Sometimes it’s not how good you are at something. Many times people succeed just because they persevere.
Maureen Downey, the education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, spoke to journalist Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.” He says that that characteristics of persistence, self-control, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence may contribute more to a child’s success – no matter the background – than just learning words and numbers.
Downey goes on to describe research done on kids who graduated from the KIPP program in The Bronx, N.Y. Many of the kids in that program graduated middle school, high school and went off to college. They’d earned the highest test scores of any Bronx students and the fifth-highest scores in New York City in 2003. Downey quotes Tough, who cites KIPP co-founder David Levin.
Yet, only 21 percent of those young achievers earned a college degree. What happened? It appears, Downey quotes Tough, that the students who succeeded showed the greatest optimism, were able to recover from setbacks, didn’t let a bad grade destroy them and would seek extra help from professors. They would turn down going to a movie to spend the time studying.
Many educators have said that it’s the parents’ job to instill character in a student. Educators in the past have focused heavily on making students feel good about themselves (self-esteem), and some students have learned that just showing up deserves reward. As an aside, showing up on time is a big part of a success routine, but it should be expected.
Some parents have been overly concerned about protecting students from harm, and bailing them out when they get in trouble. We’ve seen that attitude follow them into adulthood. Do you know a 30-year-old who still leans on his parents to survive? Is that behavior natural, or was it carefully taught?
Tough seems to want to get kids away from the feel-good attitudes. He believes they should experience adversity, and learn to find ways out of it. They should learn gratitude, generosity and social agility. Do you know someone who won’t go to something that could benefit them, because they have a negative opinion of the people who might be there?
Do you know someone who will never turn down a chance to have a good time, even though their time could be better spent at more constructive activities? Do you know someone who won’t look at something that could really benefit them, because they are not the least bit curious?
Sometimes resiliency is more valuable to a student than self-esteem. Most resilient students already feel good about themselves, and know that success is up to them. Combine that with generosity, gratitude and the desire to help others succeed and you’ll have someone who WILL succeed as an adult.
So, it may not be just math and reading that students need to learn. They must combine what they learn with character attributes that will maximize what they’ve learned. To paraphrase Wendy Kinney, director of Power Core, a close-contact business networking organization, each business person can identify a person in his field to whose skills they aspire, but has a less successful business. At the same time, each business person can identify a person in his field who should never get referrals, but has a bigger business. How one markets himself makes the difference.
Related to that, most people can identify a person who started what should have been a great business, but didn’t have the grit to stay with it long enough to make it succeed. Perhaps, had they been taught the virtues of character in school, the result may have been different.
Do you have grit? Can you take a punch, get up and keep fighting? Are you looking for the best way to apply that grit to be the most successful? Do you want to help others succeed with you? If so, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau. It’s one vehicle that can help the gritty person become successful, no matter the education.
The more resilient, gritty, optimistic and generous people we have in this world, the better our world will be. Do you want to be part of the gritty solution, or be the grit that clogs the works? If you don’t see yourself as gritty, but wish you were, you can learn to change.


If you have been fortunate enough to work for an employer long enough to qualify for a pension, and your boss offers you one big check when you leave, in exchange for the smaller – and everlasting — monthly checks, would you take it?
J. Scott Trubey, a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has found that many big Atlanta companies are doing that. His report was published in the Oct. 14, 2012, edition.
On its face, it appears that the employers are bearing a big cost now, in lieu of mounting costs later. If the companies fund their pension plans, they won’t have to contribute nearly as much in the future by paying workers off now. If the numbers work well for the company, that’s all well and good.
But should the workers take the offer? There are several schools of thought. First, if you are ill and not expected to live a long life, you might think about taking the big payment now to cover your medical costs, presuming your employer doesn’t provide retiree insurance beyond Medicare. Of course, that would leave less for your spouse, if you are able to cover him or her in your pension. Then again, if you are a healthy, active retiree, expecting to live a long life in retirement, those monthly checks would be very nice to have for as long as you live. And, if you are fortunate to live a long and healthy life, you’d have collected so much more than that lump sum over time.
