The Courage Of Your Convictions

One of the hardest points to make people understand is the reasoning behind the term I used for the headline. Far too many use this term as if it means: Making a choice and sticking with it yet, changing it once your shown new evidence or proven wrong. Actually that’s not it and in some ways demeans the integrity the mantra is truly meant to imply.

Your grit as it pertains to a decision to do something or not i.e., quit smoking, is not the same as a conviction. i.e., I will not steal, nor be associated with people who do because, if they will steal from others – they will steal from me.

The example is intentionally broad and simplistic. And there’s many right now thinking, “Sure, but that impossible in practice.” If that’s you, I’m sorry to say you’re missing the point. I’ll also state (yes I am that bold) “Unless you truly understand what it is to live and work by convictions, you’ve probably had more things happen to you – than you make happen.”

For I’ll intents and purpose I’ll use myself to illustrate this point unlike most who’ll say, “Do this because I read about it in a book written by this person who heard someone say they saw someone blah, blah, blah.”

Late in my career I was in the middle of a leveraged buy out where the owner wanted to retire. Then for reasons I was only able to piece together years later, the negotiations not only fell apart – they turned ugly. So much so it came down to contemplating law suits and more. I decided in the end it wasn’t worth pursuing for my own reasons – even though I had a case . (For those thinking I probably didn’t have a good enough atty. Let’s just say my lawyer which has been my personal friend since he started practicing, and still represents me has argued in front of the Supreme Court and won.)

After the dust settled I decided to leave the corporate world and start a deli styled butcher shop. I opened with great fan fare, was covered by the press, put on the front page of the papers, and more. I had decided to open one in a city that was developing with what many have seen as “downtown revitalization districts.” I was heralded by both other owners as well as the local political crowd. Then after a period of time my B.S. meter began to move.

To make a long story short the head of this downtown development corp. was making statements about allowing this or that with my establishment. (It was always about parking) Then a prime piece of property came available for sale which I intended to make offers on. After inquiry it became evident something was amiss with the parking restrictions that neither I or anyone else doing legitimate business could overcome. However, it became apparent there was a “chosen” business that all the rules that applied to people like myself were not only nullified, but were contorted in such ways a circus performer would blush at the dexterity.

I was incensed on what I was seeing and made it known. So much so I called quite a few people on the carpet and said in no uncertain terms “I knew it was all B.S.” I went on to have a show down with the head of this so-called downtown development corp.” in my establishment and told her: “Not only was I serious in what I was saying. But, I would close my business in 90 days because I know B.S. when I see it.”

Nobody, and I mean – no body thought I was serious. Yet, that’s exactly what I did. It cost me dearly at the time. But right is right. And, I have the courage to live by my conviction. Whether I’m proven right in the end doesn’t matter. I have to live with myself first. Period.

Two years later I’m sitting in my office when my wife comes in with a newspaper. She said “Merry Christmas” and dropped it on my desk. It seemed the person I had my argument with who ran the downtown corp. was arrested. Turns out she was pocketing all the money she was collecting from everyone and had a nasty on-line poker habit. She embezzled some $250K from the downtown assoc. and who knows what else more. She went to prison and I believe she’s still serving time today. As for that downtown? It’s not in shambles. but it isn’t as pretty as it was is all I’ll say.

Later in 2005 I achieved a very lofty goal many dare not even contemplate for it seems so unrealistic. I retired at age 45. And, like most, I looked to the markets as a place I needed to be. Then – the rumblings began.

While enjoying my new residence and free time I began to notice things weren’t adding up to what I knew or felt instinctively based on my past business acumen. Unlike most I began researching and more to see if I was justified in my thoughts. One thing became empirical as I watched and read the financial media. They had no clue – they were grasping at straws. Then 2008 began.

Unlike most as 2008 took the nation and markets by storm I not only side-stepped it, but I was also able to capitalize on it in many ways. Not just financially rather, with new-found knowledge and understanding. With my time now available as a resource, I was able to ascertain the equivalent of a Doctoral program in financial markets. No, I didn’t learn every jargon term, rather – my B.S. meter was now second to none.

During the crisis people I knew both personally and in passing were just losing their minds amid the turmoil. For many – their hopes, dreams, and wealth was nearly, if not all but gone. Retirement for a great many was not only to be postponed rather, now seemed unrealistic. (For the record retirement as most envision it was expressed none better than by Ozzy Osbourne: “Retirement – Sucks!” I can’t agree more. But again, that’s another column.)

Currently the markets are achieving heights never (let me repeat that) never seen in their history. Many I know are breathing a sigh of relief that just maybe they can once again pull those goals or dreams out of the lower drawer and contemplate the possibilities again. But, (and it’s a very big but) if the markets for what ever the reason begin to tailspin again, not only are they back where they were mentally, emotionally, as well as financially in the throes of 2008. They might be even worse.

What the markets do in relationship to my retirement, sanity, time, or what not, is no longer a concern for me. Yes, I understand what markets are, do, mean, and everything else. However, what I’m trying to point out is I had the power of my convictions to put myself through all the difficulty of understanding, then putting those convictions to work as to be able to continue my life as I see fit without the nagging or gnawing feeling of, “Oh man, what happens if it’s 2008 all over again – or worse?”

My conviction was: “Learn – then do – what ever it takes to be free of market turmoil.” How many thought that was a good idea also – but didn’t follow it with the conviction aspect?

Working my way through both of these scenarios was not easy – far from it. However, it was only the courage to stand by my convictions and do what I believed to be the right thing even though the right thing is usually never the easy thing. But sometimes – It’s the only thing.

Courage of your convictions will allow you the discipline to pursue what you should pay attention to as well as what not to. To not live a life of angst but rather to get the knowledge or training that allows you to sidestep a spinning wheel while everyone else is clung to it for dear life.

Have the courage and conviction to do what ever it takes that if the markets or whatever keep rising or fall apart its just a matter of degree in opportunity to you – not life or death.

I’m still convinced retirement sucks – but, it does still yield advantages.
Like writing my articles by the pool.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr