“He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.” Victor Hugo
In my hometown I knew two people who both were about to launch their lives, one was a recent high school graduate and the other a college grad. Both were just acquaintances, but I heard back from time to time from a close friend who knew both men well.
The trajectory of their lives could not have been more different.
Don’t we all know someone like Brad? Brad couldn’t decide on a major in college because he really didn’t know what he wanted to do in life. After graduation he spent the money he had received from his relatives wandering aimlessly around the country with a couple buddies. When the money finally ran out, Brad took a job at a car rental agency in his home town in order to eat and have a roof over his head. He didn’t much like the job and the pay was lousy, but Brad figured it was acceptable employment until he decided what he really wanted to do in life.
One of the other employees was a young girl who had dropped out of high school because of a drug problem. Emily had kicked cocaine but didn’t have any other aspirations in life other than hooking up with guys for fun weekends. Brad thought she was cute and had a sexy body. They began dating. Soon Brad and Emily moved in together reasoning that they could get a better apartment with their combined incomes.
The apartment was a bit depressing, so Brad and Emily overspent furnishing it with nice things they bought on credit. They also purchased—on credit—two expensive new cars. It was an indulgence but they rationalized, “you’re only young once.” With little credit history and a low-paying job, Brad had to finance the car through the dealer at an exorbitant rate.
Emily learned she was pregnant just six months after moving in with Brad. They drifted into marriage mostly at the insistence of Emily’s mother. The baby was born healthy but Emily had to quit her job to take care of the infant. Brad soon found it was expensive raising a family and was forced to take a second part-time job working as a security guard.
Brad began drinking and eating to help calm his frazzled nerves. When he wasn’t out with the guys at a bar he collapsed on the sofa and watched TV during the little free time he had. He quickly gained 40 pounds. Emily also gained a lot of weight. To Brad she looked worn out, frumpy and, well, plain. She was not the “hottie” he’d dated just a couple years ago. They stopped having sex. Emily was too fatigued. And frankly, neither found the other attractive anymore.
Brad began sleeping with one of the girls he met at the bar he now frequented most nights of the week. The girl wasn’t attractive but she was easy and she was available. He couldn’t stand the idea of going home to a messy apartment, a colicky crying baby, and a drab wife.
Brad was constantly tired. He began making mistakes at work and missing days. One day he reported to work only to be asked to pack up his personal belongings and leave. The company gave him two weeks pay as severance.
That same day his girlfriend informed him that she was pregnant again.
The story only gets worse from here. But you get the point. Brad made thoughtless, stupid decisions that cost him his future. Even worse, his poor decisions would affect the lives of his children too, diminishing their prospects for a successful future.
Contrast Brad with Brenden. In high school Brenden decided that he wanted to be a home builder. Everything about it excited him—working with an architect to create a beautiful design, locating property to build on, planning the construction. He decided to get both a contractor’s license and become an architect—after graduating from college.
Brenden worked with school counselors and his family to select the best university to further his career goals. They found a school that had both a recognized architectural program and also could fast-track him to obtain a contractor’s license. Brad applied for, and was granted, a partial scholarship. He augmented this by working summers on a builder’s work crew, gaining valuable hands-on experience.
Brenden always put aside 10% of what he earned. By the time he graduated (with honors) he had accumulated enough money to move to Austin. Brenden chose Austin because he liked the small city lifestyle and many recreational activities. He also liked the free-spirited, entrepreneurial people who settled in Austin. It was a market, among many he’d researched, that would soon explode in growth.
Brenden researched the major home builders in town and approached the one he felt was doing the highest quality work. He was hired immediately, based upon his grades at school and his clear-minded presentation to them of what he wanted to do with his life.
He soon made many friends and joined several organizations, from the golf club to the leading charity for the homeless. It was there he met David, an older real estate developer who would become his lifelong mentor. David liked Brenden’s easy style, ambition, and focus. Brenden reminded him of himself when he was young. David offered him a job soon after they met, but Brenden felt he needed to learn more at the company he was at. Besides, after just six months on the job, he felt he owed it to his company to stay on longer. David expressed disappointment, but secretly admired Brenden for his loyalty and solid character.
About this time Brenden purchased his first home, using some of the money he’d saved as a down payment. It was a small “fixer upper” house, but the mortgage payments were easy to handle from his current income. He used his building skills to plan a restoration that would make the house more livable and add considerable value to it.
Brenden exercised regularly, ate a nutritious diet, didn’t smoke, and only drank socially. He made sure he spent plenty of relaxation time with family and friends. He lived a healthy lifestyle, physically and emotionally. It was reflected in his fit physique and high energy level.
Brenden dated several of the young women he met at charity functions or the golf club, but never seriously. He had decided that marriage could wait until he met just the right person and when the timing was right.
