Beware the Veneer of Success


Robert Feol

A friend of mine just got back from India, and we had an interesting conversation regarding work ethic. As an entrepreneur born in India, he came to the United States about 25 years ago, and has had the cultural experience of both India and America.

During our conversation he said, “Robert, you are humble from the heart, but you have that American Pride in you.” When I asked him what he meant by “American Pride” he said, "It’s that idea of ‘I am going to do something no matter what the cost.’”

In business, it’s the willingness to work long hours and pay whatever is necessary to ensure your business succeeds. In athletics, it is the desire to stay and practice long after everyone else has gone home, to make sure you are the best.

It is the uniquely American idea that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, no matter your background or where you come from. It’s one of the attitudes that makes America so great, and yet, creates a sense of fallibility for people who don’t know when to exercise restraint.

I thought about this for a while. In America, we are born and raised on stories of underdogs. Rocky Balboa fights Apollo Creed, not to see if he can beat the World Champion, but to see if he can simply “go the distance” with him.

Rudy Ruettiger gets his moment of glory on the football field after years of sacrifice and practice without reward.

Goonies never say die and chase One Eyed Willie long after their dinnertime to save The Goondocks. You get the idea.

The flip side of this coin, my friend pointed out, is blind ambition (specifically pride), can also steer you in the wrong direction and, often tragically away from your goals. For example, a radio listener came to me recently to buy investment property, but was unable to qualify because the new Cadillac they just bought threw their bank ratios out of balance, and prevented them from obtaining an investment loan.

When I asked them why they bought a new luxury car they couldn’t afford to buy outright, and didn’t defer that decision in favor of a cash flowing investment property, they responded, “Because I want to look successful.”

Unfortunately, with this kind of thinking, looking successful and being successful are really two drastically different things. To wit: The thin veneer of success will never replace actual success – period.

Warrant Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, has a net worth of $46 billion. He drives a seven-year-old car. He lives in the house he bought back in 1958 for which he paid $31,500. He spends his days working on being successful, not trying to simply look the part.

For those truly seeking financial freedom, observe these Warren Buffet lessons well. Don’t seek to satisfy yourself with a meaningless thin veneer of success.

Robert Feol is the host and founder of “Pieces of the Puzzle: Journeys in Creative Real Estate Investing,” talk radio show on FM 98.9 WKIM and owner of Discount Property Warehouse.