Many years ago, I read David McCullough’s book, The Great Bridge, which describes construction of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1869 to 1883 by the Roeblings, father and son. Although the subject was interesting, I was most drawn to the book because it provided a fascinating perspective on living and working more than a hundred years ago in my favorite town, New York City.
McCullough’s most recent book, The Wright Brothers, provides a similar historical perspective, although Dayton, Ohio in the first years of the 20th century is not quite so bewitching as NYC. Further, The Great Bridge is about the City, not the Roeblings, while The Wright Brothers is not about Dayton, OH, but rather about the Wright Brothers. And they are impressive brothers.
Two quotes from Wilbur Wright are especially impressive:
- “If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” As someone born and bred in the Midwest, I appreciate someone who appreciates how lucky we were.
- “I do not think I am especially fitted for success in any commercial pursuit even if I had proper personal and businesses influences to assist me. I might make a living, but I doubt I would ever do much more than this. Intellectual effort is a pleasure to me and I think I would be better fitted for reasonable success in some of the professions than in business. In business it is the aggressive man, who continually has his eye on his own interest, who succeeds. Business is merely a form of warfare in which each combatant strives to get the business away from his competitors and at the same time keep them from getting what he already has. No man has ever been successful in business who was not aggressive, self-assertive and even a little bit selfish perhaps. There is nothing reprehensible in an aggressive disposition, so long as it is not carried to excess, for such men make the world and its affairs move…. I entirely agree that the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push. That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen.” As someone born and bred in the Midwest, I appreciate the humility that is so common there, even with those who are gifted & talented. Regarding their talent, the Wrights remind me of the Oracle from Omaha, Warren Buffett, who attributes his success to luckily having a skill that is especially marketable in the current economy.
Of course, all of this common sense and good judgment didn’t fall out of a tree. Their father, who was a Methodist minister, taught his kids, “All the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden to others.” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and although neither of the boys were business geniuses, their world-changing invention enabled them to become wealthy. More importantly, they lived the life they were intended to live.
The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards doesn’t contain a plethora of insights. Rather, it is filled with guidance that most financially competent people already know – investing, borrowing & spending, budgeting, saving as much as you reasonably can, and determining where you are and where you want to go. There was, however, one very useful insight. Author Richards suggests the following as the most important threshold question before you can do any financial planning – i.e., why is money important to you?
Many years ago I remember questioning why I should be strongly motivated to make an additional $20k a year when I already had enough money to buy everything important to me. A co-worker suggested that with the additional $20k, I could retire earlier, and that made sense to me.
So money was important to me because it would enable me to quit working and do what I want. Or, as described by author Carl Richards, “It’s about giving you the time to do what matters most.” Now that I’m retired, I have the luxury of deciding what matters most.