I had the honor to recently speak with students at Xavier University in Cincinnati. I graduated from Xavier 22 years ago this upcoming May, so I was now the old person in front of a bunch of students trying to tell them what they needed to know.
The good news is they all seemed to listen and I didn’t see any eyes closing, so hopefully, they got as much out of it as I did. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them, but even more fun was spending time coming up with lessons I wish I knew with I was 21.
With that, here are 12 things I’ve learned in my career that I think every college student should know.
- There are always going to be bad things that happen. The Dow Jones Industrial Average began trading in 1896, and over this time, we’ve seen wars, famines, recessions, global pandemics, inflation, deflation, stock market crashes, financial crises, and more. But you know what we’ve also seen? The Dow has eventually made new highs every single time and we don’t think this time will be any different.
- You are going to mess up, probably a lot. Years ago, during a live TV hit, I was asked what the acronym of the company I was working for stood for, and I confidently blurted out Linsco Prime Ledger… To be clear, this is wrong, and I knew it as soon as I said it. Another time I was on CNBC saying things were fine. 48 hours later, we saw the U.S. debt downgrade in August 2011, and stocks fell 20% the next week. I could go on and on about all the times I’ve messed up, but just know that we all make mistakes, and it will always happen throughout your career.
The good news is if your mistakes are honest, you’ll learn from them and people likely won’t hold them against you (just don’t make the same mistake over and over).Don’t be afraid to take a swing at something, as taking no chances or making new mistakes means you aren’t swinging the bat. As Babe Ruth said, “Every strike out brings me closer to the next home run.”Let me be clear here, there are some mistakes that will cost you your friends, jobs, or career. Trust me, I’m glad I missed college when everyone had a cell phone and one stupid thing could come back to haunt me years later. But it is what it is. If you are young, know that one dumb mistake could cost you everything. All young people make mistakes, but be careful is my best advice. Warren Buffett put it like this, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”Lastly, I love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about mistakes. We can learn a lot from others and their mistakes, but don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes along the way.
- Even smart people make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how smart you are; odds are you, too, could be caught up in a mistake or mania. Sir Isaac Newton might have discovered gravity, but he also got caught up in the emotions of a bubble and lost most of his life savings. As he later said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”
- The past can teach us a lot. Winston Churchill once said, “The farther back you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.” If you’ve followed me long enough, then you know that I love to look at history to show a path for where we could be headed.Also, it is good to show that whatever is currently happening likely has happened before in history. Or, as Edwin Lefevre wrote in the amazing Reminiscences of the Stock Operator, “Another lesson I learned early is that there is nothing new in Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market today has happened before and will happen again.”Lastly, this quote from Niall Ferguson sums it up nicely. You can learn a lot from looking at the past.
- You are never too old to try something new. The late great Rodney Dangerfield had trouble getting respect, but it eventually happened to him. After 30 years in the industry, one random invite to the “Ed Sullivan Show,” he became an overnight comedic sensation.
Another way of thinking about it is when Steve Jobs said, “Most overnight success stories took a long time.”
I was in the industry for nearly 10 years and I started to use this new thing called Twitter. I didn’t think much of it at first; in fact, I didn’t like it or get it. Well, now I have more than 120k followers and I’m quoted on CNBC directly from a Tweet. I was one of the very first market strategists to leverage social media and it has made my career.Don’t ever think you are too old to start something new or take a chance. Here are some other well-known entrepreneurs that scream it is never too late.
- Crowd psychology repeats time and time again. I traded options for over a decade, and I’m fascinated by the psychology behind markets and crowds. There is no better illustration of this than the one below. Times will change, people will change, and ideas will change, but how crowds work likely will never change.
- Bet on yourself. I’ve been fired, I’ve been laid off, and I’ve had more doors close on me than anyone would ever expect. A lot see me as someone on TV with a lot of respect and clout in the industry, and this is true, but it wasn’t always this way.I’m here to tell you it hasn’t been easy for me in my career. But in the end, there was one thing I was certain of, that is if I treated people the right way and worked harder than anyone else, I’d be successful.Trust me, when you are broke, have no job, and are running out of money, having a glass-half-full mentality isn’t easy. In fact, you might even need to trick yourself into believing things will get better.I was there in December 2015. Laid off in May 2015 after the company I was at was acquired by Huntington Bank, with a wife, kids, and house to pay for, with no money and credit card bills piling up. I knew I wanted to bet on myself and go for an awesome job with LPL Financial while also passing up on other jobs along the way. What if they hired someone else? What if I’m making a mistake and should be interviewing with other companies? If they don’t hire me, what will I do to pay the bills, let alone buy Christmas presents for kids expecting Santa?Well, I always believed it would all work out and I was offered in late December and started with LPL in January 2016. I had a blast there over 6 plus years and it directly opened the doors necessary for me to be at Carson Group right now. It is funny how things all work out is all I can say.They tell you that when one door closes, another opens. I’m here to tell you that you will likely want to punch the person in the face who says that, at least I did. But it is true and things will get better.
