The Real Secrets of Success

Do you know the biggest lesson I’ve learned from answering thousands of people’s questions?

Most people ask the wrong question.

They frame it like it’s black or white. Cut and dried. A hopeless situation with no way out.

(Whether it’s true is beside the point — it’s true for them.)

Yet every once in awhile I come across a crazy person who asks different questions. Today, I’m going to share with you three examples of thinking different, with three of the major financial decisions you’ll make: a car, a house, and a career.

The Car that Comes with a Year’s Supply of Petrol

Car dealerships have their sales process finely honed.

The aim of the game is to upsell you — that’s why each model has different price points.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the base-model Holden Commodore and the top-of-the-range Calais, which sells for $15,000 more.

What do you get for that?

A wankier sounding name for starters.

Leather seats, and a heater for your buttocks. Some faux-wood trim. A fancier gear knob. Alloy wheels.

“Do I deserve to have a toastie tushie?” you ask yourself.

Yet you’ll make a better decision if you ask a better question: what could I spend 15 big boys on that would make me happier?

This question leads to different answers. Fifteen grand could buy you:

A year’s worth of petrol, insurance, registration, servicing, car washes, and pine tree air-fresheners.

Or a dirty weekend away each month for a year (with luxury spa treatments), plus a brand-new leather couch, a Sonos stereo system, and one of those over-the-top 60-inch televisions.

Or it could wipe your credit card debt, put three months of Mojo in the bank, plus pay for a slap-up celebratory dinner with an $80 bottle of hoity-toity plonk.

Or you could build a startup coffee-cart business which raises $30,000 a year and channels it to Vanuatu to help build classrooms, libraries and schools. That’s what Andrew Mellody, the 31-year-old founder of the award-winning social enterprise Co-Ground, would do.

Then again, Andrew thinks differently.

The Caravan of Courage

Lots of young people complain that they can’t afford to live in a cool inner city area.

Andrew, who doesn’t draw a wage from Co-Ground, asked a better question: “How can I live in the area I love and still devote all my time and most of my money to my charity?”

That question led to an entirely different outcome. In fact, it led to him to Google Maps, where he pinpointed homes, with big backyards, in the area he wanted to live. Then he did a letterbox drop of those homes, explaining who he was, and that he’d like to rent part of their backyard for an old caravan he was doing up.

His plan worked. He got to live in his own four walls (with wheels!), in the area he wanted, for a fraction of the cost of renting. More importantly for Andrew, he got to devote his time and effort to Co-Ground, which he continues to do with impressive results.

The Multi-Millionaire Shoestring Start-up

Another mate of mine sold his financial services business and became one of the wealthiest people on the planet. (You and I are also among the richest people on the planet — it’s just this guy is richer than all of us — particularly after he and his partners sold the business for a nine-figure sum).

The business he sold had a thousand staff, offices around the world, and a corner office that overlooked the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Caterers would bring perfectly crafted cupcakes to client meetings, and real coffee (not from a pod).

Yet it’s what he did next that’s really cool.

Having spent 30 years helping rich people get richer, he noticed that it didn’t seem to make them (or their families) any happier.

The clincher was that with the windfall from selling his business he was now in his former clients’ position. Yet instead of asking, “How do I turn this pile of money into an even bigger pile?”, he asked “How do I fix these people’s families and their finances?”

That question led him to starting a new business that helps ultra-wealthy families deal with the complexities and stresses of managing intergenerational wealth. And believe me, mix one part unearned wealth with two parts blended family, and you’ve got more drama than an episode of Real Housewives.

His business is doing pioneering work with ultra-high-networth families. He helps them create a legacy — making meaning from their millions by helping others. He teaches people who are swimming in more money than Scrooge McDuck to spend it in ways that bring genuine joy to themselves and others, instead of living like, well, Scrooge McDuck.

You might think that if you’re targeting the Rich List crowd you’d need swanky harbour-view offices. Not so. He and his team work from their homes — around their families. When they need to meet with their wealthy clients they use their boardrooms, or take them out to the best restaurants. “I’m having an absolute ball”, he says, “but, more importantly, so are my clients and the people they help!”

Let me close this column with possibly the hokiest thing I’ve ever written — but it’s nonetheless true: the quality of your life, and your future success, depends on the questions you ask yourself. Ask different questions, and you’ll get different answers.

Tread Your Own Path!