My Top 10 Life Lessons Learned in 2016
As 2016 comes to a close, I’m taking the time to reflect on the life lessons I’ve learned or relearned in these past 12 months and appreciate the perspective I’ve gained in order to plan for the coming year and the future. I like to use the analogy of stepping out of the river flow and getting up on the bank to gain perspective.
I strongly believe this is an important exercise on both the personal and professional level. Each of us has our individual journeys through life, but may intersect in our paths. By sharing my reflections on the lessons I’ve learned, I hope that they will benefit and resonate with you and/or someone you know.
As a strategic real estate investor, the goal for me has always been to improve the quality of life all those around me, so this time of reflection helps me to remember the broader context and ask myself some fundamental questions:
- Why am I making these investments in assets and/or relationships?
- What do they mean to me personally, financially, and relationship-wise?
- Have my long-term goals changed?
- Do I have new, unexpected short term goals?
- Will my investment portfolio enable me to achieve my goals?
- What changes do I need to make/consider?
- Am I where I want to be with my portfolio?
As I considered these questions, I thought about the many lessons I’ve learned, or had reinforced, and realized that they fall into three groups. They may include external factors beyond my control or they may be influenced by internal factors within me:
- Global lessons (external)
- Personal lessons that prompt action (external)
- Personal lessons that prompt thoughts (internal)
I also realized what a privilege it is that I have the time to think about these lessons and what they mean to me, and to you, as my clients. I call it a privilege as it’s important to keep our “first world” or personal problems/challenges in perspective when there are people and places across our planet where they face matters of life and death every day.
The ones that I tend to relearn the most, as they are universal
- Life doesn’t always happen according to our plans: As a strategic real estate investor, I’m a big believer in planning and strategic approaches. However, things happen and life doesn’t always go as expected.
Having a robust, well-planned real estate investment portfolio enables me to respond to the unexpected and be in a position, if needed, to do something about the “things that happen”. As I keep my portfolio organized and up-to-date, I’m able to make thoughtful decisions even if it means that I must sell a property or respond to a significant change in the status of one of my properties. We always have a choice about how we to respond to the unexpected even if it’s not a choice we’d want to make in the short term. Keeping a healthy perspective on the situation is crucial to moving forward.
- Nothing goes up forever and nothing goes down forever: I recently talked about the Real Estate Cycle which a great example of this lesson. If you’ve made investments that are within your means and followed a strategic investment plan, then your portfolio will be able to weather the ups and downs. Life has it ups and downs and there is no way around that fact. We ride these waves of success, but there will also be troughs. It’s my experience that when life is tough it gets better for me when I take an active role in improving my situation. I am a co-conspirator in my life. Again maintaining a healthy perspective is crucial.
- Things do tend to work themselves out for our betterment in the long run: This lesson is related to #2, but differs in that approaching things with a long-term perspective may result in unanticipated benefits, especially when we don’t fully “see” or understand the situation.
Having the confidence to let things “work themselves out” may involve a leap of faith and putting one’s self in an opportunistic position, but if you have a fundamental strength within yourself (and in the case of your real estate investment portfolio) then you’ll have the capacity to respond in a thoughtful, well-informed, strategic way and not in a knee-jerk reactive way.There’s also an element of “trusting your gut” and making what I like to call a “soul” decision. Being somewhat of an analytic I tend to sometimes overthink situations and, as such, I have had the privilege of learning this lesson on several occasions. When I reflect on those situations, many times I have not even considered the subsequent beneficial results.
The ones influenced by eternal factors that we typically can’t control and can only respond to
- Taking action badly is better than not taking action perfectly: this may sound like a contradiction as I always talk about planning and being strategic, but this lesson is really about not being “inactive”. When there are external factors (that you can’t control) affecting you then you need to take action and sometimes it’s better to an “imperfect” action then not take any action.
The folks in Fort McMurray learned this lesson all too well during the forest fires and evacuation. Most of us saw footage of people driving along roads with fires raging along them as they evacuated the city; this seemingly dangerous (bad) action was much, much better than staying put in an area that could be overrun by the forest fire at any moment (inaction). From the perspective of real estate investing, if you have a well-balanced portfolio and you know and understand your properties, then when things happen that are beyond your control like a forest fire/natural disaster then you will be able to take action even if it isn’t perfect it will still be better than not doing anything.Another way to think about this comes from my success partner whom I affectionately call “Massive Action” Alan. He’s rearranged the “Ready, Aim, Fire” concept to “Ready, Fire, Adjust, Fire”. This reflects a philosophy that you rarely get it right on the first try/shot so you have to fire first/take a shot, then adjust and fire again. You can’t succeed without taking the shot and sometimes you have to take several shots before you get it right/succeed.
- Value and express your gratitude to your team: They say it takes a village to raise a child. I believe this and also think it applies to successful real estate investing—where your team of professionals are your “village”. So, the lesson I learned is to sincerely value your team and thank them for their support of you and your investments. From your real estate agent and property manager to your accountant, your team help you making good, wise decisions and maintain your investments. Expressing your gratitude and thanking them will always be appreciated.
