Taking the Wheel
Facing Failure with Courage
An ugly word. But is failure really so bad for us?
Think about President Abraham Lincoln. He lost the first time he ran for Congress. Michael Jordan didn’t make the basketball team when he first tried out. And George Washington? Declared a traitor by the greatest empire in the world.
Would we consider these men failures? Absolutely not.
Every single one of them failed countless times in their life, but these failures shaped and molded these men to work even smarter and harder than before, serving as a crucial part on their journey to success. Failure does not define you, but rather reveals who you are.
When life knocks you down there really is only one question to ask: When are you going to get back up? Doors open and close, but we can always go and keep knocking.
There tends to be a tendency of being so afraid of the things that MIGHT happen that we do not take full advantage of the opportunities that are in front of us. Fear of falling is not a reason to not keep moving forward. Do not try to be a perfectionist. Get outside your comfort zone. There is valuable insight in learning from your mistakes.
Set small goals for yourself. Are you worried about how you will get promoted? Schedule an introductory meeting with your department head. Overwhelmed about going back to school? Talk to an admissions officer. Not as fit as you’d like to be? Start walking before and after work, and go from there.
Focus on one small step at a time that takes you on the path to your ultimate goal, and see where it takes you.
If you are still afraid of where to start, focus on the price of inaction.
Challenges make us stronger, grittier and more resilient. Embrace your failures, learn from them and never stop moving forward.
About the Author
Lofton Carter was a graduate assistant in the Crawford Alumni Center and graduated from Tennessee Tech in May 2021 with his Masters of Business Administration. He graduated with degree in biology with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology/health sciences and had a minor in both business and social sciences. Lofton is an avid student of history and enjoys reading and studying about leadership, financial independence, and investing. Lofton hopes to pursue a career as a medical doctor and hopes to give some interesting advice along the way.
Disclaimer: Lofton Carter is not a registered investment, tax, legal or broker dealer. All opinions expressed in the article are a result of research and personal experience and are intended as educational material. Although best attempts are made to ensure all information is accurate and up to date, mistakes may arise. In no way is the author or Tennessee Tech University responsible for any losses. Any questions should be directed to a professional financial, tax, legal, or brokerage representative.
- The Tennessee Tech Story
The Tennessee Tech Story
On April 20, 1909, Jere E. Whitson read the statement confirming the charter of Dixie College to be established in Putnam County, Tenn. Little did he and his fellow committee members know the transformative effect this decision would have on the Upper Cumberland and across Tennessee. This act would pave the way for Tennessee Polytechnical Institute to be established in 1915 and go on to become Tennessee Technological University in 1969. From little to great, who would have thought little ole Dixie College would eventually transform itself into one of the premier institutions in Tennessee and the southeast United States?!
From the beginning, Tennessee Tech has strived to be a school known for its technological acumen and service; however, this mission has been met with challenges. In the early 1900s, our friends at the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education perceived Tennessee Tech as being the “less than” other institutions, and it was a battle for Tech to be given a charter by the Tennessee State Legislature. In fact, it only passed by one vote! The passing of the charter to establish Tennessee Polytechnical Institute was only made possible by the perseverance of those who believed in the long-term success and greatness of the school.
Tennessee Tech triumphed but continued to face many obstacles over the next 100+ years. When WWI, and then WWII broke out, dozens of students answered the call of duty, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of freedom. This service extended to both Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. Tech remained committed to producing students willing to make the necessary sacrifices to overcome some of life’s greatest challenges. Though painful, it is this culture of courage that has allowed Tech to push the boundaries while never forgetting their duty to their fellow man. Tech continues this legacy of service today and is proud to be home to the Golden Eagle Battalion.
