5 Pieces of Advice I Learned From My Father

in Financial Planning by

KEY POINTS
  • Strive for a balanced cash-to-equity ratio.
  • Work, toil, and achieve.
  • Seek to balance your long-term investments and short-term gains.

I have always looked to my father, not so much for advice but rather for perspective on life. He doesn’t tell me what to do, instead he gives me guideance about what’s important. Here are his five “ratios” that guide me today:

Career.

In one’s life work, what is success? How do we make the most impact on other people?

“Watch your fluff-to-substance ratio. Too much fluff and no one will take you seriously. Too much substance and no one will listen.”

I must admit, I lean towards too much fluff, because it’s fun. But I try to deliver true substance — knowledge and insight — as well.

Compensation.

In life, we have many choices between pursuit of short-term earnings and investment in long-term gains — particularly in Silicon Valley where I work. But this advice applies to everyone anywhere who wants to improve their financial life.

“Watch your cash-to-equity ratio. Too much cash and you’ll never make big money. Too much equity and you’ll starve.”

Early in life I strove for cash, because I needed to. Later in life I sought equity, because I could.

Growth.

We all need to achieve in the here and now. We also desire to expand the range of talents we possess for future achievement.

“Watch you doing-to-learning ratio. Too much doing and you’ll never broaden your horizon. Too much learning and you’ll never get anything done.”

Work, toil, achieve. At the same time, build yourself into a better person. I’m reminded of that ancient prescription, “In all thy getting, get wisdom.”

Love.

We sometimes forget that the most important part of life lies in the people we love — friends, parents, children and spouses. (What is the plural of spouse … spice?)

“Watch your fun-to-soul ratio. Too much fun and you’ll miss the depth of loving. Too much soul and you’ll miss the giddiness.”

Of course, I’m drawn to the fun side. But I try to remember my father’s counsel and be open to true expression and confession. It requires comfort with vulnerability. I’m not naturally good at that, but when I let myself be vulnerable, it leads to true intimacy.

Phases.

We live in a world of instant gratification. So much energy is devoted to immediate desires. But we all seek balance.

“Watch your now-to-later ratio. Too much focus on the now and you bankrupt your future. Too much focus on the later and you miss the beauty of life.”

There’s a famous experiment which studied the characteristics of delayed gratification in young children. The experiment participants were offered one marshmallow if they wanted it now, and two marshmallows if they waited for a short time. Not surprisingly, this long-term study showed conclusively that the children who were able to wait were more successful in later life.

My father did not tell me how to act, but rather suggested a framework to decide for myself how to act. For that, I thank him.

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Bill Harris

Bill Harris

Bill Harris is the founder of Personal Capital. He has spent 25 years building financial technology, notably serving as CEO of Intuit and PayPal. He is the founder of several financial technology companies and has served on the boards of numerous technology firms, such as SuccessFactors, RSA Security, Macromedia, and Answers.com.

4 comments

  1. Sukanya

    Great advice! This guidance is something everybody should follow in their life..It is very important to achieve a balance in our life at some extent..You father was a wise man and I hope you find success and peace by following his kind words…

    Reply
  2. valuetradeblog

    Hi,
    Thank you for sharing.

    “Watch your now-to-later ratio. Too much focus on the now and you bankrupt your future. Too much focus on the later and you miss the beauty of life.”

    I love that one!

    greetings
    valuetradeblog

    Reply
  3. Krishna Prasad Atluri

    Thank you Bill, you have posted a nice piece on balancing – between now and future, instant and long term enjoyment etc. Wise as the thoughts are, you have put them in simple terms.

    But, here are a few situations I am trying to find answers for. What about investments of people (anybody, not just you and I) into equity of something where the rights are unclear? What about the long term where the benefits accrue to a future generation or someone disconnected from you? And a more complex puzzle is, perhaps, when the efforts and results are both so diffused and joined by multiple resources, then we don’t know who owns how much equity and when the benefits, if any, will accrue and to whom?

    Don’t mean to distract you, just wanted to share a few thoughts that got triggered when I read your nice article. Thank you and best wishes.

    KP

    Reply
  4. Doug Mitchell

    Bill – I needed that today. The best financial advice I ever received from my Father was to pay off debt as quickly as I can. Less debt sure relieves stress.

    Reply

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