There are certain life lessons we strive to impart on our children. Many come from things our parents taught us, some we learn along our own lives, and others mirror the advice of other people we admire and respect.
Recently I stumbled across a letter written by investment advisor, writer, and politician Harry Browne. This correspondence was intended for Browne’s nine-year-old daughter and was later published as part of his syndicated newspaper column. Inside his letter, Browne relayed a simple but crucial life truth – no one owes you anything.
This is a concept that I’ve been working on imparting to my four boys. As a family, we’ve had significant conversations where I stress this fundamental lesson to my kids. What I want them to understand is that everything and I mean everything, we have in this world that’s worth having, we earn ourselves.
Because of the age range of my kids, I use varying degrees of examples. I let them know that things like play time, going to school, and the money our family makes are all things that are earned, not given. I believe that this truism imparts wisdom beyond its simple words. By teaching my children this lesson, I am teaching them to value responsibility, accountability, and to tap their inner power to work for the things they want in life.
Besides being a great message for kids learning how the world works, adults too can benefit from Browne’s list of things that are earned, not given. You can read the letter in its entirety here.
You all know I’m a money guy, so Browne’s points about finances were of particular interest to me. But so were the broader concepts Browne touched on about value and success. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from his life lesson letter.
1. No one owes you a job.
This statement can be tricky for folks. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that because we are hard workers, or because we have amassed advanced degrees, we deserve a well-paid position. When it comes to having a job, there is no such thing as “deserve.”
In its simplest form, having a job means that someone pays you money for your efforts. It follows that if we don’t want to put give the effort, no one is required to pay us money. Period.
We decide whether we want a job, and we show we want the job by putting forth our efforts. Jobs are not charitable endeavors; they are exchanges. In a job, the employer has set up the dynamic such that you both can make money from your time and work.
The employer is responsible for designing the job protocols and providing the equipment so that a profit can be earned. You, as an employee, get to share in that profit because you share your effort in creating it. If you’re not efficient, you won’t have a job. If you’re not making your employer more money than they pay you, you won’t have a job. In the end, holding a job is largely up to you.
2. No one owes you money for retirement.
Sure, there is Social Security, which provides a monthly check for eligible retirees. But the key word here is “eligible.”
Folks who receive Social Security benefits have worked the required number of quarters, and have paid into the program during their career lives. And the amount of Social Security a person draws each month isn’t the same for everyone – instead, it’s based on your past earnings and how much you paid into the program. So while Social Security is our nation’s retirement safety net, you earn it as you work.
The term “safety net” is also a very operative word. Social Security was never designed to provide all of the income needed during retirement. Instead, it was meant as a resource to supplement retirement income. While some folks are forced to live solely on Social Security, this isn’t the ideal situation. The idea is that you have your own nest egg that you earned and saved along the way.
For the luckiest among us, your employer may offer a pension plan for you. But this isn’t a handout or free money – it’s part of your compensation for working there. You earn it.
The rule of retirement is that the bulk of retirement income for a person comes from their prudent saving and investing during their working lifetime. It’s up to us to save for our retirement if we want a financially comfortable retirement. To accomplish this goal, a good start is to consistently put money aside in a 401(k) or a Roth IRA or similar plan. With proper planning, once our retirement date rolls around, we will have created financial security for ourselves.
3. Things that have real value are the things we earn.
It bears repeating: the best things or experiences we have in life are the ones we have earned. As illustration of this axiom, consider the concept of friendship.
Imagine someone that you know only casually starts acting like your best buddy. How does that feel? It probably feels unnatural, forced, or even hollow. The flip side to this example is the person we’ve known for years. If this person begins acting like your best friend, it feels much different. My guess is that for all of us, it would feel completely natural.
What’s the difference here, besides the length of time you’ve known your new best friend? Our different reactions and feelings come from the fact that with the longer acquaintance-turned-friend, we have earned something. Over time, we have established value for that person and with that person. This value isn’t owed to us; it’s earned, and it’s been built up over time, little by little, through small efforts that create something big.
Check Out: Why You Are Better Off With Fewer Friends
When we reach this point with anything in our lives – friendships, family, career advancement, personal successes – it’s all the sweeter because we created the value. We earned it. And it feels really good.
4. Things that you haven’t earned hold little (if any) value.
Let’s go back to our friendship example. That false friendship wouldn’t feel like a major loss if it disappeared. But if the close friend you’ve had for years disappeared, you’d know it. You’d feel it. And it would hurt.
What’s the root difference? Your long-term best friend earned their status. Over time, they have consistently shown you friendship and kindness. The new friend, on the other hand, has shown you friendship and kindness only recently. Because that friendship was new, it lacked the solid foundation that builds over time. The result is that this friendship feels hollow (because it is hollow) and the loss isn’t as impactful.
Friendship is only one illustration. There are so many things that, in order to have real meaning and value in life, have to be built and earned. When we invest time and effort in creating something for ourselves, those things carry much more value than something that comes to us in a seemingly quick and easy fashion. The bottom line is that, in every aspect of our lives, the process of earning creates value.
5. If you want to succeed at finances (or at anything else in life), that success will be borne solely out of a long series of positive decisions.
We are not owed financial success, career success, or business success. We are not owed any form of success. We create it for ourselves by taking the next right step. It’s the accumulation of positive choices that manifests success in our lives.
Of course, there is never a guarantee of success, but making good decisions and taking positive actions are a required building block. If we don’t make positive choice after positive choice, if we don’t take positive action after positive action, we won’t create success for ourselves. And it’s up to us, and only us, to create it.
We have to ask ourselves questions and stay focused on what matters to us. Will we be complacent? Will we just go through the motions? Or will we do something different? Something positive? Something to create the success and life for ourselves that we desire?
Everything we want is within our reach – we just have to be intentional and work for it. We have to earn it. That’s what I’m teaching my boys.
Life can be tough. Life has challenges. But in the end, our choices and actions matter most. We can look at a setback as a defeat, or we can learn from it. We can reap the benefits of a positive outcome and use it to motivate us for our next goal, or we can let it go to waste. The choice is ours. What will you choose?