The year of 2020 has been a time of struggle, with a local devastating tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is with pride that Tech has been able to rise above the challenges and make the necessary sacrifices to help their surrounding community and find solutions to keep going and growing. With the building of the new Lab Science Commons and the Marc L. Burnett Student Recreation & Fitness Center, and with plans for a new engineering building, Tech has once again raised itself another notch and continually pushed students forward. Tech has followed its mission to be a premier school of technology and invested in its students for more than 100 years. Tech has managed to not only provide its students with a top-tier education, but it done this while also keeping tuition low and is one of the lowest cost schools in the state. Tech’s focus on students and their long-term goals has created the wonderful learning environment Tech is so well known for today. No matter the obstacle, Tech will continue to meet student and community needs. Tech’s ability to continue to seek excellence in the face of adversity is a life lesson for each of us. As we set goals in our lives, we should expect some adversity along the way and determine beforehand that we will not compromise or accept ANYTHING less than our best.
- Moving Up the Corporate Ladder
Moving Up the Corporate Ladder
Everyone has the desire to move-up, but few have the willpower it takes to succeed.
Why does it seem to take years to move up just one position at a company and then…stagnation? The old way of joining a company and working hard for years and years is no longer as rewarded. Time served is no guarantee for those coveted positions, and if it is, it’s probably going to be a painfully slow process. In fact, most companies pay external hires substantially more than internal hires for the same position. In this new environment we must ask, what are companies looking for in promotable candidates?
It’s not time that allows for promotions but rather the value YOU create.
To understand this value aspect, we must start at the beginning. The first step to being promoted requires creating buy-in. For starters, this means doing your job well. You must be able to handle your current responsibilities and consistently submit quality work. Once this is established, you have to ask yourself why you are here and how you bring value to the company. Then, identify the company’s goals and how you can play a role in achieving that mission. Think about why a company hires you. Is it your nice car? Maybe the hiring manager likes your new watch? No, it is because the company believes you are going to bring value by accomplishing a specific job function. The company EXPECTS you to do your job, but promotions are only going to come if you can bring more to the table. This requires initiation, not just execution.
You must think and act a level above.
This means increasing your network inside and outside your organization. You should be investing in the people around you, and it is likely they will invest in you. You must present yourself in a way that conveys confidence and presents an image of someone with the requisite leadership skills for the potential for promotion. Look and see if the company offers any sort of leadership training for employees or if another employee (preferably in a different department) who is older and wiser could invest in expanding your knowledge to best succeed.
Expanding your knowledge and responsibilities requires taking the simple step of simply asking! Talk to your manager or other co-workers about being assigned to more projects, job shadowing, extra training, etc. You can leverage these conversations to highlight specific skill sets that can further your company’s goals. It is important to frame these conversations in a way that is not demanding, but instead focus more on how you can maximize your skills set in a way that adds value.
Remember, you are what you ask for.
Great people get passed over every day for promotions. But If you can consistently improve your knowledge base, create a network that invests in you, and focus on work that furthers the company’s mission, don’t be surprised when the next promotion cycle comes around and you’re the one who moves up.
- Mentoring: The Best Investment of The Year
Mentoring: The Best Investment of The Year
401ks, Roth IRA’s, and mutual funds all have their place, but the most important investment is in ourselves. Our personal and professional development can rapidly come to a stop if we are not making an effort to continually mature mentally, emotionally and spiritually. A vital player in this development is finding a good mentor.
Having a mentor opens us up to new opportunities.
But what is a mentor? Well, having a mentor does not mean finding a new best friend or someone to tell you what you want to hear. A mentor’s ultimate goal is to challenge you and test your growth capacity. This means asking hard questions and providing constructive criticism. It means having a willingness to be humble enough to take a long look at ourselves and honestly evaluate our strengths and weaknesses to further our personal development. However, not all is doom and gloom! A mentor is also there to provide encouragement and ensure you always stay focused on a growth mindset in all facets of life.
A mentor can provide mature advice about professional development, from career progression to solving workplace conflict, and personal issues from relationships to finances. Being able to talk to someone more experienced and tempered by life allows the mentee to both avoid mistakes and be incredibly efficient with their time. Having a mentor who is more experienced can offer insights into finding the best way to accomplish your goals while avoiding setbacks and powering through difficult times. It gives the student opportunities to learn from the wisdom and knowledge (or experience and failure) of someone wiser and more mature.
