Using the Negative to Define Your Positive
We also have an internal North Star. It’s that little nudge that tells us if we are on the right path to fulfilling our potential, or on the wrong path wasting energy traveling somewhere we don’t need to go. So my advice to you is, pull out the compass every once in a while and make sure you are navigating in the right direction on your journey.John C. Maxwell, (facebook post, December 26, 2014)
We are all familiar with the concept of a North Star. Since the earliest days of navigation travellers have used the North Star to guide them across vast distances. The North Star is that one star in the night sky that never seams to move while everything else revolves around it. It does this because of its position in the cosmos, almost directly in line with the North Pole. As the earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, the North Star never deviates from that spot. It’s that fixed nature that makes it valuable, if you know where you are in relation to the North Star you can set a course for where you want to go.
It’s basic math, trigonometry really, the science of spatial triangulation. If you know the location of two points on a triangle, its relatively easy to calculate where the third point is. This is also the basis for our modern GPS systems. By triangulating our position with a satellite in orbit above the earth our phones can use mapping software to tell us, within a few meters, exactly where we are and provide us with detailed maps of how to get where we want to go.
I was recently introduced to the concept of a South Star while listening to a podcast by the author philosopher and theologian Rob Bell. In philosophy the idea of a North Star has been used to describe a set of internal absolutes, or unchanging values, the fixed core of who you are or who you are becoming. The North Star, as leadership expert John Maxwell put it above, is that little voice within each of us that tells us if we are on the right path or not. As you can imagine, according to Bell, the South Star is the opposite of that. While a North Star pulls us toward something a South Star repels us.
Sometimes when we are trying to define and refine our values it can be helpful to start from a negative. Rather than figure out what you want, instead define what you categorically don’t want and define your desired outcome by process of elimination. That is what using your South Star is all about.
In my business and in the way I approach financial planning for my clients my South Star is debt. I teach my clients to get as far away from debt as possible. In fact, the fastest way to build wealth and get on the path to achieve financial security is to eliminate debt. That may seem like basic math but in actual practise it is extremely difficult and when I first started to build my financial practise many experienced advisors told me not to talk about debt with my clients.
I can point to more than one conversation where a veteran advisor, upon hearing me speak against debt, would pull me aside and say something to the effect of; “Don’t talk about debt, everyone has some form of debt, and everyone knows it’s bad, by pointing it out you might make people feel bad about themselves and they won’t want to do business with you.” Or, “Don’t lead with the debt talk, it’ll attract the wrong kind of client, you want to attract people with money, not people with debt.”
I listened politely, thanked these veteran advisors for their advice and then ignored them.
More than that I viewed these interactions as indications that I was on the right track. The idea that people with debt make bad clients, or that by talking about debt I’d turn good clients off helped to define my South Star. The idea of it repelled me. The more resistance I felt from my own colleagues the more convinced I became that there was a huge under served market for a financial planner that is willing to work both sides of a client’s balance sheet. By developing strategies to simultaneously reduce debt and build wealth I could accelerate, no turbo charge, my client’s results.
This South Star thinking helped define my brand and my value proposition. It rolls off my tongue effortlessly now; “I help people eliminate debt, build wealth and leave a legacy. People who work with me tend to pay off all of their debts (including mortgages) about 8 years sooner, enjoy increased cashflow, retire four times wealthier and pay significantly less tax along the way.”
Contrary to what my veteran colleagues tried to warn me about, by leading with debt, I have not only attracted clients who need help but who understand the value of leverage and the multiplying effect that reducing debt has on increasing wealth.
South Star thinking is more than being contrarian. It’s about using a clear definition of what you don’t want to propel you in the direction of what you do want. Even if you can’t clearly define what that is.
When I first started speaking out against debt, I didn’t know how to read a balance sheet, structure a consolidation loan or leverage equity into cash. What I did know was that high interest debt payments were dragging down good, hard working people and making it difficult for them to get ahead. It was this knowledge that was the wind at my back pushing me away from the notion that people with debt couldn’t be good clients or that talking about debt would make people feel bad about themselves.
Over time I was able to develop the process that I use today but at first it was just about being repelled by the old school notion that debt management was not the purview of a financial advisor.
Zig Ziglar once said that you can get everything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want. Helping people get what they want is a North Star.
In my world, most people want financial security. The way I help them get there is by working both sides of their balance sheet, eliminating debt and building wealth at the same time. The approach works whether you are drowning in debt or swimming in wealth. And there is no reason for anyone to feel negatively about it.
So, what’s driving you? Are you drawn by a North Star, or repelled by a South Star? Either way, you’re probably headed in the right direction.