“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his life and his religion.  He hardly knows which is which.  He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.  To him, he’s always doing both”

 James Michener

Living a Better LifeThe following is a loose compilation of snippets from a casual conversation between my son David and I. He’s fifteen years old now and we are very tight. He’s my best friend and I hope that I remain his best friend too for many years to come. For now, I take it one week at a time before girlfriends and other factors start to compete with me.

Every Friday for the last couple of years, I pick him up from school in the afternoon (the only day I do that) and we head over to our Weekly Meeting at a local Starbucks to discuss and recap our “work week.”  Sometimes I do most of the asking and sometimes he does most of the asking.  No topic is off limits.  We discuss school, work, life, sports, investing, weekend plans, career goals, and pretty much anything that we feel like chatting about.  In this case, he was asking me the questions as part of an “Ask Me Anything” drill.  I hope you enjoy this conversation that I’m sharing with all of you.  They are all real questions and real answers, only shortened a bit for easier reading.

David: You’re your own boss.  How do you find motivation to just “work” everyday instead of doing other stuff that you like?

MGR: Since I was very young, I’ve learned that “Discipline is doing what you’re supposed to do when nobody is watching.”  That’s not my line by the way.  I wish I could remember where I read it many, many years ago, but it really struck me and I’ve been living by it my entire life.  Doing what you love takes no effort and it is extremely rewarding.  Just like an investor understands the power of compound interest, it is very similar when it comes to your own work.  Every little investment that you make towards your work, towards your professional growth, will not just add up but multiply exponentially down the road.  You will find yourself facing new opportunities on a regular basis.  Opportunities that only come along, not because of what you just did, but because of the result of what you have been doing and the investment that you’ve made in yourself throughout the years.

But how do you keep on top of your schedule and getting things done?  You know I’m the biggest procrastinator…

Mostly discipline, like I said earlier.  But the other important part is not to jam your day with lengthy “To Do Lists” that you can never complete.  I used to carry these never-ending “To Do” lists that made me look real busy but also made me feel overly unaccomplished.  I could never get everything done! Then one day I realized that I had to be more realistic.  3-5 tasks per day should be it.  Select a limited number of tasks, knock them off your list and start a fresh list for the following day.

Nowadays, I hardly ever schedule more than one meeting per day.  No double-headers for me.  I give it all I have one time, and after the meeting is over, I go back to work on other ideas, or even new ideas that I came up with during the meeting.  I realized that having more than one client meeting per day is not very effective.  I was not giving each meeting 100% of my attention, of my effort.  Half way through the first meeting I would start to mentally check-out and prepare for the second meeting.  During the second meeting, my mind was still sifting through all the ideas that I came up during the first meeting, all while I start worrying about all the other tasks that I still have to get to before days end.  One meeting per day is perfect.

Full focus, full dedication, no distractions.  I actually feel very energized and accomplished once a meeting with a client ends; something that when I had two meetings in one day hardly ever happened.

How do you keep up with everything you do?  I see that you’re always planning different projects, hobbies, sports, writing, etc.?

You can’t just settle and do one single thing that you’re good at.  Whether you’re good at cooking, designing, writing, painting, investing, or any other trade, you can’t just do that all the time.  You must develop yourself and find other skills that will complement your life.  Being able to find 4-5 things that you can do well, will also make you much more successful and fulfilled as a person than if you just settle for your single area of expertise.  For me, being able to do research, read plenty of books, marketing, running companies, investing, writing, etc. all of these things really complement each other and make me feel much more complete as a person.  Not only do I love each of those things, but the combination of them makes me a better person and MGR a more successful company. In other words, success becomes a byproduct of your life choices.

Why are you so obsessed with working out and training every day?

