Experience is always the best teacher, but learn to pick your experiences wisely
By Jason Safford (Excerpted from his new book, Winning with Exceptionalism)
One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain, who wrote, “Don’t let school interfere with your education.” I used to wear that t-shirt to school every Friday just to piss off my teachers. The funny thing is most of my teachers agreed with the statement and appreciated me more for wearing the t-shirt.
What I found interesting was that most of my teachers believed you learned more from real world experience than you did from a classroom. That had a huge impact on how I chose to do things going forward.
While learning and gathering information from many sources is valuable, one of the most important lessons to learn is how to go after experiences that can teach you the most.
In 2005, a few years after our initial win purchasing land in Hawaii and California, we were able to sell for a massive profit. We were now looking for an even bigger deal and we decided to look at a massive opportunity for hundreds of acres in an area of South Dallas, Texas.
This deal was big. Initially, I took a trip down to Texas to visit with our lawyer to see the property and learn more about the opportunity. Then, I spent several weeks putting together financial models and developing a business plan that would provide the vision for the opportunity and how to execute. I paid for an expensive MAI certified appraisal and then put everything together as a comprehensive package.
Then I called up my uncle, who had been successful in real estate for years and had lots of experience and asked if I could have a meeting to discuss the opportunity.
I remember the day vividly. I picked up my business partner, who was an older Jamaican gentleman and we drove out to meet my uncle at his beach house in Wading River. It was a glorious sunny day and the road was open and free of traffic.
We arrived early and were greeted by my Aunt who had us sit at the dining room table while we waited for him.
He came out after a few minutes with a big smile and welcomed us warmly. I had not noticed until he sat down that my business plan package with the appraisal and all the financials was sitting there on the table where he sat down.
After a few minutes of small talk, he asked us about the property and why we thought it was a good deal. I told him what I had learned from our own experiences to that point, which was land was a good, low risk opportunity with huge upside potential and in the right location it could be a huge windfall. I had visited the property and it was in a great location and it had a lot of potential for development.
His reply took me by surprise. “I like trolley cars,” he started, “Have you ever taken a ride on a trolley car?” I nodded and smiled, not sure what to say. He continued, “You see, every deal is like a trolley car. You have to look at the car and see how it’s built, how it rides on the track, how many other people are on the trolley car to see where its headed. But once you are satisfied that you have the right Trolley car, you have to be able to get off the Trolley car at some point too. Otherwise, it might run out of track and then you are stuck with it.”
I suddenly realized he was asking me what was our exit strategy for this deal? It dawned on me that his own experience was giving me an insight into the reality of business. Always plan with an exit strategy in mind.
Very quickly I learned that getting others to share their experience with you will make all the difference in being able to make better decisions and save incredible amounts of time from making bad decisions.
Become the exception. Our bad decisions often are a result of not asking enough questions and being willing to be coachable by those with experience. Change your approach to take more action through questions and listen with your mind, heart and soul. Force your greed and ego to be humble. Create your success by improving your awareness to the things you don’t know and make your next experience a great story to share with others.