What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? I bet it didn’t come from Facebook, Twitter or from a Real Housewife. I bet it came from someone you loved, trusted and looked up to; a friend, professor, parent or grandparent. In his new book, No One Ever Told Us That; Money and Life Letters to my Grandchildren, John D. Spooner gives us a peek inside one of his closest relationships –his grandchildren- while giving them wisdom that can only come with experience.
For decades, John has been one of America’s leading financial advisors. Now, as his own grandchildren are on the cusp or adulthood, John has chosen to impart his wisdom to them –and us- in the form of old-fashioned letters (remember those?!). This is the book that every grandparent has wanted to gift their children and grandchildren….and reading it truly feels like a gift.
It was my pleasure to speak with John -my first male interviewee for HerExchange- about lessons learned from his own journey and his best advice (listen up graduates, we talk job hunting!). Lean in close, you’ll want to hear this…
SG: Why write an advice book that covers everything from finance to career to relationships?
JS: I gave a speech at Brandeis University four years ago to graduate students about what they’d see when they got out into life after school. A young woman raised her hand after the remarks and said, ‘No one ever told us that.’ I thought, ‘Why, you know? There is so much financial illiteracy and cluelessness among the young about so many things, why not do an advice book in a practical way that they can understand? In English, plain English.’ And it turned into this book.
SG: While reading No One Ever Told Us That, I learned so much that I never even considered before. It was eye opening!
JS: Well thank you, that’s about the nicest thing that anybody could say. You labor in solitude as a writer, even if you’re trying to teach lessons, you have no idea who’s out there. Is anybody out there? In this digital age where the virtual life is to replace the real life, I say people are desperate for advice and counsel in an old fashioned way. They want personal contact and that’s what No One Ever Told Us That, is about.
SG: You’re a national leader on investing and best-selling financial authority, how do you find yourself stacking up against some of the other major financial advisers? I ask because I recently went to a conference where Suze Orman spoke. She created audience frenzy when she came on-stage! Do you find yourself pushing away from, or pulling towards, financial-“celebrity”?
JS: A lot of the financial gurus who have written books don’t actually manage money themselves; they just spout, pontificate, or offer good advice. That’s fine, but I actually manage all of the money myself, with my team. Not only do we try to do advice and counsel about all kinds of things in life, but we actually make all of the management decisions too.
SG: In your letters to your grandchildren, numerous times you mention the difficult economy they are entering post-college graduation. Did you feel a sense of urgency around getting your advice out because of the economic climate?
JS: Well I started to write it in the beginning of 2010 and finished in 2011 and we’d been in the financial collapse that whole time. So I wrote it not so much as ‘these are the tough times’, it just happened to work out that way. There was no rush to finish it before terrible times turned into ‘let the good times roll’, because the good times are not going to happened right away, in my opinion. I really think that we are in the most Darwinian period that you and I have ever seen in our lives. It’s survival of the fittest. It’s going to continue to be a tough atmosphere for those trying to find jobs or people in their 50’s, if they’re laid off, getting jobs. They need practical advice and some inspiration to look at things in a way they hadn’t thought of before.
SG: I absolutely agree. You state that human nature is really quite simple, it always comes back to one of two things, fear or greed. When has fear been a factor in your life?
JS: I think the bumps in the road teach us more about life and what we’re made of then good does. I’ve had many bumps. One thing I try to teach young people is have faith in yourself but you’re going to have to put it out there. Life isn’t going to be delivered to you. You’re going to have to put the uniform on and drag the wagon as much as you don’t feel like it.
SG: I work with women to identify careers they love and I’ve noticed that more than ever, women see entrepreneurism as their best career option instead of joining corporate America. Are you sensing the same in the young people you speak with?
JS: I am. Fire in the belly, desire, means more than talent very often. [To succeed though] you have to look at the world in a different way and find what your niche is going to be. Generalists are going to find it tough. So you have to figure it out early, ‘what do I really care about?’, and then pursue your passion.
SG: Did you know, you are the first man that I have ever interviewed for HerExchange, in a year and a half?
JS: No Kidding.
SG: *laughs* Can you believe it?
JS: Well I’m incredibly flattered! One of the things I say, indeed there is a chapter in the book, that you should always have friends of the opposite sex. Long-term relationships. I learn so much from women because, in my opinion, women are bedrock. They subliminally get so much more than guys do. Because in my opinion guys are basically put on the planet to go out, kill the brontosaurus, and bring home a steak. Beyond that they have trouble with lots of things… I have hundreds of women clients and strong female friendships and I learn so much about the world. I feel very lucky; lucky to be a man in what I see as definitely a women’s world in many ways and particularly talking to you.
SG: Well thank you and I couldn’t agree with you more about women as bedrocks! Let’s talk SPARK. Can you pinpoint a moment of spark – a moment you knew you were on your destined professional path?
JS: Yeah, and again, it was tough stuff that got me there. I was pushed into the financial world. I always thought I wanted to write and actually, my father, who had been in the world of finance, decided that I would be in finance. I told my father, “I can’t even read a stock page in a newspaper, zero knowledge; I have zero interest in [finance], I want to write.” He said “Well, you’re going into this business but if you want to write badly enough you will no matter what you do.” So I took that as a challenge and I wrote. Early in the morning, lunchtime, late at night, drunk or sober, determined that when, not if, my first novel was published, I’m out of here; I’m leaving the world of rude commerce. It took me about three years to both write my first novel and get it published.
SG: What’s your favorite career advice for students preparing to graduate in May?
JS: I see dozens of resumes from young people who want to write, who want to come into the money business, and most of them are just plain vanilla boring, academic credentials, summer jobs. I like to see something that jumps out at me. It’s your hobbies and interests that are going to get you jobs, not your academic career. There are certain clubs in life, things that young people have done that they consider irrelevant on the resumes, but they’re not. For instance, women’s ice hockey, field hockey, wrestling, crew, these are clubs that a lot of people have played and if you have something like that on your resume, chances are that somebody who interviews you rowed crew and they will zap onto that.
SG: With all your lessons learned and advice, can you boil it down? What is the one thing you’d tell your 20-year-old-self if you could go back?
JS: I think the one phrase that is truer than any other, no matter what you do in life and where you are, all life is relationships. That phrase means more to me than anything.