Don’t worry, despite the headline image this isn’t a child labor story. This morning my older son joined me to mow the lawn for the first time. This reminds me of an early life lesson that has paid dividends for me in my personal and working life and in my pursuit of financial independence and early retirement. I snapped a quick picture of him hard at work. He learns fast and he really did a great job!
So I was a pre-teen and my Dad asked me to rake the front yard, mow, and weed eat the grass. He had somewhere to go an let me know he’d be back in an hour to see how I did. At the time my father was in the military and was stationed in Hawaii and we lived in the crater of a dormant volcano. And yes, Hawaii is amazing! There was always a nice trade wind and the temperature rarely topped the 80s. I could look out my bedroom window at the USS Arizona memorial from the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
When you think of Hawaii, pictures of waterfalls and tropical rainforests come to mind. To underscore how common this amazing vegetation was, I had a massive plumeria tree, papaya tree, hibiscus bushes, and palm tree in my yard. The problem is all that amazing vegetation produced by the rich volcanic soil drops A LOT of leaves!
Now, I mentioned in my last post I said:
My family will tell you I have a bit of a lazy streak, which has actually turned out to be quite the asset when it comes to work and life optimization.
As you might imagine, as a pre-teen, I wasn’t overly excited about all that yard work so my mind started spinning. I wondered, “Could I just mow the leaves instead of raking the leaves then mowing? If that works, I could knock out two birds with one stone! And as a bonus, the chipped leaves could serve as a nice mulch for the yard.” So I tested my theory on a small patch of the yard. It looked great! With my hypothesis confirmed I went ahead and mowed the whole lawn. As I was putting the final touches on the yard with the weed-eater my dad came home.
He was shocked! He was like “wow, you finished the whole lawn in the time it took for me to go and come back? It looks great!” Excited, I told him that I figured out I could mow the leaves rather than rake them. His smile dropped… He said “that’s not what I asked you to do. You should not live your life looking for corners you can cut. It is important to always put your best foot forward and work hard.” I took his words to heart because I hated to disappoint my Dad.
Despite the rebuke, I have to believe he was at least inwardly impressed by what I had done. For full context though, you have to understand that I showed very little promise at this point in my life. I was less than a mediocre student. I didn’t really play sports or have many friends. I didn’t have any clear ambition in life. He achieved his purpose which was to instill a little work ethic in me. Even so, a fire was lit that day and I began to see things a little differently. As such, I took a few key lessons from that experience that have stayed with me through my adult life:
- Work hard to avoid letting down those who depend on you. Realize, however that life has these little optimization challenges sprinkled throughout. They’re easy to identify if you take a lazy mans viewpoint. “How could this be easier or how could I do this with minimal effort?” When you solve enough of these puzzles your life is increasingly frictionless
- If you come up with a better way to achieve something, people may not appreciate it. In certain contexts it may be best to keep it to yourself. For example, how many people can you talk about financial independence and early retirement?
- Sometimes you have to bring people along the journey with you, if you are to be successful in converting them to your way of seeing thing. Or perhaps, if you understand what they are looking for there may be a way to achieve both objectives
Fast forward a few years and I have applied these concepts to automate my finances, real estate, and to deliver outsized value at work, which has resulted in 8 promotions and 19 raises over my working career. All of this has widened the gap between my income and expenses, helping me to reach financial independence at the tender age of 40! My point is this, if you look at life through the lens of laziness, it will prompt you to systematically find ways to make things simpler, easier, freeing you to achieve more than you thought possible.
One thing that you’ll come to know about me is I’m ever practical. So rather than cut the story here, I want to give you a few examples that you might be able to apply to your own situation. To motivate this, let me steel a quote from Dave Ramsey:
One of your most powerful wealth building tools is your income
Most people understand this. At the same time, for many people, getting a raise feels out of the scope of your control. The reality is most companies will reward a select few individuals as they want to motivate and retain their top talent. Also, one of the largest operating expenses is salaries and salary inflation so it would be good business practice to give everyone a healthy raise each year. Given that, you need to find ways to distinguish yourself in order to achieve consistent and/or outsized salary growth.
So here is how you can use laziness principles to attract more income: Apply a critical eye to everything you, your peers, customers, business partners do. If you see something is harder than it should be to accomplish, your job is to make it better for yourself, or your team, your organization, customers etc.. When you remove the friction in your personal work, you become more efficient, which allows you to outperform your peers. When you consistently make things easier for your colleagues you are seen as a go-getter, and a transformational leader. Making things easy for customers increases market share and drives more bottom line profitability. As you might imagine your company will want you to keep doing that!
Don’t expect immediate results, you will need to apply this approach consistently over many months and years to develop your personal brand. As you do, leaders will take note and you will begin to become indispensable to the organization. If you are pursuing early retirement then apply this strategy over the next 5-10 years and you will be amazed by the results! The alternative is just doing what they ask you to do, like everyone else, and wonder why you’re being paid like everyone else!