Fundamentally, mentorship creates a network to fall back on for advice.
The work environment is a complex beast to tame. In today’s world, the right balance of soft and hard skills is fundamental to being as successful as possible in the business landscape. The wrong environment can take a toll on our emotional wellbeing and hinder our development. A good mentor teaches a student how to navigate through these obstacles and encourages the mentee to face these problems in an authentic way.
It is never too late to begin a mentorship relationship. To those of you who have MOST of it all figured out, consider being a mentor, and pass on your knowledge and wisdom to a worthy candidate. For those of us who know very little (like myself), find someone whose characteristics you would like to emulate, and ask if they’ll be your mentor!
- A New Beginning
A New Beginning
Last year, we explored the basics of successfully pursuing financial freedom – from starting investment accounts and healthy budgeting to understanding the difference between investing and day-trading and catching up for retirement. With 2021 upon us, it begs the question, “What’s next?”
To answer this question, we must decide what wealth means to us. Is wealth a house in the hills and fast jets? Or is it working 35 hours a week and being able to travel and spend time with your family? According to the American Psychological Association, “The number one source of stress for 75% of Americans is lack of money.” This stress can be lifted, however, with proper action. Unfortunately, the path to wealth is not normally quick. The simplest way to alleviate this stress and meet these financial goals is to find a way to add extra cash to the bank account. This might mean finding a new job or fine-tuning your hobbies into money-making ventures. Maybe it means pursuing a different career direction? Or, maybe right where you are is where you want to be.
Discussions about mutual funds, hot new companies, or growth stocks is all well and good, but we must know our end goal. Is it a financially safe retirement? A trust for the grandkids? Or simply cash for a little travel? Sometimes we don’t know the answer to these questions, and that’s when we simply start small. Focus on the things you know you can accomplish. For example, make a realistic short-term savings goal. Find a way to save $500 or more per month for 3 months. At the end of 3 months, re-evaluate and set another goal. One step at a time.
It is interesting to note that most of us are not strongly motivated by money itself. Having $5 million would not mean anything to most of us if it was locked away forever. The charm of having it would quickly go away once we realized it could not be used. Instead, it is the tangible benefit that money provides that attracts us. In the same way, setting purely monetary goals may not be very motivating. When setting goals, it is important to find goals that affect us emotionally – for example, a picture on the fridge of our dream vacation with an action plan beside it of how we are going to get there. The point is to remind ourselves of the meaning and importance that reaching our financial and personal goals brings to us.
Money is not a magical route to happiness; it just helps alleviate a good portion of life’s hassles. The most important question is, what is it that brings happiness? Is it our hobbies, reading, traveling, family, the sun rising, love? Only a deep search of ourselves can bring that answer. The New Year implies new beginnings, and I hope this past year’s dive into finance serves as a jumpstart to alleviating some of those “hassles.”
It is time to set our goals and, more importantly, put a plan in place to achieve them.
- Where to Begin
Where to Begin
Ever wanted to invest but don’t know how? With so many options, beginning your investing journey can be stressful. So, let’s talk about how to take the first steps.
There are dozens of companies who would be more than happy to assist with setting up a brokerage or Roth IRA account. A quick search online will show a variety of different services: Vanguard, Charles Schwab, BlackRock, TD Ameritrade, etc. The hard part is choosing.
How do I make such a big decision? Do your research. It’s important to find the right firm that meets your long-term goals and values. Interested in low-cost long-term holdings? Try the zero-cost funds with Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade. Do you like low-expense ratios with access to some of the best ETF’s and mutual funds in the market? Take a look at Vanguard. Find the organization right for you.
To open up an account, simply find the link on your chosen organization’s website and enter the requested information. Don’t worry when you do this. There is no automatic fee that immediately charges you, and no one will be taking your money (yet). Expect to wait the required few days to confirm an account and then you’ll have access to hundreds of different funds.
