Universal Truths: You want the Truth? You can’t handle the Truth!

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“The Truth! You can’t handle the Truth!”

– Colonel Nathan R. Jessep from A Few Good Men

When Jack Nicholson spoke these famous words in the movie “A Few Good Men”, the line became an instant classic, permanently etched in American pop culture.  There is great wisdom in this short quote, as it expresses an important reality: most people actually really can’t “handle the truth” about many things, and that many of our problems in life spring from our insistence upon avoidance or denial of the more difficult realities of life.

I recently read a great article by author and success coach Bill Bachrach, in which he wrote the following:

You have probably heard the saying that success leaves clues. These “clues” are Universal Truths or Laws of Nature that we observe successful people following that provide a good example of what to do if we would like to be successful also. These are things we accept as being true and unchangeable. Some of the more obvious Universal Truths or Natural Laws are that humans need to breathe air to survive, gravity, and that water is wet.

Another such Natural Law is what I call The Rule of 168. There are only 168 hours in the week and your success and happiness in life are determined by how you choose to invest your 168 hours. This was not my idea. God did not confer with me when he or she decided how long it would take the Earth to make a complete spin on its axis or the time required for the Earth to revolve around the sun. It is what it is. Resistance is futile. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Jack Nicholson’s character (Colonel Nathan R. Jessep) in the movie A Few Good Men delivered one of the most famous lines in the modern movie era, “The Truth! You can’t handle the truth!” I propose that life is better when you choose to handle the truth.

Here’s what else that I have learned about Universal Truths and Natural Laws: You can’t change them. You can’t fight them. They have no emotion. They have no investment in whether or not you succeed or fail. In fact, they don’t care if you live or die. It’s impossible for them to care about you because they don’t even know you exist. They don’t care about your background, your upbringing, your personal story, your personal tragedies, or your strengths and weaknesses. They don’t care if you suffer from depression, addictions, or were abused as a child. They don’t care about your race, your religion, your gender, your age, or your heritage. They don’t care if you grew up poor, middle-class or wealthy. They don’t care how unique you are, how special you are, or how important you are. They don’t care how much potential you have. They don’t care how much you are loved by your parents, your grandparents, your children, your spouse, your friends, your pets, or how much you love them back. They don’t care if you are attractive or unattractive, healthy or unhealthy, fit or out of shape, able-bodied or disabled. They don’t care how smart you are, how experienced you are, or how much you care about helping people. They don’t care if you are having a bad hair day or a no-hair day. They don’t care if your house burned down, your spouse left you, or your dog died. They have no interest in your needs, your wants, your goals, your aspirations, or your values. They don’t care about your religion, your faith, or your beliefs. They don’t care how much value you bring to your community or how much of a difference you are making in the world. They are not mean or malicious. They have no agenda. They don’t have any emotional capacity to be concerned about anything or anyone. They are what they are. Universal Truths. Natural Laws. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

To whatever degree you choose to deny, resist, or fight Universal Truths and Natural Laws is the degree to which you will fail to achieve your potential. Whatever time and energy you expend to change them or resist them is wasted time that you will never get back. Surrender to these laws and you will immediately experience more inner peace. Embrace these truths and you will move to a higher level of success and happiness in life.

Your long term personal financial success is no exception:  there are Universal Truths one must accept in order to become financially successful, and stay that way.  I did not invent these truths any more than I had input into how many hours there are in a day or week. I have just been a diligent observer taking good notes.

This may not be a complete list, but I doubt you will disagree with anything on it. What you do with this information is your choice. Remember, don’t shoot the messenger. Will you choose to handle the truth?

First, you must have a means to accumulate wealth.

You may be lucky enough to inherit a large chunk of money, but that’s just luck of the draw and not in the cards for most people.  If not, you have two options:

  1. You need to be very smart and work very hard to build a business, develop a piece of real estate, or some other asset which you can sell or receive a large income from.
  2. You need to be very smart and work very hard, and diligently save a portion of your income over some period of years, until it builds up enough to represent real financial wealth.

