Are you working towards Income or Assets?

One of the mistakes I made when I first started working at Deloitte and now at KPMG was thinking of my career as a way to earn an income to pay the bills.

While there is nothing wrong with this approach, there’s an alternative approach that I did not consider explicitly and early enough in my career.

That is the idea of working in part for assets.

Let me explain the difference.

Income is money you are paid for your labour. An asset is something that provides you with income, a multiplier to your income, or an accelerator to your career path (which typically correlates with higher income at some point).

This lesson really hit home right as I was leaving Deloitte and going back to school. At the time, there was an Associate a year behind me who bought a condo in Toronto. It was a tiny studio, but it was his. This was back when apartments in Toronto were dramatically less expensive than they are today.

In the 1.5 years he worked at Deloitte, he sold his condo to relocate to Calgary.

I knew what he had paid for the place and what he sold it for, and I realized that in the 5 minutes it took him to sign the paperwork to buy, then sell his condo, he had earned more from his investment than I did from the sum total of my Deloitte and KPMG paychecks over a 2-year period — while working 50 – 65 hours per week.

So his “5 minutes” of effort yielded the same financial result of my 5000+ hours of work. The ironic thing is I could have bought a condo too. It would have been hard. I would have had to be creative about it, but it would technically have been possible.

The only problems were 1) at the time I didn’t know how, and 2) it never even occurred to me.

But, I never forgot that lesson.

Investing in a financial asset like real estate is only one kind of asset. There are other assets too. Also, keep in mind not all assets that can be acquired or built necessarily need a lot of money.

Another asset is one’s network. This is another area that I never paid much attention to early in my career because I always had a negative, sleazy, inauthentic perception of it. I realized today that my thoughts on this were totally wrong.

Here are two simple ways you can invest in building your network today, so it provides value to you (in aggregate) in the future.

1) Stay in Touch with People You Know

Here’s one simple way. Get the contact info of all of your friends from school, current co-workers, and former co-workers. Once a year, send all of them card to say “hi.” Since we celebrate New Year’s, I send a once-a-year New Year card to everyone on my list. I also include a one-page letter that’s a personal update of what’s going on with me, family, work etc.

This letter continues to build my relationship with those I care about and improves my network.

2) Help others who need help.

When you meet people, especially people of influence (but not limited to just those people), ask them or determine through your conversation what they’re struggling with, what’s going on in their lives, or what’s their goal is in life or their career. Then offer to help. If you make a commitment to help‚ actually follow through.

If you make it a habit of being useful to the people around you, they are far more inclined to help you in the future. It is not a direct 1:1 payback. Don’t keep score of who you helped and who “owes” you; it doesn’t work that way. It’s more of an aggregate thing.

The total effort you invest in helping others will come back to you in often highly unpredictable ways.

Yes, there will be people you help that never help you back. And that’s okay. Give with no expectation in return.

But, realize that for every 10 people you help out, at a key time in your life or career, one of those ten (or a friend of one of those ten) will help you out in a critical way.

The key thing here is to stay in touch with the people you help. Make it easy for them to find you and vice versa.

Therefore, don’t only look at your career as income but an opportunity to build your assets that could prove fruitful for years to come.

All the best,

Aadesh

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