I strive to constantly learn from everyone. What to Do. What not to do.
There are 4 completely random people who have taught me a lot through my life. Some of them knew they were teaching me these things and some had no idea.
They may have had a few basic things in common, but overall, these guys really have nothing in common — other that the fact that they taught me some valuable lessons.
These are the people who taught me the lessons:
- A millionaire farmer friend of mine
- A retired Army colonel who happens to be a financial planner now
- My old boss when I worked on a construction site
- A man from Nazareth who I met in a Firestone in Denver
Now let’s get into it, but first, let’s talk about how to learn from everyone…
How to Learn From Everyone
Have you ever heard the saying “you either win or you learn?”
Or the popular phrase, “you have to fail forward”?
I’m sure you understand the idea of using situations, good and bad, as learning experiences, but that’s easier said than done, right?
It’s easy to talk about learning in every situation, but when you’re upset, angry or disappointed, it doesn’t seem so easy. And those are some of the situations that can teach us the most.
It starts with your perspective.
How to Learn From Success
Success if such a powerful teacher. It teaches us what we did right, and what we should replicate. Success makes us feel great – it’s motivation to keep going, to strive for more, and to have more success in the future, but success can also be a curse.
I’ve noticed that when people use the phrase “you’ve got to forget the past”, they’re always talking about the negative stuff. People like to forget losses and remember wins, but there are reasons for doing the opposite sometimes.
How many people have you known who achieved a certain level of success — to the point that they thought something was beneath them? The real estate agent sells a multi-million dollar mansion, and then three years later when the money runs out and the market dries up, he ends up homeless, because he refuses to get a job working for $10/hour to pay the bills. After all, he was in the Million Dollar Club! He can’t get a job until it pays what he’s “worth,” right? It’s a trap.
Sometimes, we need to forget our successes and swallow our pride.
Take all of the lessons you can from your success, but remember them as lessons, don’t hold them with hard-headed pride.
How to Learn From Failure
This is the big one. Failure is where we learn the most. How many books are written about learning from failure? This is also the hard one.
So what’s the trick? It’s not as much of a trick as it is a perspective. Learning from failure starts before the failure happens. You have to position your mind to think right so that when failure arises, you’re prepared for it and ready to learn.
I have made a habit of using a motivation paper in the mornings. This paper has a few quotes, some Scripture references, but predominantly, it has reminders on it. Here’s the most powerful reminder on my paper:
“Learn from every situation today, good or bad. No matter how I feel about it, take a lesson from it”
Too easy. It’s so simple, and we all know that this is the best mindset, but it’s the fact that I remind myself of this everyday that is so important.
You must remind yourself to learn from failure. Before it happens. Every single day.
If you do — I know it sounds cliché — but you never really fail. It either works out, or you learn a valuable lesson. Looking back in my life, there are plenty of times that I failed and I am better off because of it. If I would have succeeded at what I was trying to do, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
How to Learn From Other People
Yes, you really can learn from everyone. Simply put, you either learn what to do or what not to do. What works, and what doesn’t. We’re going over both with the four people below.
Become a people watcher – not in a creepy way.
Watch people. Analyze what they do and why. Find people who are where you want to be in life, and get on their schedule. I’m a huge fan of mentorship lunches, dinners and coffee appointments.
It’s true that if you’re with a highly influential person, you should listen, and say very little. Of course, most highly influential people are going to try to ask you questions the entire time, because they’re good with people. It’s ok to explain to them that you’re there to listen to what they have to say, and tell them that you want to ask the questions.
When I say highly influential, I’m talking John Maxwell level. When you set up mentorship sessions with leaders in your community, you’ll probably want to make the talk-time a little more equal. John Maxwell actually explains mentorship very well. He says many people think mentorship is one person who is way above the other person, and trying to eventually bring them up to their level. That’s not true mentorship. He explains that it’s actually two people who are taking turns pulling each other up to their level. We all have something to learn, and we all have something to teach.
That being said, if you’re actually at a mentorship session with John Maxwell, just listen.
Don’t Miss the Lessons in Life
Perspective and mindset. That’s what it comes down to.
If you’re busy making excuses, you’ll miss the lesson.
If you want to feel sorry for yourself, you’ll miss the lesson.
If you think life owes you something, you’ll miss the lesson.
If you want to blame someone else for your failures, you’ll miss the lesson.
Keep moving forward. Keep learning in every situation. Don’t miss the lesson.
Now let’s start with the last person I would have ever expected to learn from…
My Construction Boss
When I decided to get out of debt, I turned to many side jobs. You can see all 24 things I did to become debt-free in this video:
Construction was one of those side jobs.
At 18 years old, I thought I had some insight into the real world — the work world.
I had held a steady job for many years, but I really only worked at various pizza places, and the only “labor” work I did was in the form of a summer landscaping business with a friend.
Construction was a rude awakening for me, but it paid more in lessons learned than dollars earned.
I’ll take it. Here’s what I learned…
1. A Bad Attitude Won’t Get You Anything But Fired
As a kid, I can remember using my attitude as ammunition.
If I was upset or mad at someone, I would go out of my way to not follow their instructions and make it look like an accident.
Or, if I was already frustrated, I would do things in such a way that produced a less-than-desirable result — anything but the result intended by the person asking me to do whatever it was.
For example, if my mom asked me to mow the lawn while I was made at her, I may mow it too short for the middle of the summer, knowing that it would kill much of the grass. I was a typical punk kid.
Let me give you a better example. Here’s how it really happened in my construction job with a concrete mixer…
My boss told me to mix some concrete. A pretty simple task, really. Mix some dry concrete, sand and water together in the electric concrete mixer. So I did it, and I did it quickly, because I wanted to impress him.
I finished pouring everything in the mixer within about 10 minutes.
He turned around and saw me standing there and got a scowl on his face, thinking I had been standing there doing nothing the whole time. So in his colorful construction language, he told me to pour a bag of concrete in the mixer.
I tried to tell him that I had already finished the mix, but he didn’t want to listen, so I said “I guess I’ll pour a bag of concrete in here,” therefore adding one more bag to the mixture I had already made. I knew that it would mess up the mixture, and that the machine wasn’t really big enough to handle the entire double-batch of all three items in the mix.
I think I was trying to “teach my boss a lesson.” That’s not how you do it. Not with things that cost money.
After a few moments, my boss glanced at the mixer and noticed that there was too much dry concrete compared to the water and sand.
When he questioned me about this, I grinned slightly and said “you told me to put a bag in there.”
As it turns out, he didn’t realize I had already made the mixture, and he thought I was just slacking off. Go figure. Of course, I knew he didn’t realize I had already put the mixture in there. I was just being a jerk, because he was so rude to me.
That almost got me fired. And it definitely got me a “stern talking to.”
“You’ll be shot for this!”
“Nah, I don’t think so. More like chewed out. I’ve been chewed out before.”– Inglourious Bastards
I instantly started going through all of the reasons why it wasn’t my fault in my head, but he was mostly concerned with the mixture and the materials he paid for. He definitely wasn’t concerned with my feelings, or with anything else I had to say.
He was able to add just enough sand and water to make a double batch that filled the machine right up to the brim. And that was ok, because we needed all of the concrete, but there are two important things to note here:
- If the mixture would have not fit in the machine, we would have had a serious problem on our hands for several reasons.
- It wasn’t his intention to mix that much concrete right now, but we had to use it all, so that meant working through lunch.
Now back to the story…
After he finished fixing my mistake, we had a “conversation.” (See Inglourious Bastards quote above)
He basically told me that I shouldn’t of put the other bag in there if I had already made the mixture. When I said “I tried to tell you that,” he looked at me like was five years old. Probably because I was acting like I was five years old.
We both knew that I knew not to pour the bag in there, and that was all he cared about.
What Did This Teach Me?
This taught me a huge lesson. I was in the real world now.
I would no longer be able to live in my childish ways and expect to move forward in life. It was an eye opener, even though the blow felt like it went straight to my gut.
That was the last time I ever tried to “play the fool.” I knew that it no longer mattered what I “thought” people intended. I could no longer use my “perspective” as an excuse to make a bad decision.
In the workplace, reality is all that matters, and often, perception is reality.