Meanwhile, the friendship between Brenden and his mentor David deepened. Despite their age difference, they shared many of the same philosophies about life and business. When Brenden was 25 David approached him with an offer to go into business together. Because he had gotten to know David over time and had come to respect him both personally and as a businessman, Brenden felt confident the two could work together as partners. Brenden and David discussed the pitfalls of partnership, drew up an agreement that covered every possibility they could think of, and then hired an attorney to convert it into a legal arrangement that was fair to both men.
Brenden, unencumbered by a family, and with savings he could now use to support his involvement in their business, was able to focus on making the partnership a success. Within two years the business began showing increased profits. In year three both men earned more money than they had in the previous five years. By year four Brenden was a millionaire.
Their business continued to prosper. Brenden invested steadily in real estate, not understanding or totally trusting the stock market. Soon he owned hundreds of apartments, two shopping centers, and raw land that lay right in the path of Austin’s rapid expansion.
Comfortably wealthy by 35, Brenden was still young, full of confidence, free of stress, and able to pursue his many interests. He joined the boards of several charitable organizations, figuring it was his responsibility to give back to a society that had supported his dreams. One organization made micro-loans to qualified, but needy, families. Many of these families purchased their first home from Brenden’s company. He became the chairman of the regional food bank, helping less fortunate families get enough to eat. He helped many of the people he met go back to school and get jobs, changing their lives forever. It was very gratifying work. Brenden, without trying to do so, became a pillar of the community, a person who was respected by all.
It was during a food-drive that he met Camille. Of course, Brenden was considered a “catch” by most single women. Despite the many changes in gender relations, a powerful, wealthy, attractive man still appeals to women at a strong, primal level.
Brenden and Camille began dating. Camille’s beauty, charm, and sensuality appealed to Brenden. He could easily have fallen for her—the physical attraction was extremely strong. But Brenden took his time getting to know Camille. They shared a variety of activities together. He spent time with her family and friends. He admired her keen wit and intelligence, attributes he had long ago decided were important in a future mate. He liked her easy manner, the kindness she frequently displayed, and her personal style. They discussed everything from politics to religion to their feelings about family and children. After several months they slept together, careful to take the necessary precautions.
After two years of steady dating, and many shared experiences, the initial heady experience of “falling in love” was replaced by true, deep love. Brenden thought that Camille would make a great lifelong friend and companion as well as a passionate lover and responsible mother to their children. She was mature, educated, and respected. She had a career of her own as an attorney and was financially independent and responsible. Any serious personality flaws would have surfaced by now—and none had.
He asked Camille to marry him and she accepted. A few years later they started a family. After 15 years they are as happy as ever. Their children are well-adjusted, attending good schools, and are exposed to many of the wide range of interests pursued by their parents. Brenden has achieved what nearly everyone wants in life—success, love, a happy family, dynamic career, an interesting life, the satisfaction of giving back, and the ability to live out his life feeling as if it has true meaning.
There are many morals to these stories (both true, by the way). But first and foremost, Brenden was smart and responsible about his life. His priorities were in order. He didn’t make rash decisions. He had the discipline to do the right thing at each crucial step along the path he had chosen. He knew what he wanted and he went after it intelligently. He had a plan for his life.
Contrast Brenden’s life to most others.
✔ The majority of people don’t get the education they should to realize their dreams. If they go to college at all, the average person graduates with little idea of what they want to do in life.
✔ The first job that comes along becomes their career track.
✔ They date a few people they meet at random and decide to marry one based upon reasons that range from being “turned on” by the person to “it’s time to get married.”
✔ Children come when they get pregnant, often accidentally and at inopportune times.
✔ Money is usually spent on frivolous things, frittered away on unnecessary “stuff” or, in many cases, used to cover a lifestyle they can’t afford.
✔ Savings are left for the future—which never seems to come.
✔ Poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, and drugs prevent many people from ever having a chance to achieve financial freedom.
✔ Instead of using their time to work toward a better life, the average person spends up to 45 hours a week watching television—time that does little or nothing to move them toward their dreams.
It’s trendy these days to reject the idea of making plans and “just let life happen.” The planning opponents say that too often the plans you make aren’t realized due to some outside influence. President Dwight Eisenhower made the most cogent remark about this when he said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, and that planning is indispensable.” Planning changes as circumstances change. But having a plan for life is essential to creating a process to achieve all that you want. If you want to drive to New York from Los Angeles you’ll get there faster with a map than if you just start driving east, even if you take some detours and side trips along the way.
Too often people also simply don’t have the courage, will-power, and discipline to realize their dreams.
DON’T LEAVE YOUR LIFE TO CHANCE
“Since the mind is a specific bio-computer, it needs specific instructions and directions. The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.” Denis Waitley, author of Psychology of Success: Finding Meaning in Work and Life