Tuesday, January 28, 2014

CT and Me

Our friendship goes back twenty-four years, so recollections and the exact sequence of events have grown fuzzy, but the character and actions of my friend remain crystal clear.  Telling a story about him is the best way I know to describe the man he was.

“What the hell are you doing answering the phone there?” A sense of relief spread over me as I recognized CT’s raspy chuckle. He always made me laugh and I needed a good laugh. A sneaky constable had just served me with lawsuit papers.
I could not manage even a chuckle. “Believe me, I’ve been asking myself that same question.” I glanced at the papers lying on the table next to the phone. It was not my office, not my table, not my phone, not my chair, yet the process server had tracked me here.

CT and I had been friends about seven years back then. We lived three hundred miles apart and could not have been more dissimilar, but we hit it off right away. We had met while working as registered representatives (stockbrokers) for the same broker-dealer. Those had been the good old days—days before I took an inside job as vice-president of that BD—days before things began to unravel.

There had been contentious stockholder meetings, resignations, replacements, a new president, lawsuits and threatened lawsuits; a friend of ours had been fired. What started out as bright and shiny had become tarnished for CT and me. When they fired the new president, a man I had come to respect, I resigned.

I knew a lot of other reps and they kept the phone lines hot speculating about my next move. More out of curiosity and a haunting feeling of unfinished business than anything else, I visited an old friend at his fledgling BD and wound up spending the day, then the next. I had been there about two weeks when CT called.

I asked him, “How did you know how to find me?”

CT’s voice still had a smile in it. “Just a lucky guess. You staying there?”

“Seems too late to turn back now. People like you and me don’t like to be told we can’t do something—especially by lawyers.”

Another throaty laugh. “I’ll call back when you really decide.”

When he called back a few weeks later, I was president of that tiny new BD. President of three people including myself. The throaty voice laughed. “I see you’re still answering the phone. How are you holding out?”

The little triangle closet I was in had a metal desk and a phone with a shoulder rest to ease the neck crick I was getting from talking eight hours a day. We had been sued because we were competing, told to cease and desist and had been warned that our phones were tapped and that private investigators followed us everywhere we went. I did not believe that, and besides, what did it matter now? I was neither happy nor invigorated about all of it, but I had to be energized or lose everything I owned. “Hanging in there, barely.”

“Got enough money?”

“Never enough.”

“I could float you a loan.”

“You can’t do that. You can’t even talk to me. I’m told our phones are tapped.”

“How would it be if I came over and brought my clients?”

I waited a long time to answer. My heartbeat stepped up a notch or two thinking of having my old friend with me again. Not only would he make things more fun and interesting, but we also badly needed someone who could generate revenues. And CT could generate revenues better than a slot machine. “You know the answer to that, but I can’t ask you to do it. You know I got sued. With your production and reputation with other reps and in the industry, you will be, too.”

“Who was it said people like us don’t like to be told what we can and can’t do?”

It’s a simple story to this point, one that some people won’t see as significant. But CT knew its significance, and so did I. CT was a major stockholder in the BD that was suing me. It made sense for him to go on his merry, profitable way and stay where he was. We would still have been friends. He really had no reason to come over, other than our friendship and his trust in me.

Of course, CT liked the thrill of it all. The challenge. He was willing to roll the dice, risk everything, and spend who-knew-how-long-or-how-much defending himself and his family against a lawsuit, all for the sake of friendship and to show folks that he was in charge of his own destiny. Not many men left like CT.
He did join us; he did get sued; he did become our top producer. Since CT’s integrity was beyond reproach throughout the industry, his stamp of approval meant that many more reps would follow. He brought our fledgling firm legitimacy we might never have attained without him.

There were other reps that were extremely important to our success; reps with integrity and clout that I am proud to call friends and colleagues; reps who showed courage and faith by joining a startup. They would all agree, however, that CT was the catalyst.

When I discovered that he was not cashing his commission checks, I called and asked why. He just said he figured we could use a little float. I told him the checks were good, but he delayed cashing them anyway. “Don’t need the money,” he said.