Bet on yourself and your mental health; the payoff may be exponential.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. The world is more connected than ever. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. I think this is a fun way to say life is too short. People will always disagree with you and they will always doubt you. Let it fuel you, but don’t let it eat you up inside.
- Be your own person. I made a good deal of money during the tech bubble in the late 1990s, only to lose it all and then some when stocks crashed and I was on margin. It was an expensive learning experience, but I was hooked and it is all I’ve ever wanted to do every day since.Over time I found that I also enjoyed presenting, writing, doing live TV, and helping investors understand what is really happening out there. What I also found was that people liked having fun and laughing. Trust me, what we do as stewards of assets is deadly serious and I don’t take it lightly. But at the same time, if you are going to present to a room full of people for an hour, you better make it fun and entertaining or you will lose them.Over the years, I’ve found that using humor and stories was a great way to explain what is happening. I like to say in two years you’ll never remember what I said if you saw me present, but you’ll likely remember how you felt. I want people to feel good after they see me present. There is no better compliment than when a little old lady comes up to me and says she has no idea what I said, but she really enjoyed it.In my career, I’ve been told many times to be more like others. Be more like the boring strategist at a bond shop or more like the strategist at a large broker/dealer who does none of her own research, only to cite others. Thank goodness I didn’t listen to that bad advice. I knew that my lane was telling stories, having fun, and helping people. Now let’s be clear when your boss is saying you need to change how you do things, that isn’t an easy conversation. But as Mark Twain said, why not go out on a limb? That’s where the better fruit is. I went out on a limb and it was so worth it. Be yourself, you won’t regret it!
- Crooks and rats are always out there. Yes, I’m in the financial industry and some of the more well-known charlatans ever have come from this world. But I’ll say this, in any industry, you are going to see this. Just last week, I found out that the guy who was selling my golf cart for me was loaning it out to people and taking parts off of it to sell. The good news is I got my cart back after a visit to his shop by the York County Sheriff’s Office, but the point is to be careful who you trust out there.I once worked at a place that told us we’d get our bonus ‘this Friday.’ Well, this Friday would come and it wouldn’t be there. If you asked where it was, you’d be yelled at and belittled in front of the whole department. Their line was, “What do you need, a loan?” It was crazy looking back, but again, there are always crooks and rats out there. If you ever find yourself working for one, get out is my advice.Here’s the catch, it isn’t easy to tell who is genuine and who is stealing billions from innocent investors. This Fortune cover says it all.
- People aren’t as perfect as you think. Similar to above, you will meet people who claim to have all the answers and live the perfect life. With social media, it is easy to think about how great someone might be. I see this with my 15-year-old daughter, as she thinks influencers are perfect people with no problems, but that isn’t true. Everyone has issues, problems, struggles, and more.
- Life comes at you fast. It feels like yesterday I was a 21-year-old in a class at Xavier with some old guy in there telling me what I needed to know when all I cared about was what bar I was going to go to that night. Well, life comes at you fast and there is nothing you can do about it.I absolutely love getting up each day, working at Carson Group, and having fun with a really awesome group of people. There’s not much else I’d rather do than what I am doing right now. To get paid to do what you’d do for free is a really lucky situation. But be aware it took me 15 years to get a job with LPL on the fast track to this and it took 21 years to land my dream job with Carson.Your first job out of college won’t be your dream job. There will be many trials and tribulations along the way in your career. Some you cause to yourself, while some will be completely out of your control. At the end of the day, it is up to us how our careers go. If you don’t like your boss or like your job, get a new one. Life is too short. It isn’t always that easy, but you can make it happen if you try.Know that if you have the right attitude, treat people the right way, keep the faith, and always work as hard as you can, things will work out for you in the end.
Here’s the old guy with some students from Xavier University.