Days before he died, Malcolm and I managed to have some quiet time alone in his hospital room.
– I’ve been thinking.
When Malcolm started sentences this way they were usually accompanied by a mischievous look and led to outlandish schemes that his never-a-dull-moment mind had concocted. This time was different.
– All my life I’ve been focused on how cancer has robbed me. I’ve had my nose firmly planted in my navel when I should have been focused on bigger plans, on others. I’m done with the blame.
He told me everything he intended to accomplish both for himself and for others. Sadly he never had the time to execute on those plans; he died later that week.
What Malcolm figured out is that blaming the world or the Universe or a disease or whatever it may be for a lack of progress in any sphere of your life is a waste of time. As tragic as the timing was, Malcolm realized that he and he alone was responsible for where he had ended up personally and professionally. He was certainly not responsible for having cancer, but he took responsibility for his reaction to the disease. If he had had the good fortune to live, I have no doubt that he would have accomplished astonishing things, having finally shed the yoke of blame.
That’s the funny thing about success: it requires taking responsibility for your actions. If you won’t own the failures, you can’t take credit for the wins. And there probably won’t be a ton of wins if you spend your timing blaming everyone else without ever taking a good, long look in the mirror.
I just wrote about this in my last blog post about lending money to family and friends, but I have two recent, contrasting examples that I’d like to share. The results speak volumes.
The contractor who could do no wrong
When Mark and I decided to renovate our bathroom, we selected a contractor whom we’ll call Tom to do the work. Tom came highly recommended and by the look of it, he had done a terrific job on previous projects: work done on time, good attention to details, on budget, competitive rates. Just the guy for the job.
In January we had planned a trip down south so we gave him the keys to our house and arranged for him to get the bulk of the messy work done in our absence. He assured us that he would be most of the way through the project by the time we got back. Great.
Except that it didn’t work out that way. When we returned, he was significantly behind schedule. After some prompting, he blamed it on delays with another project. Then we started to find a whole series of problems with the job. Each time we uncovered something, he would explain it away:
- It’s meant to be that way. (Uneven tiles?)
- Well the tile is very square, that’s why you see the edges, there’s no rounding. (So why not add more grout to make it level and hide the gaps?)
- There are variations in the tile, it’s impossible to get it to be smooth. (Funny, the guys who did our kitchen used a similar tile and that floor is perfect.)
- The store told me that was the size of the toe kick to use. (The resulting gap didn’t appear to bother him because he didn’t say anything to us; we found it when washing the floor. Nor did it occur to him to measure first apparently.)
- The shower base not level? Not a big deal, I can adjust the doors. They’re meant to be adjusted anyway. (But the base should be level!)
- Plus, the floor wasn’t level – that’s why the base isn’t level. (Then level the floor!)
- The leaking shower doors? No problem, I’ll just adjust them (Silent curses.)
- Some of the broken tiles came that way. (Why not throw them out and use unbroken tiles – no answer.)
- The shower lever wasn’t level because the screws were too tight (??? WTH?? Then why leave it like that? Bang head against door.)
I won’t bore you with more details. Suffice it to say that the list of issues was lengthy. Some he addressed after being pressed by us, others we have to live with. We now actively ignore the flaws to ensure that they don’t drive us crazy.
What made it doubly galling is that he went on at length about how good he is at tiling and paying attention to details. Mark and I had to take turns disappearing just to cool off in order to avoid saying something entirely unprofessional. To the friends who ask if we would recommend him for their projects, we tell them that it will be a cold day in hell before we hire him again.
Women of action
Now let’s contrast the above experience with a group of women who rose to a challenge issued during a talk I gave in early December. I encouraged the attendees to look at one area of their financial lives that needed work and to commit to one key action to move themselves forward within the next thirty days. I told them that I would give away copies of one of the books that I recommended to ten women who did the following:
- emailed me to say what they would do
- confirmed, thirty days later, that they had followed through.
Any action was acceptable, big or small. Just move forward.
