I was held up at gunpoint
On June 15th, 2001, 12 years ago to the day, I was held up at gunpoint for a 1990 190E Mercedes Benz that I bought at the age of 18.
I bought it at a used car auction for $3,500 a few weeks before. And two miles after driving it off the lot, it broke down. I don’t know if you or your parents have European cars, but they cost a lot to get fixed and I spent more money fixing the car than I did to buy it. By the time I got it back, I was broke and I couldn’t afford car insurance.
June 15th was the night the Lakers won their first championship under Shaq and Kobe. Everyone was out in LA celebrating. I was hustling then, the same way I’m hustling now—then I was throwing private parties and now I lead private trainings. My friends from my promotion crew, The #1 Stunnas, were riding with me and we going to wait in the parking lot for another party to let out to pass out our fliers for our upcoming party as people exited.
We arrived. I pulled into the parking lot. And the moment I turned my headlights off and the ignition off, two men jumped out of the car in front of us with guns drawn and without words being exchanged, keys were exchanged, and the car was gone. Just like that.
The car was found totaled a few weeks later.
Why did I buy a Mercedes Benz at 18?
Fortunately, I had another side hustle that summer. I was a resident assistant (RA) at UCLA. Therefore, I had housing and food taken care of. If that wasn’t in place, my life would have continued to snowball downhill and I promise you I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. There was no more partying for me that summer. Most of the night, I found myself in my dorm room reflecting, writing, reading, reflecting, writing, reading. That was the beginning of my Innerviewing practice which I use today to help people ask themselves the right questions about their life, career, and business. That’s why my superhero name is The Innerviewer.
The first question I had to ask myself was “Why the hell did I buy a Mercedes Benz?” My uncle always told me, “Never buy anything you can’t maintain.” I could have bought a Honda Civic and it would have been all good. Nobody would have wanted to steal that. But both my parents had Mercedes Benzes. That’s the only car I knew. Their careers as medical doctors afforded them that.
The second questions I had to ask myself was “Whose definition of success was I living?” I realized that subconsciously I had bought into their definition of success and the idea that each generation should do better than its parents. But what does “better” mean? At the time, better meant that if they got a nice house by the ago fo 35 then I had to get one by 30 and if they got a nice car by the ago fo 25 then I had to get one by 20. So I did. I got one at 18 to show my parents that I was on a path to success like them.
What is my definition of success?
The third question I had to ask myself was “What’s my definition of success?” Once I became aware that my definition of success was different than my parents’ definition and society’s definition of money, power, wealth, fame, and beauty, I was able to start designing my life in a way that uniquely fit me.
That summer it became clear that I was hustling backwards and from that moment on I started being really intentional about my life which led me to:
- graduate UCLA in 3 years instead of 4
- apply to become Director of a program I worked for during college even though the Assistant Director and my Site Coordinator were also applying for the job
- read 100s of books outside of class
- do most of the things in the 101 Things To Before You Graduate book
- apply to the Stanford Graduate School of Business at the age of 23 making me one of the youngest in my class
- skip my summer internship and use that time to build my company
- take a bridge job at a small non-profit after graduation instead of a big name consulting, banking, tech, or consumer products company
- build my company as a side hustle while working a full-time job
- live like a college student, have a roommate, and keep my cost of living as low as possible for as long as possible until I had enough capital to make the moves I wanted
- wait on having kids
- wait to buy a 3-family home that would pay for itself instead of buying a single family home earlier
- buy a used 2000 Honda to run errands in 2013 instead of a newer car
Innerviewing about asking the right questions and finding the most authentic answer for you. These choices are my choices—choices I felt were best for me. I’m not suggesting that these are universally right. The only right answer is what is best for who you are.
Wherever I speak, the first question I ask is “How many of you want to be successful?” Everyone raises their hand. And then I ask “How many of you have written down a definition of success before?” And almost all of the hands go down. If we never define if for ourselves, then we’re usually pursuing it on someone else’s terms.
Hustling Backwards = The Rat Race
Hustling backwards is the equivalent of the rat race. And it has little to do with out much money you make. I know people who make $150,000 a year who still feel caught up in the rat race because their cost of living has risen with their income. Financial freedom is the gap between your income and cost of living. If you’re making $150,000 and you spend $130,000, that’s not financial freedom. If you make $150,000 and you live off of $100,000, now you’re getting freer.
The easiest way to kill someone’s dream is to give them a 30 year mortgage. Now they have a fear of losing something they love and have attached themselves to so they will be willing to stay in that job they hate and suck it up so they don’t lose their home.
Remember that in business, income is revenues minus expenses. It’s what’s left after all of the bills are paid. But when it comes to individuals, we call our paychecks our income, when in fact, that’s only our revenues. Our income is really our paycheck – mortgage/rent – car note – all insurance – gas – food – utilities – etc. Just because you have high revenues (or a good paying job) doesn’t mean that you have a high income.
20 Ways You Could Be Hustling Backwards
It’s so easy to just go with the flow and find yourself deferring your dreams year after year after year. There seems to be a suggested sequence for how we should live our lives and achieve success, but my life has shown me that that isn’t always the best path. Should you buy a home before getting married? How long should you rent? Should you look for the highest paying job out of college or start at the bottom rung of a career you love? Should you buy an income property first or a single family home? When is the right time to buy a new car? When is the best time to start building your company?
Below are 21 ways you could be hustling backwards:
- buying a car you can’t afford to maintain (<---I did this)
- buying a home you can’t afford to maintain—beyond the mortgage there a lots of other expenses such as home and life insurance, taxes, roof work, plumbing work, cleaning, etc
- increasing your cost of living based on the assumption that income will increase accordingly
- increasing your cost of living and paying for it with debt
- increasing your cost of living based on the income you’re getting at a job you hate, when the income on the career path you desire may be (a lot) less
- not even knowing what your cost of living is
- letting money sit in a savings account earning a measly interest rate—with inflation, you might as well be throwing money away
- quitting your job instead of using your job while seriously testing our the economic viability of your business idea
- not knowing how to make money outside of the context of a job
- undercharging for what you make or do in fear of losing low-paying price-sensitive probably-not-loyal clients
- saying you want to retire early, but not knowing your numbers—the number you need to save and the income you need to generate monthly once you retire
- taking on debt to buy a home or car or anything else that doesn’t involve building a business (at a higher growth rate than the loan’s interest rate)
- taking on more “good” debt to go to graduate school because you’re “supposed to” or don’t know what else to do and not having a clear career plan on how to get a return on your investment as soon as possible afterward
- buying a single family home and assuming it is an investment without it being a fixer-uper that you know will increase in value as you work on it or using AirBnB to help you create income with it
- buying or leasing a car that looks cool but does nothing positive for your asset or revenue column
- renting an overpriced apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood when more affordable options exist or you could be owning for the same amount
- taking expensive vacations to get away from a job you hate instead of investing in a idea that will free you from the job you hate
- spending $30,000 on a one-day wedding instead of making a downpayment on a piece of property or other assets that will support your family forever
- using credit cards to buy things without setting up automatic withdrawal from your checking account so that you build your credit instead of kill it
- trusting that the stock market will automatically grow your money at 10% a year without you having to do anything when instead your own ideas can turn 10 cents into 11 cents (10% growth) in 12 months with a little thought and effort
- having more than 2 TVs in your home, not because the TVs cost too much, but because of how much the time you watch them costs you and your business ideas
If you have any more examples of hustling backwards, share them in the comments area below.
I hope you don’t make the same mistakes as the younger version of me.