John Lefferts' Blog

Monday, June 9, 2014

When I was 22...

I enjoy the privilege of having triplet children graduating from high school this year. The household is about to go from semi-controlled chaos to total silence as they each venture off to college. One and Done! They're tired of hearing it as I say over and over, "the next 4 years are going to be the most exciting, fun and transformative years of your life".
Entering college, I really had no idea of what I wanted to do except play football and pursue "something in business". But there was one thing I KNEW I didn't want to do which was to follow my father's path into the insurance based financial services business. Dad had been a successful Agency Manager with The Equitable (now AXA) while I was growing up. For some reason, I wanted to "be my own man" and carve my own career path. Upon graduating, I was offered a career path with Frito-Lay in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a great experience and their management training was the best I could have ever received. But after 2 years doing everything from ordering potatoes for the fryers to stuffing bags of chips in grocery stores, I came to the realization that folks in the food services industry didn't enjoy the lifestyle that a more entrepreneurial financial services career could offer that I enjoyed growing up (that is unless you own the food services company).
I began interviewing with large financial firms such as Merrill Lynch, EF Hutton, New York Life and others and then decided to take an offer from Mutual Benefit in what appeared to be a financial planning career path. For some reason I didn't connect the dots that what my father had done as I was growing up was essentially the same. So I called my Dad and said "Guess What?!. I'm going to work for Norm Levine in San Francisco with Mutual Benefit" My Dad had known Norm professionally through the industry and chose his words carefully, but essentially said, "The Hell you are! Now you've decided to come into my business, you're going to come down to San Diego and work with me!"
So, I started my career in San Diego working first for my Dad learning the ropes the "old school way" and through the years kept working up the company food chain to find myself 20 years later in New York City as President and CEO of the very firm my Dad had worked for as I was growing up. Yes, the very and only one I KNEW I didn't want to work for as I entered college. The theme of this post prompted by Linkedin is to share stories and advice to the 22 year old college graduates #IfIWere22
Given my experience I suppose the first thing I should say is don't rule anything out and sometimes the "old man" is right. But there is so much more I would say to my 22 year old self now having the wisdom that experience and years provide. Here's a bullet list:
Know yourself. Be honest about what you're good at and what you're not so good at so you can maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Once you identify your unique skill, find a career that lets it shine. You also need to know what motivates you and what does not. If you're money motivated, don't be a social worker! If you hate conflict, ego's and rejection, don't pursue a career in business!
If you commit first, it commits back to you. You must make a leap of faith and close the back door once you enter any career path. If you wait for good things to happen before you mentally, emotionally, and physically commit, it’ll be a long wait. The happiest people are those who commit to the situation they are in and make the best of it while unhappy people are continually looking to external factors for their success or to blame for their failure. Take 100% responsibility, commit and enjoy the results, but you have to make the first and continuing move. Don’t be in the backyard looking for four leafed clovers while opportunity is knocking on the front door. And if after you've committed and have given it your all, but unsuccessfully, then learn from the experience and move on.
Simply showing up is half the formula to success. Exercising self-discipline in your time management is vital. You cannot maintain 9-5 hours and expect entrepreneurial pay. Show up whether you have something to do or not. You will create your own opportunities by being “in play”.
Effort, at times, defeats itself. If you maintain a consistent, steady pace of doing first things first and last things not at all, then you are on a path to success. By forcing everything, you can come across as desperate. Keep the pace, let it flow, be patient, and success will follow.
It really is a numbers game. As much as we want to believe that there is such a thing as “working smart”, the fact remains that successful people simply make more calls and see more people. Don’t let your mind trick you into believing it’s otherwise. There is no substitute for hard work.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. This quote says it all. If you are not well rested, are ill or lack energy due to little or no exercise, take care of it. Employers/Prospects buy strength and push away weakness. You need to be in top shape and good health to convey a positive and impacting impression. Get adequate rest and put yourself on a routinized exercise schedule. And by all means, make getting a good nights sleep a priority.
You are being judged by first impressions. The saying “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” does not always apply in the professional world. People are judging us the moment we meet them and draw conclusions about you within a minute. Dress impeccably, drive a clean, well maintained car and be sure your props (pens, presentations, etc.) are first class. A common theme I have is, “Do it first class or don’t do it at all”
Believe, even when you don’t want to. Much of your success in anything will be predicated on your ability to maintain a positive mental attitude. Believe in your industry, believe in your company, believe in your products. You can choose to believe or not to believe (being indifferent is not believing). Believing, even when it’s difficult, will open doors and attract the opportunities you want where not believing closes the doors. Besides, given the choice, it’s a lot more fun.
It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Many of us spend agonizing time trying to figure out the catch phrase or line that will sell our products or service. It’s not entirely what you write or what you say, but the confidence in how you present yourself that will win the day. This is a proven fact that is counter-intuitive and must be worked on by all of us.
Set a single major life purpose and then 5 year personal and business goals for yourselfOf all the things I have done, this is one I adopted early in my career that motivated me towards success. Every 5 years I set goals some of which I met in 3 years, some I never met. But it's almost freakish how spot on my actual results often met my 5 year goals. A goal is written down and shared with someone who can help you achieve it. Anything not written down or not shared is simply a wish.
You become and get what you consistently think about. Any thought you carry repetitively, will become your reality. The picture in your minds eye of how you look, your level of success and your lifestyle, will eventually become reality if it isn't already. If you want to make $500,000 per year, then wipe out any thoughts in your mind with other figures. Think the unthinkable, dwell on it daily and your belief will create it’s own talents to get you there. Only you control this. Is your mind disciplined enough to hold the pictures of what you want to become rather than what you don’t want to be? All successful people know this universal key to success and practice it continually through prayer, meditation and visualization.
I've enjoyed a successful career and had I known what I do now when I was 22, I'm not certain everything would have turned out all the better. Life throws us all curve-balls and we don't know when and the magnitude of them. You simply have to be prepared to respond when they do come your way. The important thing is to find what you're good at, develop a passion for it, commit to it, set 5 year goals for it and most importantly have fun doing it. We live at such an amazing time with so much change and opportunity. I wish all the success to the class of 2014 and for my triplets in the class of 2018? Stay tuned. I'll be giving you more advice than you can probably stand.
Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.
-Anne Frank