Greatness is for Everyone
Three Lessons from Clemson's National Championship Run that Can Supercharge Your Life and Finances
Yesterday, I gave a talk at my alma mater's local alumni group networking breakfast. My undergraduate degree is from Clemson University and it’s been a great time to be a Clemson football fan. So, this was clearly a talk where, “know your audience” was a factor!
I know there are some folks out there who dismiss college football or sports in general as frivolous or even barbaric. But sports are widely popular around the world for a reason. They inspire us. For me, the part I cherish about being a Clemson fan are the relationships and connectedness I feel with the people I’ve traveled, tailgated and watch games with over the years — in some cases for decades!
Over the last several seasons it's safe to say something very interesting and special happened with our football team’s ascent from “good” to “great”, culminating in a national championship. It wasn’t too long ago that “Clemsoning” was synonymous with underachievement. So what happened? Even if you’re not a Clemson fan (or a fan of college football at all), there are takeaways that we can all apply to our lives.
What is Greatness?
So what the heck does this have to do with financial planning? When I think about “greatness” in this context, what I’m thinking about is creating the life you want. So many folks are out there living by default, thinking “someday I’ll take that trip”, “someday I’ll learn the guitar”, or “someday I’ll get involved in my community”. For me, the greatness that I’m talking about comes when you say, “Someday is today”. When there’s something that you want to do, experience or bring to the world — and you commit to doing it — that’s greatness.
In the absence of that desire for greatness in our lives — something you want to do, experience or create (big or small) — financial planning turns into an exercise of maximizing returns, minimizing expenses and deferring your life until retirement. Not exactly something to get you fired up, right? I’ve also found that folks make more investment mistakes when they’re not tied to that mission or purpose. So this is really where the financial planning process begins. Who cares about retirement at age 65 if you’re miserable before and after?
The Importance of Making a Choice
During the victory celebration, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, “Greatness is for everyone” when talking about how they were able to win in spite of having fewer resources than their playoff opponents. However, I think a more accurate term would be, “Greatness is accessible by everyone". But there's a catch! Greatness may be accessible by everyone but you have to decide to be great. You have to decide to live a great life.
I use the word “decide” intentionally because of its origin. "Decide" comes from the Latin “decidere”, which means “to cut” or “to cut off”. I think greatness requires we cut away unimportant things that do not support what we’re trying to create. By cutting the unimportant away, you free yourself to create something beautiful.
Being True to Your Values and Desires
The Clemson football team already had a goal in mind: build an elite program, win championships and create good men in the process. Simply being a football team made it easy for them to choose what kind of greatness they wanted. In our lives, choosing our greatness can be a more difficult task. It's an open ended question. So, connecting with your "why" becomes important.
If you think you want to be great in one aspect of life because it's someone else's idea of what you “should” be, you are certainly not connected with your “why”. If you are queueing off of someone else’s bucket list, then you’re not connected with what is inside you.
Tapping into that inner genius and inner authority we will allow you to connect with the passion that will allow you to create something beautiful in your life.
How can you sustain your passion if you are living someone else's idea a beautiful life or their idea of greatness?
Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
I love the movie, About a Boy. It's a hilarious movie with many poignant moments. One particular scene centers around Hugh Grant’s character. When reflecting on his life, he says something to the effect of, “By all accounts I've had a comfortable life, it's just that it didn't mean anything.”
Greatness, beauty and creating are rarely comfortable acts! I think it's natural for all of us to seek comfort, but if you are trying to create some greatness or meaning in this life, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is key.
Beauty is rarely convenient.
Lesson 1: Let Go of Preconceived Limitations
So for me the number one take-away from Clemson's national championship run that we can apply to our lives comes in coach Swinney’s quote, “It's only unthinkable if you don't think it.” It kind of sounds like a Yogi Berra quote in a lot of ways! What it means to me is that eliminating preconceived ideas about what is or is not possible is the first step in creating thatbeautiful thing.
Few people allow themselves to ask the question, “Is what I believe is possible really true?” You can live by design or you can live by default. In the case of Clemson, they chose to throw away their preconceived ideas about what was possible and allowed themselves to dream big.
Lesson 2: Develop a Way of Life that Supports Your Goals
Lesson number two for me goes to the George Washington Carver quote, “Do the common things in an uncommon way, and you will command the respect of the world." Coach Swinney has used this quote many times over the last few years.
So while take-away #1 was about dreaming big, take-away #2 means there is no "hack" to greatness. It’s all about building a way of life — a way of being — that supports what you want to create. It's easy to have a goal, but creating a way of being to enable it is more difficult.
This goes back to deciding what you want in life and eliminating what is not important. The football team has a saying, “Best is the standard”. To me this is an important lesson, because win or lose, they go to work everyday to prepare to be the best in college football.
I’ll also mention that simply having a goal can be tricky. There are plenty of examples of folks out there who poured themselves into achieving a goal, only to think, “what now?” when they’ve accomplished their goal. Having a process — a way of being — that is intrinsically satisfying is the only way to sustain those times when the goals change.
This is where there’s a direct connection to financial planning. It’s so much easier to avoid those killer investment mistakes if you have a process of investing that supports a higher purpose. If the stock market drops, it’s so much easier to stick with a strategy when you know a short-term dip has no effect on creating a life you’re excited about.
One of the reasons that I believe that building a great life (whatever that means to you) is so important in financial planning is that without it, clients’ finances are like being adrift at sea. Just like in the movie Office Space, “You don’t need a million dollars to do nothing.”
In the absence of being connected with your “why” and intentionally trying to create a great life for yourself, the odds of someone making poor financial decisions increases drastically. A financial plan is supposed to support the life you’re building — not the other way around!
Lesson 3: No Interesting Path is Smooth or Easy
Finally, in take-away #3, I think of the Bill Gates quote, "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Clemson did not win the football championship the year after Dabo took over as head coach. In fact, there were many cringe-inducing moments along the way. As fans, we remember some of those crushing lows that punctuated that growth (such as the Orange Bowl debacle against West Virginia or the 2013 College GameDay blowout at the hands of Florida State).
But win or lose, the team persisted. Starting out a path to greatness, it's easy to get into the trap of thinking that it will come quickly or easily. That's why connecting with your “why” is so important. Having that passion will sustain you through those times we're it's not easy to create something beautiful. Those middle-innings of life where it’s a grind is where most people quit. It takes grit and determination to come out on the other side of the inevitable difficult times.
So who are you to strive for greatness in life? Who am I sit here and talk to you about this? Well if not us, then who?
I think greatness can be an intimidating word. It's easy to get lulled into thinking we have to be a great person in order to tap into greatness. I don’t believe that’s true.
We can all experience those great moments. We can all create things in our lives that are great.
So if not you, then who?
So for you, my wish is that you:
You live uncommonly, and
You have the grit to see your vision through.
But most of all, I hope that — when you get up in the morning and are connected with your mission — you know that in your life, the best is yet to come.