Either way, the common denominator is that you have to work really hard, and you need to have some willingness to live within your means, and to sacrifice your current lifestyle for the achievement of your longer term goals.

That’s it – just hard work and discipline.  No magic formulas, no black boxes, and no “get rich quick” investment schemes.  If you are counting on making a “big hit” in the stock market that will do all the work for you, be prepared to be disappointed.  It’s not likely to happen.

Next, you must take care of your wealth once you have it.

This can be a pretty complex job, but there are 4 important “Musts” that you must focus on to be successful in this pursuit:

  1. Live within your means. That’s right, this one applies to both phases of life, and you can’t escape this rule.  No matter how much you have, you still must be realistic about your ability to sustain your wealth over a lifetime, and live within a carefully planned annual budget.  There is no such thing as a “bottomless pit” of money.  Mike Tyson made over $300 million in his boxing career, but in 2003 he declared bankruptcy with $23 million in debt.  No matter your wealth, it is wise to identify your means, and live within them.
  1. Master a variety of complex information about how money works. As your wealth grows, so will the complexity of your investment, insurance and risk management, tax, cash flow, and estate planning matters.  The possibility that you may “miss something” important will grow in direct proportion to your net worth, so if you plan on keeping the wealth you have accumulated, you must either master this information, or find someone who has to advise you on your planning and decisions.
  1. Learn to invest wisely. There are many skills required to become a great investor, but likely the most important skill is the emotional ability to handle uncertainty.  Investment markets are inherently uncertain and unpredictable, so the practice of managing money is essentially a challenge to remain focused and disciplined, even in the presence of the massive amount of fear, greed, uncertainty and emotion that exists in the investing world on a daily basis. This practice can cause a great deal of stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and burnout among even the most seasoned professional investors.  Investing can be a mentally and emotionally draining pursuit, particularly for those who don’t do it for a living, and particularly when your own personal financial future is on the line. You must be capable of developing the emotional fortitude and patience to remain disciplined and calm in the midst of uncertainty.
  1. Stay on top of a bunch of details. Of course, the actual administration and management of your financial plan, and keeping your house in order, is a big job that takes a lot of time. There is paperwork, applications, elections to make, logins to keep track of, planning checklists to remember, and details to keep track of.  There are investment, tax, cash flow, insurance, and estate planning disciplines to consider, and to find and manage professionals in each of these areas. Doing all of this work accurately, without making important mistakes, and efficiently takes a lot of time, and focused attention.

As you contemplate this list, particularly in light of another “Universal Truth”, which is the Rule of 168, you may come to the conclusion that all of this is just too much work, and doesn’t really fit in to what you want to spend any of your 168 hours a week doing.

If that accurately describes your mindset, there is good news…you can hire someone to do all of these functions for you!  If so, your next “must” is to hire a competent, great advisor you can trust to do it for you.

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About the Author:

Erik is one of the co-founders of Concentus Wealth Advisors and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the firm. With over 25 years of industry experience, Erik guides the firm’s overall strategy.

After graduating from Amherst College in 1991, Erik spent a year working with Rittenhouse Capital Management, before joining Gerald in 1992. Erik currently holds his general securities registrations and insurance licenses, as well as CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Chartered Financial Consultant designations.

In addition to his formal designations, Erik has appeared on CNBC’s Worldwide Exchange, Fox News’ America’s News HQ, Live Well’s Mary on Money, CN8’s Money Matters Today and The Real Estate Connection.

In 2012, Erik was one of thirteen advisors named to Main Line Today’s Top Financial Advisors list.

Erik lives in Bryn Mawr, PA with his wife and three children. He serves on the boards of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Salvation Army, Acting Without Boundaries (serving young people with disabilities) and The Holy Child School at Rosemont. In addition, he is on the financial advisory board of the Sisters of St. Francis in Media, PA.

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