Of approximately 30 women in the audience, nine emailed me with their action plan. When I followed up one month later, seven of the women had done what they had promised to do. Here’s just a smattering of what they accomplished:
WL: “So, what I intended to do was go with a lower interest credit card and use a portion of my accumulated points on the points card to pay down the balance. And that’s what I did!!! It worked well because the consultant at (the bank) was able to back credit some purchases I had made three months back so I didn’t lose as much value on the points. There are enough points left for a return flight (potentially), and I have a friend in the Bahamas who I can stay with so I’m excited about that possibility (I don’t have to pay for a hotel!). So I get a vacation (first since 2008) after all!!”
CL: “My intention was to determine my next financial steps, after completing a few goals in December. I’ve decided my next steps will be 1) build up my cash reserves again, after depleting them somewhat last year by focusing on my mortgage, and 2) use that money to make sure I have both a cushion and the ability to increase my stock investments. For instance, with the recent dip in the stock market, I did use some cash to take advantage and buy stocks while prices were low, but if I had more cash I could’ve done even more. Having sufficient cash flow means having the ability to take advantage of opportunities that arise. (When the stock market was low I was thinking it was like a sale and I went shopping!) So I’ve done what I intended to do — I came up with new goals for 2016.”
LG: “After your presentation I emailed to say that I was on my way to open a discount brokerage account. So, I’ve since opened a TFSA account and deposited some money in it. I’ve just finished reading the volume 1 textbook for the Canadian Securities Course. Now I just need to do a full review and can write the first exam. Very exciting! After my exam I will make a decision on where to invest the money I deposited in my TFSA.”
JF: “I intended to put $5 aside daily, until February 26th and that’s what I’ve done. On Feb. 26, I’d like to give a copy of “Your Blueprint for Financial Success”, along with the $250 that I’ll have saved with this challenge, to my daughter for her 31st birthday. I think she would benefit greatly from the knowledge in the book, and the $250 will go towards helping her get out of debt. I’m looking forward to seeing how she’ll do with the knowledge she’ll have gained from reading the book, and the steps she takes up the ladder to a debt-free life.”
JM: “I read the book (you recommended) I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. Was very informative and useful, especially for my age group. Next steps for me include reading some other perspectives and implementing some of the steps that Ramit recommends.”
KE: “I took much more action that I thought I was capable of. Firstly, I contacted a broker to see if I can free up some funds by leveraging a property I own. I did put in one offer on a property, which did not go through. I looked at renewing some mortgages with a mortgage expert and went through some financials. I decided not to move forward with the refinancing because I would have hefty penalties to pay in order to garner a lower rate. I also looked at another property with an agent but it doesn’t make financial sense, so presently I will be meeting with my coach to see where we can go insofar as bringing debt down and building my portfolio.”
MB: “I have bought Julie Broad’s book (on real estate investing) and Ramit Sethi’s book. I am searching for a good index fund. When I bought the books, I was reading two others books (work related) and doing a course. So finally, two weeks ago, I started Ramit’s book. As luck would have it, I am already doing was he suggests in the first two chapters. I will carry on with the progress.”
An eighth woman, JH, impressed me with her candour. She originally emailed me the following, “I choose to set up an automatic transfer of 15$ per pay cheque (2x/month) to a savings account because my investments matter.” When I followed up here’s the reply I got: “I am disappointed to say that I had every good intention to set up an automatic transfer and then totally forgot.”
What I love about her response is that she took responsibility for her failure. She didn’t blame it on her schedule or anyone else, she admitted straight-up that she forgot. As a result, I emailed her back and told her that if she completed the action within the week, I’d give her a copy of the book. Within the day I got this email, “DONE!!! I have just set up bi-weekly transfers of 15$ to my own spending account. Thank you for the reminder Doris. I think your work is very empowering to women. Thank YOU!”
I love how she expressed her delight – “DONE!!!” Yes indeed, done.
One small step, then do it again. That’s really all it takes. No excuses and no blame.
As for Tom, I’m tempted to introduce him to the eight women mentioned above. He’s got a lot to learn from them.
Until next time, Survive, Thrive and Grow.