The Lessons of a Life Well Lived
By Eric Simonds, MsFP
I spent the weekend thinking about myself and thinking about others. I spent two wonderful days eating out, drinking fine beer and enjoying myself lakeside with my beautiful wife, my two boys, two barking dogs, and assorted other loved ones. I spent Saturday afternoon at my aunt and uncle’s blueberry farm paying my respects to my Uncle Danny, who passed away last fall. It was a beautiful, bright day and was truly a memorial, not a funeral. His friends and family got up and spoke and they told stories; memories wrapped in emotion. At these kinds of events, when people talk about what was once a sad or frustrating event, such as being short on the rent, a hard day at work, or someone burning the pot roast, people smile and laugh. But the converse is also true. When someone tells a funny story, it makes most people a little sad, sad because such a time will never pass again. Everyone was invited to tell their story and most did, but I could not.
A few years ago, my father passed away. He was my hero and it was sad. The sadness was softened by having a month to say goodbye to him and also, as a financial planner, having the opportunity to make sure that his affairs were in order, a luxury few people have. After he died, I organized a similar memorial for my father and I gave the kick off speech and invoked many memories. It was hard, but he deserved my best and I gave it. I wanted to do the same for my Uncle Danny, who was not only one of my heroes but one of my father’s heroes, as well. I wanted to speak, but I could not do it without breaking down and crying into a microphone, not the tribute I wanted to pay to one of my heroes.
Uncle Danny was a lot of things, a war hero, a small businessman and a respected part of the community. To me he was an inspiration, actually one of the reasons I started my own firm. Beyond the fact that he was successful in business, he was successful in life and it is my belief that success leaves trademarks. He inspired me to be my own boss and to stop borrowing money.
He once told me a story about needing a loan to start his business, something I could have easily been tempted to do when starting my own business. He told me of putting on a shirt and tie and being nervous about talking to strangers, two events I suffer through each day.
And he told me about deciding to NEVER do it again.
He was simple in his speech but he painted a picture. He told me that no one that sat behind a desk was going to govern him and his actions. He told me that no one was going to knock on his door and ask for the money he had worked so hard for. He told me that no one was ever going to make him feel the way he felt the one and only time he asked for a loan. He hated it and it was not going to happen twice!
The second most important thing for you (and me) to remember is that he did not like something, so he changed it. That is so important and as such I will say it again, HE did not like it so HE changed it. That is the second most important part, the single most important thing is the fact that what he changed was himself.
He did not did not write an angry letter, he did not try to shut down the bank and he did not blame God, the Universe or the President. He changed himself.
This inspired me. I worked for the State of Maine for 13 years and I did not like it. I liked aspects of it, at least I thought I did. I liked the steady paycheck, I LOVED the people I worked with and I liked the freedom that came with being a State Employee. But then a funny thing happened, I woke up one day and I realized that the pay checks stopped being so steady when the State started doing furlough days and freezing all contractual pay raises. I realized that the people I liked best were being run through the wringer by new administrative drones. And most importantly, I realized that the freedom I thought I had was just a big tiger cage in which I was allowed walk from one end to the other. Now make sure you are sitting down, I was not the only disgruntled State employee. I worked among people who were crushed when the rules for retirement were changed. I ate lunch with people who vowed that if they were not going to get a cost of living raise, then they were just going to leave 10 minutes early every day until they got it. I saw people justifying their lax approach to work as their revenge. I was mad and I too changed my work approach; I started working on myself.
I did not complain, I went back to school, at 33! I did not take long vacations to forget, I invested my vacation time by visiting people who had what I wanted and asking them how they achieved it (thank you, Ron Valpey) and I did not wish it was easier, I forced myself to work harder.
My Uncle Danny never appeared before a banker again as a borrower and I was never going to let anyone govern how much I can earn, what days I could have off or where my desk was going to be. I was never going to be rejected again for $17.83 in reimbursements for ice cream I had purchased for fire warden appreciation day.
I never got my chance to tell my Uncle Danny, or the crowd assembled to honor him, about how his choices mapped my journey. I never will get that chance but, if I know my Uncle, he would have been more concerned with the result than with what everyone was talking about.
Eric Simonds MsFP, is the owner of Saltwater Harbor Financial, LLC. He is a reformed State Employee who has many friends who still work for the State of Maine and keep him updated on wasteful behavior, Gubernatorial induced panic and memos about someone putting sour cream in fax machine by the break-room. Contact a Fee Only Financial Adviser and if you have any financial questions or if your supervisor finds out about the sour cream thing.