- Life gets better when I am willing to remove negative influences: This might sound a bit New Age, but if I’m experiencing negative influences in one part of my life, it affects my whole life—mental, emotional, physical, relationships, and both personally and professionally. Realizing what the negative influences are in your life and taking steps to address (remove) them will help you to achieve a better balance and be in a position to react positively and make good decisions.
- Adapt or Die: I am a firm believer in having a plan and using the plan, but that doesn’t mean that the plan is always right all the time. I find that having a plan in place and “working” the plan regularly actually enables me to respond and adapt my plan when necessary. Not adapting (or not having a plan in the first place) means that you don’t have any capacity to adjust, respond or take positive/productive action.
When I think of adapting I think of the saying “when the world hands you a lemon, make lemonade”. I realize that this is always easier said than done, but I’ve also had experiences that prove this to be true. On a larger scale, we have witnessed species become extinct, businesses and business models disappear all as a result of not adapting to change sometimes within and beyond their control. We are faced with adapting the way we live in order to maintain a healthy balance on this planet to ensure the sustainability of life.
The ones influenced by factors within myself—internal factors that I can usually influence or control
- The higher my emotions the less intelligent my thoughts are and the less control I have: This lesson might also be called “Don’t act in haste”. If I’m in a highly-charged situation (positive or negative emotions), I’ve learned that this is not the time to make significant decisions. I work to recognize when I’m in such a situation and remind myself to wait until I’m calmer and able to think more clearly and make better decisions.
From a real estate investment perspective, this might be as simple as finding a property that “speaks to you”, but as an investor it’s important not to be swept away in the moment or the possibilities. Remember to gather your facts and look at the property with non-emotional eyes and get all the facts you need in order to make a sound investment.
- Start the day with Gratitude-set the stage for the day: This is a lesson that I try to use every day in both my personal and my professional life. Having gratitude enables us to approach the world in a different way—think about the lessons Scrooge had to learn and you’ll see the value of gratitude. Being able to take a moment and appreciate all that you have really does set the stage for the decisions you’ll make through the day.
One of the techniques I use to help me “see” what I have to be grateful for is keeping a Gratitude List—I revisit my list often and change it as needed. I make a habit of writing out at least five things I am grateful for every day. Even on a bad day I find that there’s always something for which to be grateful. Sometimes it is hard to do this, but I’ve always found that this one thing helps me get out of my negative head space and actually allows me to move forward and get on with life.
- Life happens for me, not to me—trust in the process: Once again it took me a while to realize this lesson. Some might say that this lesson is about not being a victim and I’d agree with them, but it’s more than that. I am presented with situations that are not always positive on the surface, but I am presented with choices and lessons.
In the business coaching program that I use, the quarterly success factor that we have been focusing on this quarter is “Turning Obstacles into Opportunities”. This fits right into this thought of life happening for me or to put it another way: How can this obstacle prepare me for my success? It is a lesson that really tests my mind and soul.I choose to do the things I do and, generally speaking, I do them responsibly, with fore-thought and with others in mind. When I act this way, I see the opportunities in my life and I’m able to act upon them and respond well to them, as opposed to just seeing problems, concerns and insurmountable issues every way I turn.Professionally, the fact that I take a strategic approach to my real estate investing, in that I do my research, develop and use my plan, work with a valued team and have a well-balanced approach to my investing means that I’m set-up for success and able to seize the opportunities that come my way and have a choice about the decisions I make. When less than positive situations occur, I focus on “How to Turn an Obstacle into an Opportunity” and that leads me to a solution-oriented way of thinking versus focusing on the problem.
For many of us 2016 may not have been the best year or even a great year, but there are still lessons to be learned, revisited and used to improve ourselves. In retrospect, the lessons that have markedly improved my life have been those situations in life where I ran into significant difficulties and had to really dig deep to learn and stay focused on move with my life in a positive manner.
Plan for the future, but live for today: This is the one lesson that I feel is incorporated within all the aforementioned life lessons. This lesson is all about being present in the moment, because that is all we know we have for sure. Make sure that we take those moments in our real estate investing careers to realize and acknowledge what we have and how far we have come, not how far we have to go, celebrate those wins and thank those who helped us along the way.
On a personal level, this one lesson came to the forefront for me quite significantly this year. As you may or may not know I am quite passionate about music and it has been an extremely hard year with some massive losses in the music and entertainment world, and the effects of those losses did hit me hard. The positive thing that I found about these losses is that over the years, I had the opportunity to see most of them perform live and that was a great solace when I learned of their passing.
In addition, another stark reminder of this lesson was when one of my close friends lost their father suddenly. It was very tough on the family. That situation made me think about my own father and mother who are both in their nineties. I am grateful that I still have them in my life at my age. I make sure that I either speak with or see them every week and let them know how much I love them and how grateful I am for who they are, and all that they did and do for us.
Taking a bit of time to look back and reflect on these lessons lets me move forward into the New Year with anticipation, confidence, optimism and gratitude. I invite you to take a moment and reflect your lessons learned, and then think about how they’ll help you be positive, successful and grateful in 2017.