The last 48 hours have been as surreal as I can recall in my life.
Voters took to the polls and elected Donald Trump, the most improbable of candidates, as America’s 45th president. Even as I write this, the day after election day, I’m in disbelief and sadness and despair that he successfully swept the electorate as thoroughly as he did.
I never would have imagined we’d be facing a Trump presidency. I just could not grasp how someone as overtly racist, sexist, and nativist as Trump could carry a general election. It says something truly profound about the very real voice that has now loudly and clearly boomed from a large swath of American voters who propelled him into power.
I am a 2nd-generation immigrant, and this is an America unrecognizable to me. But I still love this country. It gave me and my family a home. We built lives here that would not have been possible in the old country.
The events of the last 48 hours also underscored to me, more than ever, the importance of not taking the world as you think you know it for granted. And the importance of self-reliance in a world of deep uncertainty.
I thought a lot about self-reliance over the last day because I believe that even voters who view Trump as a kind of savior who can restore a 1950s type of inward, homogenous American society will be disappointed. Deeply disappointed. That society seems to be one where non-whites and women, international allies and global integration, stay in the background or simply do not exist.
No one can bring back that world; it has long gone.
The only way to bring that sense of security back — wealth, freedom, stability…all the things this blog is about — to those who feel they’ve lost it is through self-reliance.
This to me means:
1. Never stop investing in your own education. The best way to protect yourself amidst great future uncertainty is to never stop developing your skills. This will help you protect and increase your earning potential, no matter what happens to the economy. The world will always need skilled, multi-faceted people who can solve hard problems.
One thing that has always helped me make interesting career moves is retooling even when I didn’t need to. When I was in law school, I went out of my way to learn as much about accounting and business as I could; that helped prepare me for an opportunity at McKinsey. When I was at McKinsey, I learned as much finance as I could; that helped prepare me for private equity investing. When I was in private equity, I learned technical skills which helped prepare me for the tech industry. I’ve been in the tech industry for more than 6 years now. But you know what I’m doing right now? That’s right, I’m working on another skill set. Maybe I’ll talk about it later. The point is, never rest on your laurels. If you’re an engineer, learn about online marketing. Learn how to lead a team. If you’re a business or marketing person, learn some technical or finance skills. Learn how to present persuasively and inspirationally. Make yourself recession-resistant by continuously investing in yourself.
2. Never stop saving. Live below your means and never stop squirreling away as much rainy-day cash as you can. Grow your stockpile relentlessly. When that rainy day comes, having cash on hand will enable you to leap into buying mode — whether it’s stocks, bonds, real estate, or whatever. My wife and I regularly sock away 30-50% of our pre-tax income, not counting passive income. If one of us lost our jobs, we could stay that way indefinitely and still save each month (since our taxes would decrease, too). This helps provide a lot of security.
3. Never stop diversifying. If at all possible, try to develop passive income streams. A key reason I’m not afraid to lose a job is because my passive income can sufficiently cushion all my expenses. We won’t run into problems paying the bills on my account. I know of real estate investors who collect 5 figures per month in rent. Imagine how great it must feel to have a guaranteed income stream each month, especially while the underlying asset appreciates over the long-term. Sure, you might have to deal with some tenant headaches here or there, but that’s small beer compared to sweating about how you’re gonna support yourself if you suddenly hit a wall. If you can find a way to sustainably and perpetually cushion all your expenses passively, then you’ll feel far freer to make life and career choices based on interest and opportunity, not merely on paycheck stability.
4. Never underestimate the challenges ahead. One thing Democrats severely underestimated this presidential election was the raw dissatisfaction of a huge portion of the electorate. Those voters took Hillary Clinton down. The press reported that, confident by multiple polling data strongly predicting her victory (over-confident in retrospect), Hillary Clinton took her foot off the gas, especially in the final few weeks, as she diverted resources away from her own campaign to help support down-ballot candidates. She was so confident she couldn’t lose that she took her eye off the ball. That’s not to say she would have certainly won otherwise, but it surely didn’t help that she coasted toward the end. You — we all — will have many challenges ahead. There will be lots of unpleasant surprises, both in our politics and in our lives. Don’t underestimate those challenges. Never take the world as you think you know it for granted, because hubris always comes before the fall.
5. Never dwell: find your next play. When you fall, pick yourself back up. Don’t dwell on things too much. When I worked at LinkedIn, the CEO would often end all-hands meetings by saying, “Next play.” He explained in a New York Times interview that he borrowed this phrase from a Duke basketball coach:
“Every time the basketball team goes up and down the court and they complete a sequence, offense or defense, Coach K yells out the exact same thing, every time. He yells out “next play,” because he doesn’t want the team lingering too long on what just took place. He doesn’t want them celebrating that incredible alley-oop dunk, and he doesn’t want them lamenting the fact that the opposing team just stole the ball and had a fast break that led to an easy layup. You can take a moment to reflect on what just happened, and you probably should, but you shouldn’t linger too long on it, and then move on to the next play.”
The point is, don’t dwell on your successes or your failures. Pause and reflect. Then, lift your chin back up and find your next play.
I still love this country. I want us to succeed. I hope for good things.
God bless America.
Question: Do you agree these are the keys to building self-reliance and resilience? Regardless of whether your candidate won, what are your hopes for the next presidency?