Next time, the rest of the  story about CT and me and my apology to a good friend.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Coincidences, Luck, Serendipity, or Blessings

I was honored and grateful to have an opportunity to speak to the graduates of Texas A&M-Commerce at spring 2013 commencement. But the responsibility was heavy. What could I say that would get these mostly young folks to stop tweeting and texting long enough to hear what I had to say? And what could I say that would help them?   

So I took myself back to my state of mind when I graduated (back when graduates came to the ceremony horseback). I lacked self confidence, knowledge, and wisdom, of course. I was seeking the secret, the formula for success, while doubting that either existed (especially for a poor country boy like me). I wanted to convince these graduates to begin their search earlier than I had, much earlier. And I wanted them to search for the right things.

Almost twenty years after I graduated, I stalled in my search for formulas and secrets, even after reading and listening to some of the greatest teachers of the time. Their advice helped, but I still could not completely accept that their principles would really work in my life and career. Why? I don’t know. Could have been natural skepticism, or the feeling that a lot depends on luck, or maybe because I felt I had started way behind the pack. I now know it was because I lacked true faith.

Then I began to read stories about their lives and discovered that a lot of these folks had rougher starts than I had.  

My career took a new direction as I took their ideas and weaved them into the message I was conveying to the relatively new financial planning profession as part of my new company.  One night in Canadian, Texas, the Oasis of the Panhandle, I had another awakening. You can hear more about that awakening here.

I began the search for what I should have been searching for all along—timeless, universal, eternal truths.  These truths are much, much, more important than technology, formulas, or secrets. And they’re not even secrets.

A few weeks later, a unique door opened for me to attend a school and become a licensed speaker and facilitator with one of my heroes. Two weeks into the school, I stood up in class and told the instructor about the preacher in Canadian; about my discovery that his ideas and others were as old as time; about the source of the subconscious; about the connection between affirmations and prayer.

His response: “It took you long enough.”

I asked, “Why don’t you and the others just come right out and say that?”

He replied, “Would you have believed me or would you have turned away? When you came to us, you were focused on results, not on principles; the what of things vs. the why. You wanted proof instead of truth.”  He was right.

I began to understand that life is lived forward, but understood backward.

As I looked back at some of the irrational, highly risky, and atypical decisions I had made, I discovered that I had been guided. I had clumsily and almost unwittingly asked for the guidance through my attempts to improve myself, and it had been provided. That discovery changed my life for the better.

One of the professors who heard my commencement speech asked me to give him some concrete examples of how the principles I spoke of in my address to the graduates applied to my life. So I did. I keep a journal and am a list maker (in other words—I look back a lot these days).  I could easily provide dozens of instances where I had been guided without realizing it at the time. Many seemed no more than serendipity to me at the time—the luck of the draw—but they were more than that.  

So what has all this got to do with what I do now—writing and selling mostly mainstream novels?  Remember what I said about the lights coming on when I heard the true stories behind my heroes? I found this was true as I carried my own message across the country. People remember stories.  In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton says, “I had always felt life first as a story; and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.” I certainly am not the story-teller he is referring to, but life is made up of a sequence of stories.  

I told the graduates to pay attention to the little things, because you may later realize they were the big things. Telling stories through novels allows me to pay more attention to those things.

So, have I had many blessings and serendipitous events (Godwinks) in this new business? Yes. For example, Home Light Burning my fourth novel, almost entirely came about because of a series of Godwinks. But as in previous careers, there have been many failures and disappointments.

Have any of my books made the best seller list? No, but I have made many new friends and renewed many old acquaintances through my writing. And writing does make me think. It makes me read and enjoy reading more than I ever have.

Will seeking eternal truths and praying make me successful in writing? It doesn’t seem so now, but we won’t know that until we have more time to look back, will we?  I am still living this part of my life forward. I expect I will understand it more when I look back.   

Joseph Campbell said, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”

When I read that, I thought it conflicted with Napoleon Hill’s formula of self discipline and singular focus, never taking your eyes off your goals. Now I think they are compatible because well, goals are steps along that path that Campbell talks about. That’s why I plan to keep on taking steps that sometimes confuse me, almost content in the knowledge I will understand later. 

So are the things I mentioned Godwinks, coincidences, luck, action by my subconscious as the tangible result of setting goals and doing positive affirmations, or are they blessings and answers to prayers? You decide. I already have.