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What is Success? The Slow Burn of Investing Thumbnail

What is Success? The Slow Burn of Investing


“An investor needs to do very few things right as long as he or she avoids big mistakes.”

-Warren Buffett

I was recently asked to speak to a class of Shenandoah University students about what I’ve learned through my experiences in sports, business, and how those lessons helped shape where I am today. Realizing my failures were many and successes yet to be determined, I decided to speak honestly about what I have witnessed from myself, but also from others I’ve been fortunate enough to know. 

The nature of the work we do at Buttonwood Wealth gives us a unique window into what it takes to become successful, however you may define that. Now more than ever in our society, it’s easy to see what others have and immediately conclude they are successful. We’re all guilty of measuring ourselves against others in one way or another. 

The competitor in me sees value in pushing yourself against your peers. However, I tried to remind the students that quite often the perception of success may not be the reality. Be careful what you’re measuring against; true success or the outward perception of it. They are two very different things. 

Many of the most successful people I know don’t voluntarily stand out in the crowd. They’re quite often the least assuming. More to the point, I’ve witnessed that those who actively put their “success” on display, might be on the shakiest financial footing. 

I tried to remind them that success in sports, business, and investing comes from doing things on a day-to-day basis that most people don’t ever see, and that typically aren’t glamorous. 

Mr. Buffett’s quote above advocates repeatable discipline over long periods of time, not short cuts or inconsistent results. 

Juan Soto is one of my son’s favorite players. It’s easy to follow Soto’s success story on the diamond when the lights come on. I’ve reminded my sons many times that people never see the hours of work Soto puts in before and after games. Talented, absolutely. But his success is a result of developing his talent over long periods of time. This success story is a great example of what it’s like at a high level, especially when others aren’t watching. I’d like to point out that my son's admiration began during Soto’s time with the Washington Nationals, not as a Yankee…. 

But what is success? I’m guessing its definition might vary slightly if you polled a room of 22-year-old college students. But I’m also willing to bet there is a lot of overlap. My message to them was not to apologize or feel guilty desiring the things you want as you move forward into the “real world”. It was simply that success doesn’t happen overnight and often takes years of doing the simple things, in the right way, and that there is no shortcut. 

A close friend of mine was fortunate enough to inherit a business that his father began. While in school and preparing to take over the family business one day, his father left him a note saying, “Wishing you the best of luck, the kind you make yourself.”

I find a lot of truth in that statement. We should all remind ourselves that successful investing is the result of following a repeatable, quite often boring, approach that fights the urge to take shortcuts. The road to success won’t be filled with happy accidents or random luck. It’s the result of the decisions we’ve made, right or wrong, over time when no one is watching.