Everyone knows the famous commencement speech Steve Jobs gave to Stanford University in 2005.
In case you want to skip the video, here’s the gist of it: “No matter what, follow your passion.”
I’d like to add one important thing to this, for those of us who haven’t got the fortitude to take it to the limits, and damn the consequences.
Be sure that enough people care about what it is you are pursuing before you bother making it your mission.
I took a bit of a career detour the last three years. I got very excited in pursuing an ambition I had always had: helping people succeed financially.
Actually, I was the kid that studied the Canadian Securities Course at age 9. Show me another kid that could explain bond yield curves in grade 4. When other kids wanted to be a rock star, I wanted to work on the Toronto Stock Exchange. This was young Paul, hopelessly nerdy from the very start.
Despite knowing my destiny at age 9, I ended up (or so I felt), in the technology business, getting pretty good at online marketing and the like, but all the while really feeling I missed my true calling.
So, in 2012, at a high point in my career, at a party I threw, packed with over a hundred clients, friends and associates, I announced my departure from the web marketing firm I built over a decade, to launch my own financial practice.
You might have heard a pin drop, if it wasn’t for the literal gasps from the audience.
At last, I thought, I could help ordinary families and business owners with something that truly mattered: their financial health. Oh sure, I was good at marketing, but what good is marketing to a business owner if your personal finances are falling apart? Also, I could use my expertise of running a business to help the businesses of awesome people, and do awesome things.
And I did awesome things. I really did. I had some amazing clients over three years, and loved most of them. And changed some lives.
But for every hug of thanks, there was 20 ignored e-mails. For every time I referred somebody else’s business (which is often), there were zero referrals for my business. For every booked appointment, there was a meeting canceled and inevitably postponed.
The karma wheel of “what goes around comes around” stopped turning at some point.
If I posted something on Facebook about politics, my theater production, a movie I saw, or pretty much anything else, the floodgates of commentary opened. If I posted something about my business, it was crickets (except for those I inevitably annoyed by prodding them into commenting or liking). My unusually large Twitter following (over 20,000 followers) netted zero new clients in three years for my financial practice. Same with the thousand-plus connections on LinkedIn.
It seemed many people simply did not buy into my transformation. Hundreds (no exageration) indicated their interest in working with me at some point in the future, but after being put off 4 or 5 times, I eventually stopped calling them.
The final straw came when I sent out 400 surveys, received 80 responses, and had 63 people commit to referring at least one person to me in the next three months. It seemed, at last, that people really wanted to see me make a success of this, and I was so grateful things were finally turning the corner. I followed up with each and every one of those 63 people with ideas about how I could be referred, and to make it as easy as I possibly could for them to do so, and then I waited. And waited.
While a few tried (thank you), zero of the 63 people actually referred me to a new prospect. Zero. This was quite a climb down coming from a business where the phone would ring with randomly referred people every week.
It’s not to say I never had a referral. I had a few. And I am not ungrateful for them. I just didn’t have enough to make my business a viable one.
There are other ways to build a financial business, of course. I could cold call. I could do tradeshows. I could glad-hand at meetings and mixers. There’s dozens of ways, and with enough energy and perseverence, you can succeed.
What I set out to do, though, was to help the people I knew (which, growing up in this town, was a pool of several thousand prospects) – not bug a bunch of people I didn’t know.
So, at long last, I decided to finally throw in the towel.
I do care about people. I do want to help them. Apparently, though, they don’t want to be helped with their finances – or, certainly, not by me.
And that’s sort of the point I missed – the one Steve Jobs’ inspirational talk failed to mention. Here it is a little more concisely …
If your dream involves other people, you better be damned sure they are ready to come along for the ride, and in numbers that make the dream possible.
There’s no question I could have carried on, and eventually been successful with enough effort, hard work, cold calls to strangers, determination and perseverence. But for what? For people who are far more skeptical than appreciative? For a business in which people would rather put you off (and the advice you bring), than face their own reality?
After soul searching, I concluded that “eventual success” filled with little appreciation of what I had to offer wasn’t good enough for me. I have a lot to offer the world, and other skills I could put to work in ways that would be far more appreciated. Why pursue something that so few appreciate? This flies directly in the face of the whole reason I was doing this in the first place.
I would be carrying on only for the sake of not changing. (Which, I’m sure, even Steve Jobs would disapprove of.)
There’s a lot of other reasons I could give, all of which are true … My personality doesn’t jive with this type of work, after all. I’ve never been a great “closer,” and Canadians need to be truly sold on doing the right things. I’ve always done better at marketing than one-on-one sales and prospecting. Canada is still recovering from a brutal recession; one that has affected people in my natural market (business owners and entrepreneurial-minded types) more than most. The level of apathy Canadians have for their financial well-being is far worse than I had anticipated (and I figured it was bad). Canadians don’t understand financial planning. Canadians are very transactional in their financial dealings: deal with the immediate (at the bank or whatever), but don’t actually “plan” anything.
Ultimately though, it came down to one thing: the experience of trying to help people and faced with a wall of apathy sucked the passion and enthusiasm I once had for this work.
And I’m a little sad about that, but ultimately I’m at peace with the reality that is.
Meanwhile, I’m ready and excited to move on to the next challenge! Whatever that may be!
One last thing … next time you see your financial planner (if you are one of the few who actually have one), give them a hug and tell them you appreciate them.