The difference between greatness and mediocrity in sports is often a line so thin that you can barely see it. Who is the 500th best basketball player in the U.S.? Whoever they are, their skills aren’t THAT different from whoever was chosen last for the NBA All-Star Team. And it’s likely that the diff had nothing to do with their physical God-given talents. The diff probably had to do with intangibles, most of which revolved around how hard they worked, how clearly they paid attention to the game environment around them. Or, said another way, how much they cared.
So here’s a heavy handed message for you to think about, rolled in a question: “What is the difference between a guy who flips burgers at Mickey D’s and a UPS driver?” Answer: A life.
It doesn’t take a college degree to do either, but you’re mistaken if you think that fact means the two will lead the same sort of existence.
The burger flipper makes minimum wage, will never be able to afford a home, a decent car, a real vacation, or even a reasonably decent television.
The UPS driver could potentially wind up being a millionaire. Not a typo. They will drive a decent car, be able to buy their own home, and give their family most of what they’d ever want or need.
How much harder did the UPS driver work to get that job than the burger flipper to get his?
Same deal in corporate life. Those who succeed more often than not did so because they… cared. They actually put in the extra 10% or whatever effort was needed, and they became The Man (or The Wom), rather than having to kiss some cheek.
Reality Picture One: So you’ve graduated from high school and secured yourself a burger-flipping job at the local fast food joint, Patty’s Patties. Each morning, you rumble into work in your beat-up, ’97 Buick Park Avenue (it was bequeathed to you by your father, who decided it was easier to give to you than to bother finding someone who would pay more than $100 for it). You and your burger-flipping cronies have a simple life. You make minimum wage, work 8-hour shifts and don’t exactly take much pride in your work. Sure, you might one day turn out the Perfectly Cooked Burger, but no one is going to notice or care, and the customer will surely scarf it down without having realized that they have just ingested greatness.
You aren’t given any job duties other than to prepare the burgers and fries, and to clean up and wipe down the fryer each time it begins looking nasty. As far as your daily tasks are concerned, you do a bang-up job; in fact, you give it 100%. If only there was a way you could give more…
There is nothing else you could possibly be doing within the realm of your job, but the decision to overachieve at your place of business is what separates the rung-dwellers from the rung-climbers. It really is a decision, too. There is nothing preventing you from advancing quickly and steadily if you have the drive, the conviction and the innate hatred of flipping burgers. Quit. Or do… more. You start thinking of life as those melted marshmallow things on graham crackers with chocolate…
So you take an active interest in learning more about the way Patty’s Patties is run. You are inquisitive, although not to the point of being obnoxious. You offer to help Matt, your supervisor (who is only a year-and-a-half older than you, by the way), with any little odds and ends he could use some assistance with. You ask if you can put in extra hours, and you work your tail off for as many of those hours as they will give you. It is suddenly becoming clear to Matt that you are being wasted in your current function. With his keen eye for spotting talent, he has already decided that you are going to be moving up in the world of patties.
A month into your employment, you are promoted to work the front counter. The promotion comes with a small raise, but you’re not in the 1% just yet. Still, you can now get that $200 worth of car repairs you desperately needed to get done. You can trade in your rags for some designer outfits (from TJ Maxx). Yes sir, it feels good to be making more than minimum wage.
There are other benefits of your new position. No more slaving over a hot fryer, no more threat of grease fires. Now you are actually talking to people. As before, you go about your work with unusual vigor and aplomb. You take orders with a smile (again, without being obnoxious), listen carefully so that you make no mistakes, offer your customers anything else they may need, and be sure to thank them for stopping in, as well as express your genuine desire that they return. The customers appreciate your energy and warmth, and it isn’t long before poor Bonnie at Register #2 is picking polish off her nails while you have a line ten people deep.
The owner of the franchise isn’t in the restaurant all that often, but every time he does pop in, he notices what a great job you’re doing. He hears compliments from the customers; he hears good reviews from the manager. Over time, you give him no choice but to reward your enthusiasm and hard work. He tells the manager to promote you once again, this time to assistant manager. Matt was previously the assistant manager, but he wasn’t exactly on track to win employee of the millennium. You’ll miss him, but not that much.
Bonnie at Register #2 has more patrons to deal with again, and she does give it 100%, but not 110%, so she will continue to work the counter for many years to come. You now get to boss her around a bit, a responsibility you do not abuse or take lightly. It’s good knowing you do have that power, however. Any power at all feels pretty good to you.
So does that extra cash you’re making these days. You’ve decided to say so long to the Park Avenue and trade it in for a new – okay, used, but it’s new to you – Toyota Corolla. Your dad cosigns on it, partly because he’s your dad and that’s what dads do, but also as his way of apologizing for sticking you with the clunker in the first place. You even have enough spending money to buy yourself some toys. A PS3, an iPad, couple other small gadgets. Ah, to not yet have a family or a mortgage…
Your climb continues. From assistant manager you are promoted to manager. It takes you about a year, but your perseverance and hard work cannot be denied in the long run. You move out of your parents’ place and get yourself a one-bedroom apartment. You can actually afford a social life now – the idea of paying for a couple of movie tickets no longer causes you to consider taking out a loan.