But let’s look at things a different way. Obviously, if you are not a careful money manager, or are not a savvy investor, or feel that having that much money in your pocket at once is too much temptation to spend frivolously and quickly, then the monthly pension payouts are best for you.
But if you have some financial smarts, or get good, reliable financial advice, you could invest that money with a return greater – even much greater – than your pension plan would get. To use round numbers, a $200,000 lump-sum payment in your hands could double every five years, whereas it might double every 10 years in the pension plan’s overly cautious investments. Naturally, pension plans have to be careful with their investments. But having the money in your hands give YOU power to invest it as YOU would want, with potentially more attractive returns.
Using those same numbers, if the $200,000 lump-sum investment doubled every five years, and you lived 20 years in retirement, you’d have a $3.2 million nest egg if you didn’t touch it. If that’s not practical – you need the money to live the retirement of your dreams – you can live off the returns of your money. An 8 percent annual return is not unheard of in the investment world, so you would make $18,000 a year to live on – and still have your lump sum. Compare that to your monthly benefit, multiplied by 12.There may not be much difference, or there could be a big difference in your favor.
The bonus: you would ALWAYS have that lump sum in its entirety working for you, no matter how long you lived. Just think if you took a part-time job you enjoyed. You might be able to put, say, $5 every paycheck from that job into that account to augment it. If you are money-savvy, you’d been saving all your life. It would be no big deal to keep it up.
If you already have decent savings over and above your pension and Social Security, and you add that lump sum to augment your account, how much more interest, dividends and capital gains would you make? Would your monthly pension matter?
So, if you are in a position to take a lump-sum payment in exchange for your monthly pension, give it a lot of thought. Get some good, trustworthy advice from someone other than a representative of your employer. Think about it from the perspective of control. If you like to control your own destiny, the choice you would make might be different from a person who doesn’t want the worry of financial management, or who budgets based on knowing what he gets every month.
Either choice has risks. You risk market performance with the lump sum, and you risk pension plans going belly-up with the monthly payment. Many pension plans are in trouble today and, even if you worked for a government agency or a very solvent company, that pension might not always be what you think it will be.
One more idea: what if you took the lump sum and invested a small portion of it into something that would give you a potentially substantial residual income that would dwarf your monthly pension? There are several ways to do that. To check out one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau.
Most of all, if you get that choice,be thankful. So many people work hard and have NO pension. If you are young, don’t PRESUME you’ll get a pension, even if your employer promises it. Lots can change over time.


It’s early, but Kyle Wingfield, columnist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, thinks it’s time to address graduates.
His October 2012 column suggests that graduates – mainly high school graduates – think about their options before going to college.
Wingfield suggests that they not end up like Katie Brotherton, a young Cincinnati woman who is $190,000 in debt from college and graduate school. She’s living in her parents’ basement.
Brotherton is “looking for answers.” As Wingfield points out, it started with her decision to go to college with borrowed money.
You can envision a pattern: a person goes to college, thinking she would get a good job when she got out. She doesn’t. So, she decides to go to graduate school, thinking it might broaden her qualifications and buy her time for the job market to improve. Meanwhile, she’s incurring more debt.
She gets out of graduate school with no good job and lots of debt. She moves back home. She doesn’t want to be living at home, but she has no choice. Her debt and lack of employment leave her unable to afford to live on her own. Her parents sympathize with her plight, but they, too, would rather see her out on her own.
A few decades ago, we were told to go to the best college we could possibly get into. The best schools would open more doors, we were told. The best schools, often, were usually the most expensive. But if those schools opened more doors, you’d be able to pay back your education fairly quickly with a good job.
Many of the “good” jobs that students thought would be there are not. In fact, they may have disappeared permanently.
As Wingfield points out, education inflation is rampant. There could even be an education “bubble” getting bigger by the day. We all know what happened with the housing “bubble.” It’s not that students should not get an education, it’s that some education does not provide a great return on investment, in terms of career opportunities.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with getting a degree in history, literature or some of the other liberal arts. No education is really wasted. But students have to evaluate whether that education is worth the debt incurred, or, worth the sacrifices your family might make to provide it.