Once confirmed, it’s now time to take the first step of purchasing a stock or a mutual fund. Research, research, research!!! If you still do not know what to buy or are scared, contact a broker through your chosen site or simply buy the S&P 500. There are even automated options that invest based on age and risk-tolerance, streamlining your investing options.
At heart, investing should be simple and boring with moments of excitement (coronavirus). Making money in the stock market does not require some overpowering insight that no one else has; instead, it simply requires patience and the ability to not let your emotions take control.
Treat the coming new year as an opportunity to learn something new, and begin investing for the future today!
- Staying the Course: The Secret to Retiring Early
Staying the Course: The Secret to Retiring Early
“The four most dangerous words in investing are ‘This time it's different’”
- Sir John Templeton
Ugh, it happened again! It’s been months and your investments are still at rock bottom. Half your portfolio has been wiped out.
“I should have listened to Mark. This is just gambling. I’m taking my money and cutting my losses! This is unprecedented!”
Selling low is a mistake and all too common in volatile times.
Many people believe investing in the stock market is just gambling. While this may be true in the short-term, history tells a different story for the long-term. The past 100 hundred years, the market has averaged 7% gains PER year. Keep in mind the last century included two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Dot-Com crash, the Great Recession, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Yet, investors still made money, as long as they kept their money in the market in well-diversified portfolios.
Volatility is part and parcel of being an investor.
Financial folklore tells that once upon a time, there was a study concluding dead investors have larger gains than those of us with a pulse. While no such study actually exists, the mantra of the story “quit trying to time the market” remains true. In fact, the story originates from those investors who forgot they had investment accounts, and those accounts they ignored did better than the ones they managed!
Looking to invest at just the right moment is a good way to miss out on potential returns and LOSE money.
Warren Buffet once offered a million dollars to the hedge-fund manager who could beat the S&P 500 over a ten-year period. Guess what? Warren Buffet still has that million dollars. The point is, constant dabbling may not always be good for a portfolio. Sometimes it’s better to throw away the key than to open the door too often.
Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, says “The two greatest enemies of the equity fund investor are expenses and emotions.”
Continue to follow your investment plan, don’t let emotions lead to bad decisions, and continue to make logical choices during uncertain times.
Stay the Course.
- The Importance of Budgeting
“The slightest adjustments to your daily routines can dramatically alter the outcomes in your life.” - Darren Hardy
A budget? What? I’m not a penny pincher. I like going out to eat and shopping on Amazon!
Many people believe budgets entail only eating spam and expect a budget means a drastic change in lifestyle when in fact, a budget does not mean spend less, but rather spend GUILT-less. Simply, it is a plan for knowing where your money is going.
Give every dollar a purpose.
Living paycheck to paycheck is hard on both your mental and physical well-being, but the good news is that there is a way out! Understand money is finite, and only budget the money you have in your hand--not the money you THINK you’ll have, but the money available NOW!
Fundamentally, budgets involve trade-offs. Sure, that boat looks nice, but those student loans are still accruing? Which one do you choose? If you can afford the boat and can still take care of everything else in your financial plan then by all means, purchase the boat. But if not…. Hmmm… maybe you should take a look at the budget?
Try to spend money that is at least a month old. This is vital! It may be challenging at first, but doing this will help reduce unneeded purchases and ensure you don’t go over your savings! Furthermore, be willing to change the plan. If you’re unhappy with the budget and want to concentrate on other areas, then simply allocate accordingly! Maybe that Starbucks coffee every morning is something you really enjoy. Put it in the budget--as long as you understand there are trade-offs.
Be intentional, know what you care about, and put your money behind those things.
Budgeting can be a scary subject to explore. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Nobody wants to know how much they’re REALLY spending on that chai mocha latte every week. It is vital, however, that everyone has a budget to ensure they’re getting the most out of their finances. Do not think of budgeting as starving but rather a diet. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Decide a budget right for you.
Take the first step today!
- The Dangers of Day Trading
“People like action and they like to gamble. If they think there's easy money to be made, you get a rush. And for a while it will be self-fulfilling and create new converts, until the day of reckoning comes."