We do all kinds of things as children that are not acceptable from an adult. But too often it takes an actual experience to teach us this. Sometimes a bad experience can be a good teacher, but it’s easier to learn the lesson before you make a big mistake.
Your attitude is something that has to change as an adult. You can’t have the same mindset as a child or a teenager. And this is something that is rarely taught, but almost always learned the hard way.
This leads me to my second point…
2. Your Feelings Aren’t a Factor
When you’re a child, you can get or do certain things due to your feelings.
You don’t feel like going to the babysitter? Ok, you can stay home and your mom can completely change all of her plans because of your feelings.
Enter: adulthood. Your feelings are no longer a factor.
You don’t feel like going to work? No big deal. Don’t go.
And… you’re fired.
You still make the choice whether to go to work or not, but now there are consequences. Real consequences that don’t just affect you, but also your family.
It’s best to leave your feelings where they are. It’s ok to have them. You can’t make them disappear, and you wouldn’t want to if you could. But they aren’t a factor when it comes to work.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t have some serious issues sometimes that may require time off for emotional recovery, but I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about getting your feelings hurt over small things.
I know, for me, my wife is the only person in the world who can truly hurt my feelings. And she knows this, so it rarely happens. But I haven’t always been this emotionally “tough,” you could call it.
I used to take everything personally, and get my feelings hurt all the time. It was so unproductive.
I think you get the point. I just think we should all be more careful about letting our feelings get involved in our work. I learned this from a crusty contractor on a hard construction job, but the lesson applies to all of us.
Let’s move on to the next thing my construction job taught me…
3. It’s Up to You to Earn What You’re Worth
This could be a separate article all together, but I’ll keep it short.
The first morning I started my construction job, I showed up to the site to find a guy I had never met standing there. He was obviously a construction worker, but I didn’t see the guy who hired me.
I walked up and introduced myself. His name was Vance, and he was a nice guy. This may have been some sort of supernatural foreshadowing since later my first duty station in the Air Force would be Vance AFB. Coincidence? Actually, yeah probably just a coincidence.
I asked him how long he had been working for our boss.
“About 15 minutes.”
Apparently, Vance was working another job that morning. My boss drove by and asked him how much he was getting paid.
“$14 an hour,” Vance said.
My boss said, “I’ll give you $16 an hour if you come work for me.”
And there he was. Supposedly, this is common in the construction world. People are always bidding for good workers. It seems wrong to me that someone would walk away from a job they agreed to do, but I guess it happens often.
So Vance was now making $16 an hour, and my boss was driving around looking for another skilled worker.
Keep in mind that I wasn’t a “skilled worker,” I was just a laborer who didn’t really know what I was doing. I was learning how the construction world worked.
A few minutes later, the boss returned. He couldn’t find anyone else, so it was just the three of us.
That day Vance dug a huge trench, laid bricks, poured concrete, and ultimately saved the day when we accidentally cut through a sprinkler system. I had no idea that sprinklers were all electronic (seems like a bad idea to me), but Vance had dealt with them before and he was able to completely rewire the system around where we were working.
And he did all of this for $16 an hour.
Now, at almost 30, I have plenty of friends in the construction business. I’m pretty sure the lowest paid construction worker I know is making around $40 an hour, and he doesn’t have half the skills Vance had.
Vance could have been a contractor himself, but he didn’t want the responsibility. He could have been paid three times as much as he was, but he’d rather spend his entire day working for $16 an hour, and not even spend 10 minutes looking for a better paying job.
The contractor knew Vance was worth more than $16 an hour, but he also knew that as long as Vance didn’t know that, he could keep him employed for that wage.
Thinking back on it, I guess anyone who would walk away from a job they agreed to do, for $2 an hour more, may not be worth much more than $16.
The point is, you aren’t necessarily worth what you’re earning. You’re earning what you agreed to. You’re likely worth much more, because we tend to underestimate our own value. But as long as you’re willing to work for a lower wage, there will be someone there willing to pay you a lower wage.
Ultimately, it’s up to you.
And for the most important thing I learned at that job…
4. Learn From Every Job You Ever Have
I didn’t work construction for long, but I’m glad I did it.
It taught me to learn from every job you work.
If someone is making more money than you, find out why.
If someone seems to be getting paid less than they’re worth, find out why.
