I enjoy watching commencement speeches. It’s an event where those most accomplished share their most profound insights to those about to embark on their own journeys into the world. It’s 20-minutes of pure, unfettered advice. And while I have warned in the past about not taking advice, I caveat it by saying not all advice is equal. Advice from those at the pinnacle of their fields warrant serious consideration.
David Rubenstein is one of those people whose advice you should probably listen to. He is best known as the co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, one of the most established private equity firms in the world. His net worth is over $3 billion. He recently gave the commencement speech at the 2014 Wharton MBA Commencement. He laid out the six rules to achieving financial success, or, in his words, “all you need to know in 5 minutes to make a great deal of money.”
1) Perseverance is infinitely more important than brilliance or even a reasonably high degree of intelligence. Not taking “no” for an answer will yield far more financial rewards than will acquiescence to conventional wisdom. Do not give up your own beliefs or passions easily or quickly.
2) Hard work will yield greater financial rewards than a 9-5 workstyle. If you really want to get ahead financially, long hours are unfortunately a prerequisite. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, John Huntsman, Jack Welch, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Joseph Wharton, and countless other business giants, put in the time needed to make a mark on the world. So recognize that anything really worth achieving in business or life takes a serious time commitment.
3) Focusing on one area or subject where you can truly make yourself an expert. Your organization’s indispensable resource will lead to further responsibilities and benefits. Avoid spreading yourself thin by trying to do too much before you do one thing extremely well. Once you’re established as an expert in one area, other opportunities will inevitably come to you and your responsibilities and rewards will inevitably increase.
4) Learning how to persuade others to do what you want is the essence of a successful business career, and the essence of life in many respects. To do that well, you need to learn how to communicate effectively by writing and speaking well. But more importantly, you need to learn how to communicate well by the most effective means of persuading: by the example you set in your own actions or conduct. Hone these means of persuasion in every opportunity.
5) Place your energies into providing the best service or the best product possible. Do not focus on how much money you will make. The obsession with the making of money rarely leads to the making of money. The obsession with achieving excellence and with doing the best job possible, doing something no one else can do as well, is usually what leads to the making of fortunes. Money needs to be the happy byproduct, not the principle goal.
6) Whatever financial success you might have at the outset, that success can be multiplied many times as people observe how you handle your intiail success. Humility, rather than arrogance, will lead to far greater financial success. There are exceptions to this rule, unfortunately, but you should not honestly want to be one of these exceptions. You should want to be someone who recognizes that luck likely played a real role in your success, and bad luck can come along at any point; so stay humble.
Follow these six rules and you will almost certainly with a modest amount of good luck, make a fair amount of money in life if that is your goal.
However, Rubenstein goes on to say that money will not bring happiness. Personal happiness, as elusive as that is to obtain, is a far better life goal than the making of money. “The happiest people I know,” he says, “are the biggest philanthropists. The happiest people I know are the ones who realize their money can do much more than buy bigger homes and yachts and status.”
This seems to be a common realization among those who have achieved massive financial success. More than a hundred billionaires have signed The Giving Pledge, a campaign where they promise to donate 50% or more of their wealth to charity. This also aligns with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where the top of the pyramid is characterized by the pursuit of self-actualization, once all the other needs have been met. However, one need not be a billionaire before giving. Indeed, Rubenstein says that one of his regrets is not learning the lesson of helping others, the community, and the country earlier.
Do not make the same mistake I did. Do not wait till the last third of your life to give back. Do not wait till the opportunities to make a real difference in the world have passed you by. Do more than make money. Give back to your community, your society, your country. And do so even when you may not have large sums of money. By doing so, you will surely achieve happiness much earlier in your life. By doing so, you will lead a much more fulfilling and rewarding life. Trust me, what I say is true, and i have learned this to be the case many times over.
Giving your time, your energy, and your ideas, can be just as beneficial as anything else you do. Find an area in which to give back where you’re really interested in. Try to focus always on what you’re doing is making a difference, rather than adding to a resume. Focus on how your presence on the face of the Earth, as fleeting as it is, is justified by what you’ve done trying to make society and the world a slightly better place than you inherited it. Do not get to the end of your life and regret what you did not do in the earlier part of your life. Try to make the world a better place.