If you love history, the arts or psychology, you can still pursue them. But you can do so at less expensive schools close to home. You may be able to parlay those degrees into a good career, but you have to understand that most people with such backgrounds cannot convert them to real dollars.
All is not lost, however. You can get one of those degrees without using it as an income producer. There are many excellent ways to produce income outside your educational background. To check out one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau.
Even if you have a degree in engineering, the sciences, technology, mathematics or other fields in great demand, you might want to have a Plan B if your career plans don’t turn out the way you want them to. There are excellent income streams that can get you out of your parents’ home as an adult.
So, as Wingfield addresses the class of 2013, he suggests that they not lower ambitions, just understand the reality. Not all college degrees are the same. Most college degrees can be obtained from schools that are not cripplingly expensive. Remember that as you get older and proceed in your career, or life, where you went to school becomes less important in terms of whether you get hired. A degree is a degree. You will succeed largely on your experience.
Success comes in many forms. Being a great historian may not produce lots of income, but it may produce great successes. Just realize that you may have to find another way to make a living, or create wealth for yourself.
Educational institutions need to be aware of the “bubble.” It could burst, and they could find themselves with great, expensive programs, and no students that can afford them. Students need to be aware that there are ways to make an income regardless of education. You just have to be willing to check them out.


Have you ever worked for someone who was so driven to accomplish what he wanted, he didn’t care who might get hurt – physically or otherwise – in the process?
Have you ever dated someone that was so driven with ambition of one sort or another, that you were an afterthought to him?
As difficult as these people are to be around, we need them.
They usually accomplish great things. We need to be a society that allows them to do their thing, as obnoxious as they may be, New York Times columnist David Brooks says in an October 2012 column.
Prosperity is often driven by small enclaves of extraordinary individuals that build new industries, and amass large fortunes, says Brooks. These folks often are unpleasant to be around.
He uses Elon Musk as an example. Musk, 41, grew up in South Africa, migrated to Canada at 15, worked on farms and at a lumber mill until going to Queens University in Ontario. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to major in physics and economics.
He believes the Internet, sustainable energy and the space program will be the future prosperity drivers. He dropped out of Stanford’s graduate physics program to start Zip2, an Internet map and directory company. He sold that to Compaq for more than $300 billion.
He helped create PayPal, then SpaceX, a space exploration company. He also helped create Telsa, an electric car company, SolarCity, a solar power company and Everdream, a data-center software firm.
He’s found success in everything he does, but, though many employees love him, there has been at least one blog set up to catalog his mistreatment of those he deems mediocre, Brooks says.
He’s been through two marriages, and one of his ex-wifes took him to task brutally in an article in Marie Claire, according to Brooks.
The lesson here is that we need people who think big, who are brutally focused on their visions and don’t stop until they accomplish them. The question is: do they have to be so, well, obnoxious, if they don’t think you are as good as they are? Is all that success really worth being a difficult husband or employer? Does a path to success have to be completely non-stop, or involve trampling others in the process? Many say it’s not the success that’s most rewarding, it’s the journey. And, it’s the people you meet, and help, along the way that matter.
Are you a person who prefers the leisurely drive or the quick flight? Would you rather take a walk through the park or the ride around the block to a destination? Is money, power and wealth your be all and end all? Are you getting richer, at the expense or off the backs of others, just because you can, and you think you are entitled to? Are the folks who may have tried to help you on the way insignificant?
It takes many kinds of people to make a world. It takes many kinds to create a world in which we all benefit. It’s great to be bottom-line focused, but you are probably missing something if you pay no attention of how you got there, whom you helped along the way and whom you’ve hurt.
If you are a driven person, take stock of who you really are. Choose relationships carefully. It would be wrong to have the person who loves you the most be unable to hang with you. A few pleasant stops on the way to the top never hurt anyone – and may have helped many.
Ideally, driven people also are nice people. They don’t expect everyone to be like them, and they love those near them for exactly who they are. They work around the “stops” with pleasure, even if they get to the top later than they’d planned. If you are that kind of person, or would like to be, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau. Most successful people you will see never let success get in the way of the journey.
If you’re like Elon Musk, check out the site as well. You may be surprised at how pleasantly a fortune can be made. You might even learn how helping others can help you.