The Cold Hard Truth About Being Successful In Financial Services

In 1835 there was a significant development in the firearms industry. This was the year a gentleman named Sam Colt received a patent on a handgun called the “Revolver.” Although there were previous versions of the revolver, they were rare. Sam Colt’s design would be the first one to get mass produced. This innovation was groundbreaking, as now one could fire five shots (later to become six shots) just as fast as one could pull the hammer back then subsequently pull the trigger.

This was in great contrast to the “single shot” designs that were widely available prior to this creation. By the mid to late 19th century this handgun was the standard for good guys and bad guys alike. With this innovation came the old west adage that “God created men and Sam Colt made them equal.” In other words, it didn’t matter how big or tough you were. If somebody else had a Colt, you were inferior to them. Or, if you both had a Colt, you were equal. They called the Colt Revolver “The Great Equalizer.”

Fast forward to today–a much more commercialized world where we are very much driven to be high performers at our jobs. I believe we have a new “equalizer” that can be a limiter on your performance relative to your competitors. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be inferior to my competitors!

What is the new “equalizer?” It is the 8:00 to 5:00 work schedule that somebody, somewhere institutionalized.

Let me discuss my “belief” by using a hypothetical example. Today, two people graduate from college at age 22 and enter financial services as insurance agents. These two individuals will each go through their careers and, like clockwork, will start work every day at 8:00 am and end the day at 5:00 pm for the next 43 years until they both retire. My belief is that their career trajectories would not diverge a significant amount. I will concede that one may be smarter than the other and one may be naturally more efficient than the other during that nine hour workday, but I don’t believe you would see a situation where one of those people would be making huge amounts of money by age 65 and the other would be destitute. Why? Because if we are all in the same profession, like being an insurance agent, we all are doing basically the same thing between those hours. It is the treadmill of phone calls, prospecting, client meetings, putting out fires, etc.

Again, one may say, “But what if one person was just a pure genius and the other was not the sharpest tool in the shed?” I would argue, as Angela Duckworth does in her bestselling book Grit, that IQ is secondary. I do not believe that our maker can create one person that is so far superior to another that the difference cannot be offset by hard work. As a matter of fact, in some of Duckworth’s studies she found that in some cases she has seen a negative correlation between how smart people are based on IQ and how successful they turn out to be in certain functions like national spelling bees, college graduation, etc. This is because the “smart people” may rest on their laurels while those that do not have natural talent work to offset their shortcomings through hard work and perseverance—i.e. grit! And in the end the person with the grit usually wins. Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

I have worked with and observed thousands of financial professionals over the last 20 years. As I have interacted with these financial professionals, I have always had a curious eye about what makes the top echelon so successful.

I have found that there are many inconsistencies in the activities, qualities and traits from top agent to top agent. Some do seminars, some don’t. Some know their product inside out and some don’t. Some are analytical, some aren’t. However, there is one consistent common activity among the top echelon. Take note: I am calling this an “activity” not a trait. The fact that this is an activity is great because “activities” can be controlled by you if you decide to adopt them!

What do they do that ensures that their paths “diverge” from their peers? Grit! They cheat the “great equalizer” of the 8:00 to 5:00 work schedule. They wake up early. They don’t buy into the 8:00 to 5:00 work schedule. They make their days have more hours in them so they are not “equalized” with their competitors.

I purposely call “grit” an activity because—as I tell my 12-year-old basketball player son—this is not something you need to be born with; it is a decision that is 100 percent in your control. Do you want to be great or do you want to “blend in?”

My challenge to you would be the same challenge that I have given to thousands of people over the years to whom I have spoken on this topic. I will tell you as I told them—if I am wrong, call me up six months from now and tell me that I was way off and I am full of it. I have not received any calls yet other than calls confirming my belief. My challenge would be to start by just setting your alarm clock 30 minutes earlier in the morning. If you do this I can promise you that you will feel as though those 30 minutes were much more meaningful than just 30 minutes.

Those 30 minutes—this is your time. I wake up at 4:30 every morning, and for three hours or so I have uninterrupted time to read and catch up on emails that the “treadmill” of the 8:00 to 5:00 workday will not allow me to do. I believe that if you are going to “cheat” the 8:00 to 5:00 work schedule it is best to do it in the morning—because the morning hours are your hours!

I know this message is much different than the messages one may hear from “efficiency consultants” or infomercials that you may see at 3:00 am. Many times, those messages suggest that there is some brainy secret ingredient that allows one to evade the hard work and the grinding that our business requires. These messages are usually something like, “Work less but work more efficiently.” Or, “Be a millionaire by only working 20-hour weeks.” Or my favorite, “Work smarter, not harder.”

