original:

An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. 

Here’s our version:

A financial plan at rest tends to stay at rest, while a financial plan in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. 

What exactly do we mean by “financial plan?”  While there’s no one definition of what a financial plan really is, in general, it works like this:

  1. First, you look at your current financial situation. What is your income, what is your cash flow, how much do you pay in taxes, etc.
  2. Second, you determine what you want your future financial situation to look like. What goals do you want to accomplish?  What treasures (be they people or possessions) do you want to protect?
  3. Finally, you lay out all the individual steps necessary to get you from your current financial situation to your desired financial situation. What exactly do you need to do to reach your goals?  When do you need to do them?

Put these together and you have a basic financial plan.

In our experience, most people agree that having a financial plan is valuable.  But there’s a widespread problem: most people procrastinate when it comes to creating OR implementing a financial plan.  It’s not uncommon to hear excuses like “I’m too busy right now to create a plan; I’ll do it next year when life settles down.”  Or, “I want to wait until I have a better job/the elections are over/the stock market goes up.  There’s just too much uncertainty right now.”

Let’s go back to the First Law of Finance: a financial plan at rest tends to stay at rest.  People who procrastinate, who delay, who act passively, will usually continue to do so indefinitely.  “Next year” never comes.  Life never “settles down.”  Uncertainty never goes away.  And so, a financial plan never gets created, and things just sort of stay the same.  Forever.

The good news is that the First Law of Finance also says: a financial plan in motion tends to stay in motion. 

It’s amazing to see this Law at work.  People who actually get the ball rolling, who act, who put in the energy to create and execute their financial plan … they start to build momentum.  Suddenly, things start happening … and they keep happening!  Their savings grow.  Their tax situation improves.  Their goals are reached, not just once, but over and over.  We’ve literally seen people go from, “I feel like I’ll never retire” to “I retired much sooner than I thought I would!”—all because they stayed in motion.

What we’re really talking about here is inertia.  Whether you’re moving or standing still, people are like all physical objects: they find it easier to keep doing what they’re already doing.  If you procrastinate, you’ll find it easy to keep doing so.  But if you start working toward your goals, you’ll discover it’s much more doable than you ever imagined.

All of this is important because a proper financial plan will help you:

  • Know how much money you’ll need to meet your expenses and reach your goals.
  • Choose the right investments to provide the income you need, at a suitable specific level of risk.
  • Potentially minimize taxes for both yourself and your heirs.
  • See what areas of your finances are stable and which may need improvement.
  • And much more!

Let’s look at the First Law of Finance one more time:

A financial plan at rest tends to stay at rest, while a financial plan in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. 

YOU are that outside force.  YOU hold the power in your hands to get the ball rolling.  And it’s a mighty power indeed—because it’s a fundamental law of nature.

Next month, we’ll look at the Second Law of Finance.  In the meantime, be that “outside force!”  If you haven’t already done so, start doing what you need to do to create a financial plan today.

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Happy Father’s Day 2017

Mark Twain once said:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” 

With Father’s Day coming up, we’ve been thinking about this quote a lot.  It made us realize something about fathers.  As important as they are throughout our lives, it’s the lessons we learn from them as adults that really sink in.

When we grow up, we realize all the challenges we face are things our fathers have already dealt with.  When we start our own careers, we realize all the obstacles in front of us are things our fathers already overcame.  When we build a family of our own, we realize all the questions that keep us up at night are things our fathers already have the answers to.

We strongly believe that as we grow older, our fathers become more important, not less.

Take this letter from Ronald Reagan to his twenty-six-year-old son, written in 1971 on the eve of his son’s marriage.1

Dear Mike:

You’ve heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the “unhappy marrieds” and cynics.  Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another view point.  You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life.  It can be whatever you decide to make it. 

Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her.  There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame.  There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it.  The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. 

Let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life.  Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn’t take all that much manhood.  It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick, and washed his dirty underwear.  Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. 

Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others.  Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should.  There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps. 

Love,

Dad

P.S. You’ll never get in trouble if you say “I love you” at least once a day.

As Mike Reagan put it:

“It was straight from Dad’s heart, honest, old-fashioned, and wise.  I cried when I read it, and I’ve read it many times since then.”1

For those of us blessed to have good fathers, we know what an incredible example they are.  Whether you’re a son or a daughter, our fathers are everything we want to be.  They teach us how to be good, honorable people.  They teach us how to get the most out of life.  If we’re lucky, they teach us how to be even happier and more successful than they were … so we can raise our kids to be even happier and more successful still.

So this Father’s Day, spare a thought for the things your dad has taught you.  Good fathers show us more than how to throw a baseball, drive a car, or cook on the grill.  They show us how to be a good person.  They show us how to put in as much as we can into life, so we can take the same amount out of it.  They show us how to leave this world better than we found it.

They show us how to be happy.

From all of us here at Minich MacGregor Wealth Management, we wish you a happy Father’s Day.  And to all dads, we say, “Thank you!”

1 “Love, Dad,” Letters of Note, May 16, 2012.  http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/05/love-dad.html