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Life Lessons from Scarcity to Abundance

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, in a low income neighborhood in Calgary, Alberta. My parents had convinced my sister and I that we were middle class. Maybe we were middle class in Montgomery, but we certainly not on a wider scale in an affluent business-friendly city. It felt middle class to us.

When the National Energy Program was set up in Calgary, in the 80’s low oil prices, rampant inflation and double-digit interest rates crushed the economy. Job losses were staggering, and people who were being crushed under the weight of their mortgages simply brought their keys back to the bank.

No family was left untouched, and it didn’t take long for my dad to lose his job serving the oil patch.

Hear Mike tell this story:

Desperation breeds ingenuity and action. My dad took many jobs he didn’t like just to keep the bills paid. A new three-story building had been built along the TransCanada Highway across from where we lived. It was the largest new building in the community in a very long time. My dad quickly contacted the building owners and somehow landed a property management role. He was creative, and it certainly paid off. This was the beginning of his entrepreneurship and self-employment. He wouldn’t rely on anyone else for his fate.

The perk was that I had a built-in part-time job. I would clean offices Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights. This involved vacuuming, emptying the garbage, and cleaning the bathrooms. It was okay, but I didn’t care much since the pay kept funding my bike repairs and Slurpee’s as well as saving for my first car.

What I didn’t know then, that I learned many years later, was that the primary tenant of the building was the NEP. What painful, bittersweet irony it must have been for my father. He had work, but it was cleaning the garbage and toilets for the very program that put him (and thousands of Calgarians) out of work.

That was just the beginning of my father’s self-employment. He bought an aerial bucket truck and did sign installations and lighting. He was able to grow his business, and it served our family well. He also bought a portable sign company. It fit well his business, and he already had the truck that was needed to haul the large, hulking signs to their destination. There was a better level of repeat and multi-month contracts (in some cases multi-year) that would smooth out the revenue for him. All the work he had built for himself was labor intensive, but I helped out regularly, and he hired part time help, too.

My mother soon left her position with the school board to help my dad run the business. She handled all the office work, customer relationships, and collections. They learned everything through trial and error. No one ever taught them how. There was no policy manual and no procedures were explained.

The work was often tough, although it seemed to suit my parents, just fine. They had no one to answer to except for themselves and their customers.

For a decade, self-employment had given my parents freedom to earn what they could, rely only on themselves, and manage their hours and their workload as they wanted. BUT, the true success of being business owners with freedom from their jobs simply did not materialize. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. They lacked the skills, knowledge and mentorship to guide them to the next level. They seemed happy and didn’t stress about bills too much. A series of events like bylaws, and competitive forces took hold and in the mid nineties they lost their business and nearly lost their house. They weren’t ready for such a drastic shift.

The lessons I learned from my parents in business were:

  • Work hard.

  • People will let you down.

  • Trust only in yourself and your family.

  • Earn money. Trade time for money.

  • Pay your rent/mortgage.

  • If you needed more money, work harder and longer hours doing whatever you can.

  • Build a life that is good enough.

  • And most importantly - keep moving forward.

My education around business and money was to avoid things that cost too much. I limited my educational goals to what I could pay for with scholarships, my summer jobs, and student loans. I wanted to go to the U.S.A to advance my education, but it was very expensive. I didn’t consider borrowing for it because I didn’t see how the investment would result in a better role. Or a way to pay back the giant loan needed. Growing up I learned a scarcity mentality that I didn’t even realize. I had an abundance of personal confidence (often borne out of naivety) but a mindset that saw ceilings and limits to financial growth or opportunity.

In the mid-90’s I started working in the investment business. Through that 22-year career, I witnessed three historic major market downturns, the best and worst – often worst, of people – and a host of head scratching behavior I simply did know existed in the world before then. So much learning…so much what not to do.

It took me seven years in the financial industry before I took my first serious courses on the science of investing. (Imagine that.) I was never trained that I needed anything more than a good story and a willingness to sell it.

Serving people and managing their money while learning things on the fly was not good practice. I decided to patch a lot of holes in my boat. From that point, I took a new course and accreditation every single year. I discovered some extraordinary minds in economics and finance and learned from them. They were Nobel Prize winners and academics. This focus fixed my lack of understanding of how money, investing, and financial markets worked. For the first time, twelve years after I left university, I started to know a great deal about money.

My new-found knowledge showed in my business and its growth. It showed in my accumulation of wealth and the quality of my decisions. The only thing it didn’t do was prepare me for the biggest downturn in markets since the Great Depression. In 2008, while I had done many things right and had a good strategy to navigate the markets, I had not built my business on solid foundations. The pressure of stewardship combined with client and business partner stresses forced the most important resets of my life to that date. The difference was this time I had strong credentials, good knowledge, attracted good value for my services at a new firm, and bought myself time to gain more training and education build my business the right way.

At last, I was prepared and aware enough to change. The following ten years would set the stage for a bright future. I had spent most of my life working in the ‘greed-is-good’ industry, and at that point, I committed to giving $1 million to charity every year. This public commitment and personal pledge set me on a course towards my higher purpose. I didn’t have $1 million to give, but I intended to figure it out.

After arising from the worst downturn in history with some funds in my bank account and a ton of academic knowledge, I invested in coaching. I had to learn everything I could about how I would reach my philanthropic goals. I hired people who could help me and devoted my energy to becoming an expert in the field of planned-giving. I was on the path to building genuine wisdom.

Coaching helped me to learn how to run a serving business, as an owner. I set out to understand how to build something – a process – that I could always rely on to allow me to earn the money I needed to live and care for my family. Since then I invested almost $180,000 into my education, and it paid off. During that time in a six-year period, I wrote my first three books on philanthropy and business, helped families redirect over $12.5 million to charitable causes, helped them save over $5 million in taxes, and grew my business tenfold – while enjoying more time out of the office than ever. It was the success of my lifetime.

I learned the following:

  • Serve your prospects and customers.

  • Work right.

  • Become a specialist.

  • Be valuable to valuable people.

  • Learn how to speak in public.

  • Build a mountain of credibility.

  • Read books and write books

  • Hire coaches.

  • Seek great mentors.

  • People, processes, and systems will give you time, energy, and freedom.

  • Be generous.

  • Be grateful.

  • Be courageous and confident, not fearful.

Adopting an abundance mindset rather than a scarcity mindset changed everything.

During the last decade of my wealth management career, my value to families came in the form of the strategic thinking and planning. Connecting a path to people’s dreams and vision for the future from where they were in present day was the real benefit. That is real coaching.

Just six years into my big impact giving, I was ready to make the shift that would change my life. My business had a good value, and I was able to strike a deal to sell it, which enabled me to exit the money management industry and expand my problem-solving and coaching role. The course was set for me to focus all my efforts on working as a business coach. I knew what I wanted/needed to do.

My vision was and still is to listen to entrepreneurs and business owners and discover their greatest challenges. I want to help them grow their own business, get more freedom, and give back to their communities. I teach people how to live a life of abundance.

I may have taken the hard roads to get here, but here I am—helping others to avoid those detours and get straight to their destination.

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