Learn from the places you work. There are lessons in plain sight. Every job has positives and negatives to teach you. Be grateful for the positives and learn from the negatives.
When you do make mistakes, take the growth-mindset and say “I’m so grateful that I had this opportunity to learn something today.” It sounds corny, but it will help you way more than feeling sorry for yourself will.
Now for something completely different. The next lesson giver: a millionaire farmer.
A Millionaire Farmer
I have a friend who owns a farm in Missouri.
Actually, he owns a whole bunch of farms. Thousands of acres.
We will call him Gary. Because that’s his name.
Gary has taught me so much about money.
Some intentional, but some of most valuable lessons were things that he wasn’t actually trying to teach me.
Gary grew up in Northern Missouri.
He was used to the farm life and planned to own his own farm one day.
Now he owns more farmland than he would have imagined.
He lives in a very nice home, right next to a nice pond for fishing.
It’s a peaceful life and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
So what happened between Gary’s childhood and now? Well that leads me to the first lesson Gary taught me…
5. Look for Opportunities and Seize Them
In the 1980s, the value of land dropped to record low prices.
It was devastating for many people who took out high-interest loans to buy million-dollar farms.
Gary saw the value of land plummeting and viewed it as an opportunity.
He started buying as much land as he could. He bought his first farm in his twenties.
He could have been scared off by the worthlessness of the land, but he chose to view it as an opportunity instead.
He was paying $200-$300 per acre for nice farmlands. You can add a zero to that for the price per acre today.
Always be looking for opportunities and always be prepared to seize them.
6. Explore All Your Options
There could be ways for you to make money right now that you don’t even know about.
Gary did some research and figured out about conservation programs for some of his unused land. Basically, the government pays him a certain amount of money per acre to not farm that part of his land. They only require that he mows it every few years.
If he didn’t know about that, he would have been making thousands of dollars less than he has been making for many years now.
He also learned that the government will stock your man-made ponds for free.
What? Free food, fishing and fun provided by the government? That never happens. Apparently, it does.
It was through research and learning that Gary was able to figure out about these options, and these are just a few of them.
Always explore all your options for whatever you’re interested in.
7. Do What Works for You
Gary is a farmer.
Farming works for him. He became a millionaire doing it.
Figure out what your opportunity is and what your options are.
You may not have a desire to run a farm, but you can still learn a valuable lesson here.
What opportunity will come in your lifetime? My guess is that you will have many. If you watch for them.
Gary invested in undervalued land. Now he’s a millionaire.
Warren Buffett invested in undervalued companies (and farmland, actually). Now he’s a billionaire.
Figure out what works for you and look for opportunities accordingly.
If you keep the right mindset, success will follow you.
It’s important to always be learning. Constantly. Again, we can learn from everyone if we want to.
A Retired Army Colonel
As a military member myself, I’ll be the first to say that most active duty service members have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to their finances.
It’s true that most people in general don’t have a clue, but it almost seems worse in the military.
That being said, when I do meet someone in the military who shares my love of finances, it’s an automatic friendship.
Enter my friend Eric. A retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and now a financial advisor for First Command. While I’m not a huge fan of First Command, I am a fan of Eric.
With 20+ years in the service, Eric knows a thing or two about the military and he also knows about money. That’s a rare combination, which is what makes him so interesting.
Here’s what this retired Colonel taught me about money…
Eric enlisted in the Army at a young age. He quickly decided that he wanted more out of the military and wanted to give more to the military so he obtained his Bachelor’s degree and commissioned as an Officer in the United States Army.
He served 22 years on active duty and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel (O-5).
After retiring from the military, he was still young so he decided to go to work for First Command. First Command is a financial advisory company geared toward military, but not only for military. Ultimately, it’s a whole life insurance company, so that’s why I’m not a fan, but they actually offer free financial planning for military members, so that part’s cool.
I was first introduced to Eric through my commander. My commander knows I’m a finance nerd, so he thought Eric and I would have a lot in common. He was right and here is what I quickly learned from him…
8. There’s the Science and the Art
I’ve heard a similar idea, but I’ve never heard the terms the “science” and the “art”, as applied to finances. Here’s how Eric explained it to me…
When you make a financial decision, no matter how big or small, you have two sides to it. There’s the science (or the math), which is the actual, real, mathematical hard numbers – this is the decision “on paper”. Then you have the art, which is the more emotional side – how it makes you feel and the emotional benefits.
When you make a financial decision, you should consider both. Now I’m not talking about being emotional versus being logical. Successful investing often requires you to block out your emotions and use pure logic. I’m speaking more about purchases and spending. You’re always going to have two sides to every purchase.
And it’s okay to go with the art sometimes.
Here’s an example, as it applies to situations of debt reduction. Consider the debt snowball and the debt avalanche. The avalanche will generally save you more money by paying less overall interest, but the snowball will create small wins in the beginning, which helps you to stick with it. And like most things, a good method that you stick with is better than the best method that you don’t.
9. There’s Always an Opportunity Cost
Opportunity Cost – The value of possible alternatives that a person gives up when making one choice instead of another; also known as a trade-off. (Our Finance Glossary)
We recently had a pretty serious mechanical issue with one of our vehicles, so we decided it may not be worth fixing and we should looking into buying a different vehicle.
I decided to run the idea by Eric and get his input. Of course, he had some very insightful advice.
I told him that we hated debt and wanted something we could pay cash for, no matter what. He said that he understood and then asked me how much we had saved for the purchase. I told him right now we really only have around $5,000 specifically to go towards a new vehicle. We have investments, an emergency fund and other savings, but that was all that was designated for a vehicle.
That’s when he brought opportunity cost into it. He said “Kalen, you have a wife and four kids and I know you want to buy something reliable. $5,000 may or may not get you into a reliable vehicle and you never really know how long a vehicle like that will last.” “Everything has an opportunity cost,” he said. He went on to say, “You have to decide whether you’re more comfortable with the opportunity cost of buying a cheap vehicle (opp cost: little reliability, potential break down, possibly having to pour money into it) or whether you’re more comfortable with the opportunity cost of buying a vehicle that’s a few years old with low miles and still in great condition (opp cost: debt for a short time period)”
It seems simple and he laid it out in a way that was more clear than ever. He actually completely shifted my thinking. I used to be 100% against debt no matter what, but I can now see that sometimes debt actually makes more sense than the alternative, especially in a situation like I just mentioned. I have really good credit, so I could get an extremely low interest rate on a nice vehicle and end up paying less than a couple hundred dollars in interest over the entire length of the loan. Think of it as a $200 comfort tax; it might just be worth it.
Similar to paying off a mortgage, this is like how it sometimes makes more sense to invest rather than paying extra on your mortgage, depending on each interest rate.
10. Benefits CAN Outweigh Pay
When my commander introduced me to Eric, I initially told him that I would love to be a financial advisor and I was considering applying to work at First Command (this was before I realized it was a whole life insurance company — I thought they were just financial advisors). Eric’s response surprised me.
He said “you remind me of me when I was your age and I felt the same way, but don’t do it yet – do your 20 and then join First Command after you retire.” If you don’t know what “do your 20” means, Eric is basically telling me to stay in the military for 20 years so I can retire.
I admit that I was a little disappointed that he told me to wait. That’s four times longer than I planned to wait to start my financial career, but then he explained it to me. He said “I did my 20 and retired. Now I have a pension coming in from the military that’s the equivalent of earning 6% off a $1 million nest egg – and that doesn’t even include my actual retirement investments.”
That’s when it really hit me. Benefits really can outweigh pay or money in general.
I’ve added up my income before, including housing, food allowances, insurance, education benefits and everything else we are so lucky to have in the military. As an enlisted member, I make the equivalent of a fairly high six figure income, when benefits are weighed in. Benefits really do have their… benefits.
Now I’m not saying that you should count on a pension, even from something that seems as secure as the military, but if you can work towards something like that, it may benefit you more than just earning more money will.
The bottom line is this: Don’t disregard benefits. Add your benefits into your income to figure out your “real” pay. Weigh different job opportunities with benefits included. Of course, quality of life is more important than money so if you hate your job, don’t stay in it just for the benefits, but always factor benefits in.
It’s important to seek out mentors and teachers like Eric who you can learn from, but it’s also important to remember we can learn from everyone — good and bad.