You are still not satisfied, and now you have set your mind on owning your own Patty’s franchise. Within a couple of years, your dream becomes a reality. Of course, because you have been taking business classes on the side, you are now well-prepared to thrive in this capacity as well, and your restaurant flourishes more than most. You trade in the Corolla for a Lexus, trade in your kid toys for adult toys (although you still hang onto the PS3) and trade in your small apartment for a much, much larger one. When you are finally ready to take the plunge (we are referring to marriage, not a stopped-up toilet), you will be in a position to cover the down-payment on a house. Could you feel any more like a grown-up?
You open additional restaurants, and they prosper as well. You are now working your butt off less than ever, and yet your bank accounts are swelling as never before. You have worked your way from the bottom of all bottoms to the near-top. By putting in an extra 10% at every step along the way, you are living a life that is roughly 10,000% better than where you started.
Okay, sure – easier said than done. But the point is that all it takes is a little extra initiative and ambition to quickly and steadily improve your position out there in the real world. It’s time to trade in that junk heap you’ve been tooling around town in. We’re thinking that loud, constant hissing sound can’t be safe.
Reality Picture Two: You get a job as a driver, making deliveries for UPS. You read that right – a delivery person. Now, certainly there are big wigs at the UPS corporate offices who are making a fortune. If you got in at the “UPS Ground” level, schmoozed the right people and had a few breaks go your way, maybe you could actually transition from driver to the manager of a UPS store, and there demonstrate the people and leadership skills necessary to be promoted to regional manager, and from there maybe you even go on to fame and fortune as the CEO of the company. It isn’t likely, as at some point they’re going to look at your level of education and put a halt to your speed train of success, unless you’ve done something truly brilliant like figure out a way to catapult packages from the head office to all of their respective locations without damaging the contents. However, it is possible. Some individuals have reached great heights in the world of business without a college degree.
But that’s not even what we’re talking about. We are proposing that you may be able to retire a millionaire without ever getting out of the delivery biz. Not possible unless you own your own trucks and have a trucking company, you say? Let’s find out…
You begin at 40k a year. Not great, but a nice place to start. Remember that, because you are a member of a strong union, it costs UPS more like 60k to keep you employed. Where’d the extra 20k go? Well, 5k are pension contributions year one. (And of course you tax defer the 2k a year from your own salary into a 401k Plan.) Another 3k are health benefits. Then there’s 3k in insurance in case you end up on the losing end of a fist fight with a FedEx driver. There’s ongoing driver education. And those Keurig coffee things and the vegan donut holes? They don’t grow on trees, ya know.
You stick with the job, and after a couple of years you’ve boosted your base salary to 55k, with a few more bucks going into your pension. Other than being sick of that number because of all the speed limit signs you pass on a daily basis, you’re feeling good about your climb up the money ladder thus far. You’re no millionaire; in fact, your pay is really just enough to cover the rent on your apartment, car payments, and other basic living expenses. But your 401k Plan has compounded away in the market to now be worth $28,133. You’ve started saving a little beyond your pension, but there’s only a couple thousand in your account for the time being. At least you don’t have any student loans to pay back. For now, at least, at 20-something, you’re way ahead of all your doctor and lawyer friends. Odd that you hang in those circles, by the way… Well, you do deliver to them, and the surgeons think your uniforms are better than theirs.
However, your salary isn’t the only money you’re making. While you’re trucking along – literally – the large pension you are building is compounding away each year, tax free for now. You’ll pay taxes when you take the money out but by then you’ll be an old geezer, and for those making less than 100k, your tax rates are very low in this country.
Say you have 10k added to your pension and savings each year through a combination of UPS-granted pension, matching gifts where UPS puts in 100% of whatever you put in up to a point, and you just save a few grand from your salary.
So you save money at a decent clip and you do nothing fancy with it – you just put it in the stock market in a balanced growth fund which compounds away at a 120 year historical average of 8.5% per year net of fees and with dividends reinvested to buy more stock.
If you make that investing commitment, your results after 25 years of driving (and you’re still relatively young at that point, no matter what you may think of 45-year-olds today) look something like this:
|Rate of Return||New Money Invested||Total|
For the first couple years, the difference may not seem all that impressive. After you’ve had 20k added to your pension, you have a total return of $22,622, meaning you’ve tacked on an extra couple grand to what you would have had without the bond interest. You’re not going to throw that money out of bed, but hardly life-changing. Here’s the lovely thing about the concept of “compounding” interest though. It compounds. Didn’t see that one coming, eh?
You’ll live to 87. So those suckers at UPS now have to pay you over 50k a year plus benefits – for 25 more years! Crazy good. In Union We Trust. So now not only do you have the $2 million but you have the 50k thing going for you – given your lifelong habits of spending like a UPS driver, good luck even finding a way to spend all that money unless you do something totally stupid like attend Evander Holyfield’s week-long seminar on financial responsibility.