John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple of my friends nominated me for membership in a private golf club. I love the sport but I’m a terrible player. Part of the screening process is that I have to play 18 holes with two members of the admissions committee, so they can check me out. I’m terrified of completely blowing my chances. Any tricks of the trade here? Sadly, we are always being tested in life. Job interviews, club admissions—people never stop passing judgment on us.
When playing with the two club members, remember that it is much more important to know the etiquette of golf than to be a proficient player. The people looking you over want to know one thing, really: Will you be a congenial, interesting member who adds personality, enthusiasm and perhaps humor to the club? You do not have to be a good player. You do have to know the rules of golf, and you do have to be cordial and caring toward the caddies and employees you meet. This is key. Do not ignore the people helping you. It will be noticed. Remember everyone’s names and refer to people by name, showing that you are paying attention. Compliment good shots; say nothing about the mishits.
During your round, tell stories about adventures you’ve had, in golf and in business too, and try to make the stories self-deprecating. Be amusing in gentle ways. Pretend you’re a good guy, bedeviled by golf and by life.
Remember, almost everyone you’ll ever play golf with is terrible too. People play for the companionship, the exercise and the mutual therapy. Also remember this old line: “Golf is the only thing you’ll ever do in life where you get what you deserve.”
And when you get into the club, you too will eventually judge others. Be kind to them.
I’m working on digital initiatives at a local college. But secretly, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My job here is secure, I think, but would staying mean I’d have to give up my dream of being a writer? How badly do you want this dream? I majored in English in college and also wanted to be writer. After school, I took the coward’s way out and went into a family financial business, feeling like a failure. “I want to be a writer,” I told my father.
He was from a long line of tough dads. ”You’re coming into this business,” he said. “And if you want to write badly enough, you’ll write no matter what you’re doing.” I took this as a challenge, determined to show him… and prove it to myself.
This isn’t about me; it’s about you. But the point of my story is, don’t talk about your dream. Make the time and do it. My 11th book is just out. And I’m still running a wealth-management business full time.
OK, so it is ultimately about me. But it can be about you. It depends on your passion. If you’re only halfway in love, you’re not really in love. It’s no excuse to say, “I’m too busy to work on my book.”
Talk is cheap. Walk the walk.
I’m in my early 20s and completely clueless when it comes to finance. My parents have done my taxes for years. My dad recently gave me sole access to a brokerage account he has been using to save money to pay off my college loans, and it’s a terrifying mystery to me. I’ve tried reading up on this stuff to better inform myself, but I always get lost in the technical jargon. I’d really like to know what’s going on with my money when I start to pay off college loans soon. Any suggestions for a financial dummy? You’re not alone. You’d be amazed how little most people really understand about managing money. But let’s start with a few simple truths. I’ve been watching over people’s money for decades, and I try to boil down what seems complicated to common sense.
Number one: Movements in stock markets are 80 percent emotional and 20 percent reality. Fear and greed dominate the process. When fear dominates, that’s when others panic and you often find bargains to buy. When greed rules the market and everyone seems to be making money and congratulating themselves, it’s probably the time to be doing some selling.
Number two: Concentrate on companies whose products and services you enjoy and use. This is a concept from one of the best investors in history, Peter Lynch. “Buy what you know” is the eyes-and-ears approach to your portfolio.
You’ll really learn if you get your feet wet with picks of your own. You’ll learn a lot from your mistakes.
I went to a seafood restaurant recently and got violently ill shortly thereafter. I just knew it was that shellfish. I ended up going to a hospital emergency ward, thinking I was dying. It was a horrible experience. I felt that they were not going to get away with it. I went to the restaurant and demanded of the manager that I get my dinner money back, plus my hospital costs, gas to the doctor and parking charges. I was told, “Prove it was us.” I called the Board of Health and want to write a letter to our local paper. I want revenge. Am I crazy? Well, borderline crazy. But I’m always outraged by the bad behavior of society in general these days. And I do believe in standing up for your rights. That being said, I would put nothing into writing to the owner of the restaurant or to a newspaper. It can leave you open to retaliation from an owner who may have deeper pockets than you. You do not want to escalate a “tweetle beetle battle,” as Dr. Seuss termed adventures like this. Pick your battles. This should not be one of them.