Now on to the lessons from a Nazarene…
A Man From Nazareth
So I met a man from Nazareth, Israel.
Not the man you are thinking of, though I know Him too.
I literally met a man in Denver, Colorado who was born and raised in Nazareth for the first 28 years of his life.
That’s pretty awesome!
Then I figured out that he and his entire family are Christians.
If you know anything about the current state of affairs in Nazareth, you know it’s not easy to be a Christian over there.
I’ve been to Israel since I met this man and nothing is in the best state of affairs over there.
This man was surely unique and a he taught me a few things about life and money…
So he is from Israel, born and raised, and his name is George. I must admit, I was expecting something different (Gabriel, Tamir, Jesus…)
George taught me so much in just a few short minutes. The funny thing is, he wasn’t trying to teach me anything, he was just explaining life as he sees and knows it. And the only reason I even met him was because our van broke down in Denver and he was at the register in the Firestone we barely made it too.
As a side note, when we broke down in Denver, we were on our way to Breckenridge, but we decided to make the most of it and show the kids Denver while we waited a day for our van to be fixed.
Back to George…
He grew up in a 700 sq ft home with his parents and 7 siblings. 10 people!
Does 700 sq ft seem small to you? They never thought is was.
Their friends didn’t live in giant houses and expensive cars they couldn’t afford. They weren’t used to seeing the mansions on sketchy online advertisements. No, I’m not picking on Americans…oh wait, yes I am.
They appreciated everything they had and chose to be happy.
So what did I learn?
11. Don’t Be Ungrateful, Seriously
Now George lives in Denver with his family. They own a very nice 5 bedroom home.
He says it’s pretty hilarious to hear his children complain about not having things that weren’t even an option in Nazareth (Playstations, stereos, TVs…).
When he was living in a 700 sq ft room, his family didn’t have a single complaint. Once they moved to America and began to prosper financially, he noticed that the more they had, the more they wanted.
If you’re not careful, prosperity can produce greed.
“My children are so ungrateful sometimes” George told me. He said “they really don’t know what it’s like to go without”.
Happiness doesn’t stem from money. Happiness is a choice.
It’s important to appreciate what you have and be grateful. Having more won’t make you happier. Most people are waiting for something to be happy.
Stop waiting! You can be happy right now, right where you are. Yes, even if you are in financial hardship. Trust me.
This brings me to my next point…
12. It’s Not All About You
Since George moved to America, his parents have added on to their home, but not for the reasons you may think.
They have added two small rooms for themselves to live in and left the main 700 sq ft room open for guests.
They have also added a room under their house…
See, their house is on a hill on the outside of the city. The only way for people to get into the town used to be for them to walk all the way around the area that George’s family live.
It was about a 1 day journey to walk around the homes and make it to the entrance of Nazareth.
So his family decided to dig the dirt out from under their home and build a room. Not a room for them to use, but a room for strangers to walk through. They opened the room as a pathway to everyone entering Nazareth.
The funny thing is that they could barely afford to take care of themselves and they built an entire room for people they don’t even know.
I think sometimes we really do think life is all about us.
It’s really not.
It’s not always easy to remember that. I’m speaking from experience.
So class, what did we learn?
We need to be grateful for the things we have.
We also need to remember that it isn’t all about us. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that when we are going through some serious trials and tribulations, but those are some of the most important times to think about other people.
If you think you have it bad, you probably don’t. If you have internet access to read this article, you’re not doing that bad.
Even if you don’t have much to your name, be grateful for what you do have.
Trust me, being grateful will bring happiness. Being ungrateful will destroy happiness.
Review all of the lessons above and let me know which lesson surprised you the most!
Further Book Reading
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
- What I Learned From the Men Who Impacted Me the Most by Jerry Savelle
- Don’t Just Teach Your Kids to Set Goals, Teach Them to Do This
- The Media Threat: How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
- 47 Things You Weren’t Taught in School (That Our Kids Need to Know)
- How to Teach Kids the Dangers of Debt (And My Debt-Freedom Story)
- The System We Use to Pay Our 5 Kids for Work Around the House
- 10 Practical Steps to Start Practical Minimalism