To be very facetious, although I am in no shape to play professional football, I think I am going to try out for the Patriots next year. When Bill Belichick asks me what the heck I am thinking, I will tell him that although I have not worked to have the athletic ability that the other team members have, I will just work “smarter” than the others. Let’s see how that works. It will last one play until I get hit by some beast who grinded away his whole life to achieve a low four second 40-yard dash time and a 500-pound bench-press.

Whether it’s athletics or business, the rules are the same!

Please note that I am a family man. I spend every second with my family that I can, and I make it meaningful. I am not suggesting that work should cannibalize your life. What I am suggesting however is that if you want to reach the top echelon as a professional it is a grind. The great news is that it’s a choice that you can make and, if you make that choice, your success is guaranteed.

In discussing the power of long work hours and grit I would like to share a personal story. I grew up in a small town in Southwest Iowa. I was always a head taller than the other kids in my grade, but I didn’t even touch a basketball prior to the seventh grade as my family was not much of a “sports family.” Therefore I never had much of an interest in basketball even though many of my friends loved it. Plus, I never had natural athletic talent like many of my friends. I was very uncoordinated and could barely walk and chew gum without tripping when I was young and growing fast.

My lack of desire changed one day, however, when I was in seventh grade. It took one person, Coach Hook, who was our varsity basketball coach, to light a fire of “grit” under me. By the way, Coach Hook was known in Southwest Iowa as a coach that had a long history of building some of the best basketball teams in the state by investing time in his kids year after year.

Well, that day he ran into me while I was outside the middle school waiting for the bus. He took an immediate interest in how tall I was relative to the other kids. He then started speaking with me about how I could be a great basketball player and he wanted to see me work to be a star by the time I came into high school. He continued these conversations with me every time he saw me and eventually convinced me that I could be a good player if I wanted to be.

As I worked to get better at basketball I remember looking up to some of the “stars” that were juniors and seniors on the varsity team of that time. I remember thinking about them and wondering how much practice it took them to get to the skill level they achieved. Did it take 50,000 practice shots? Did it take 100,000 practice shots? Did it take a million practice shots? Then I remember thinking that whatever that number was, it didn’t matter because I would pass that immediately. In other words, I would “accelerate” the development process by relentlessly practicing every chance I got so that I would not be “as good” as those people by my senior year—I would be better than them by my sophomore year. This was a cool thing because the number of “practice shots” I took every day was 100 percent in my control. Day after day it was my choice how much I practiced and thus how quickly I would surpass the number of hours that those “stars” had ever practiced.

At our house we had a very primitive basketball hoop where the pole that held the backboard was basically just “buried” in the gravel driveway. That was my basketball court, a gravel driveway. Many nights under the flood light that hung from our garage I would stay up until the morning hours practicing as my hands became coated in dirt and gravel dust. Sure enough, by my sophomore year in high school I was starting Varsity and was all conference for three of my four years in high school and ultimately went on to play in college.

To me those years were confirmation that, although I was an uncoordinated seventh grader relative to my peers, there were no shortcomings that could not be offset by hard work. The mindset for the rest of my life was formed in those years!

In other words, we are all humans and therefore we cannot be created that much different than one another. The difference is grit, practice and perseverance. These three things are a choice–not something one needs to be born with.

To wrap this up: We work in a great business that deserves effort beyond what the “average” business requires. The national median income for an entire household today is around $60,000. I would argue that in our business we have the ability to make much more than what the “median” household makes. And what does the “median person” do? They go to work at 8:00 and come home at 5:00. They don’t touch a book. They sleep in on the weekends. They “work smarter, not harder.”

Do you fall victim to “the great equalizer” and go to work at eight and come home at five? Or, do you accelerate the process of developing your talents, developing your book of business, developing your team, etc., by getting up early and leveraging “Grit”?

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”—Calvin Coolidge

Charlie Gipple, CLU, ChFC, is the founder and CEO of CG Financial Group, an independent marketing organization serving life, annuity and long term care agents. He is known throughout the industry for his thought leadership on annuities and life insurance. He has conducted hundreds of agent and client educational seminars over the last two decades, ranging from small one-on-one sessions to large national meetings such as the Million Dollar Round Table, Top of Table.

Gipple is a sought-after keynote speaker for many types of events and topics. He has appeared on thestreet.com and AMBest TV. He also personally produces and conducts client seminars on a local level. He is a former executive of various insurance companies.

Gipple can be reached by phone at 515-986-3065. Email: cgipple@cgfinancialgroupllc.com.