Maybe it’s because the casinos are closed, but recently there has been an upswing in day trading in the U.S. While fast money and high-risk may sound enticing, the reality is far from it. But what exactly is day trading?
Day trading involves holding stocks for a few hours or a few days, hoping the stock value will increase while the trader owns it. Unfortunately, these changes generally have no basis in a company’s fundamentals, meaning it is very hard to accurately predict stock movements. True investing involves buying companies with strong fundamentals or high potential to grow and holding them for the long-term.
It would be a mistake to think of day-trading as investing. Many apps have come out in the last few years, allowing anybody with an internet connection to engage in day trading on the market. Marketed as a wealth -building tool, many of these apps are really just video games with a flashy interface. However, the consequences of these games are very real. 90% of these users fail spectacularly in the market—as in, they lose all of their money. Furthermore, some even take out LOANS to trade with! As you can imagine, this is a recipe for disaster and frequently is.
This is not to say ALL traders fail—just the vast majority. Some are very successful. However, successful day traders are generally experts in their field, have lots of capital to take advantage of small changes in the market, and treat trading as a full-time job. Even so, these experts still LOSE! This is not to mention the fees per trade and the taxes for a successful trade. Over the long-term, these fees add up and eat significantly into the gains for even a trader, so much so that long-term investors tend to make vastly more money than short-traders.
Sticking to a well-diversified long-term portfolio is by far the safer choice and is far more likely to make you MORE money than gambling in short-term trading, even if successful. Unless your 401k, Roth IRA, and college savings accounts are maxed, there is no reason to be engaging in speculative gambling disguised as investing.
Do not fall into the trap of instant cash. It’s probably too good to be true.
- Late to the Party?
Do you ever wish you had started saving earlier for retirement? Have you thought, “If I’d known how important it was or if I’d known how, I would have invested sooner. Too late now.”
Well you are not alone. 75% of retirees wish they could tell their younger selves to save more. A shocking 68% of those thinking of retirement have far less saved than they actually need and will be reliant on ever-changing Social Security benefits for financial security. Though it may be tempting to focus on past mistakes, this only gets in the way of creating a plan.
If you are mid-career or even planning on retirement tomorrow, you are NOT too late to the game. Do not dwell on the past. Focus on today.
For those interested in adding more to their retirement fund, there are a multitude of ways to do so. First, it is important to take advantage of your employer’s 401k plan. Contribute the amount your employer matches (it’s essentially free money), and put the rest into a Roth IRA (it’s tax-free). If there is leftover money, continue maxing out the 401K. In addition, it is important to continue to pay down debt and to examine your budget and see if there is any wiggle room for extra savings.
“Yeah, yeah,” you might say. “I already know that. You’re preaching to the choir. Tell me something I don’t know.”
Well, do you have a hobby that is marketable? Knitting, art, music, writing? Interested in side hustles such as affiliate marketing, drop shipping, reselling, part-time real estate, teaching? The goal here is not to destroy your work-life balance, but rather find something you enjoy doing (other than work) that adds a few thousand dollars to your honeypot. If you fall within the ranks of the enlightened few whose, er, “hobbies” are watching Netflix, there’s still hope.
Though it is hard to get accepted, there are many programs that offer debt forgiveness. Public workers, nurses, and others have access to all kinds of these governmental programs. Check online to see if you qualify for any sort of student loan or housing debt forgiveness program. If you are interested in service, but don’t want to serve full time, there’s always the option of having Uncle Sam shoulder the bill by joining the military reserves. Got too much stuff laying around? Sell it online! The options are endless but will most likely involve a venture outside of your comfort zone.
Though it may be overwhelming, there are many different options that lead to a financial healthy retirement. It is NEVER too late to start saving. Sure, it may be uncomfortable at first, but you will thank yourself in the long run. This blog is meant to be an encouragement to invest in YOU. So, get outside your comfort zone, and begin your journey to a peaceful, relaxing retirement