I am, and that’s why I always work out first thing in the morning.  I don’t want to have any excuses at the end of the day NOT to work out.  I exercise to stimulate my creativity and to refresh my mindset more than to take care of my body.  My most effective ideas come while I’m exercising, be it running, swimming, biking, karting, or completing any other type of training.  Yes, I manage to stay in shape too, but the main result of exercising for me is the replenishing of my brain.  A healthy mind will find no limitations and no barriers to the goals that you set for yourself.  The byproduct of exercising on a regular basis is that you’re also staying in good physical shape and feel good about yourself, about your body.  In my case, a healthy mind leads me to a healthy body, not so much the other way around.

Think about this.  Humans are the only species that will sacrifice their own health in their younger years in the pursuit of money only to spend all that money later in their lives to take care of their health when they get older.  See the irony?  I’d rather invest in my own health today!

Do you consider yourself successful? Does a person need to be rich to be successful?

Well, let me ask you… How do you define being rich or simply being financially successful?  Is it being able to buy anything you want?  Or is it being satisfied with what you already have and being at peace with it?  Is being rich solely associated with money?  Or do you associate being rich or financially successful with any other commodity or trait?  For example, if you’re already financially secure (not necessarily rich) would you value your own time to do what you like more than having additional money?

Can you get used to a lifestyle that doesn’t require large money expenditures and still live well?  For example, even if you could afford it, would you buy a large house with multiple spare bedrooms, a huge yard, etc. even if you know that you would never need more than a 3 or 4 bedroom house?  Or do you consider yourself financially successful if you have a house that you have paid off, that is just large enough for your family and for your basic needs without any other extravagant additions?  Or do you feel that to be successful you need to move to a renowned city or zip code just so you can show a more upscale address at the expense of living a more expensive lifestyle than you really need?

To me, being financially successful or financially secure is more about being able to make certain choices in life without caring about any financial consequences.  For example, I can plan a nice family trip without having to sacrifice, or save for months,  or thinking twice whether I can afford it.  Or I can have a nice dinner with family or friends at an upscale restaurant without worrying about the bill.  Or I can buy a new laptop that is going to make me more productive without worrying about how I am going to pay for it or about my credit card bill next month.  To me, having this type of freedom in my life is being successful and financially secure; more than living in a lavish neighborhood, having a huge house with tons of spare rooms that are never used, or buying expensive clothes that I’ll probably never wear.

So to answer your question, yes, I consider myself successful because I can make these types of choices.

You spend a lot of time teaching me about money and I like it, but why do you think learning about money is so important?

Because that’s the one subject that they don’t teach you at school that happens to be the most critical lesson in your life.  You can earn the highest degree from one of the most reputable colleges in the nation, yet, if you don’t understand how money works, you will spend your whole life catching up with your finances.  It doesn’t matter whether you make this or that salary, if you don’t understand the principles that dictate how money works, your finances will control you and your life rather than the other way around.

Like I said before, being financially successful and financially secure is also about understanding basic financial principles that a lot of (smart) people seem to have problem understanding.  And I’m just referring to basic financial terms like loans, mortgages, assets, liabilities, balance sheets, investments, interest rates, etc.  For example, I never understand why people carry credit card debt while they consider adding money to their savings account or even invest in the stock market.  Why would someone be paying a 13-15 or even 20% interest rate on their credit card balance, yet worry about putting money into a savings account that will only yield 1% is mind boggling.  Or why would people consider investing in the stock market –which they have absolutely no control over- hoping to get a 5-6% return rather than paying off their credit card debt is beyond my understanding.

You see so many people that are making decent money, yet they are constantly in financial trouble.  They buy a house and they get into a 30 year mortgage.  They immediately call themselves “home owners” and consider their house their “greatest asset.”  Well, I have news for you: the bank owns your house, if you don’t pay your mortgage, the bank will re-possess your house and short-sell it to someone else all the while, you get nothing, own nothing, your credit score is shattered, and you need to find another house to live… However, most people will still buy a house larger than they can afford and are overly thrilled with their new “asset” and “home owner” experience.  And I use buying a house as an example since it is the most important purchasing decision in many people’s lives, but the same applies to buying cars, boats, expensive trips, or any other thing that you just put on credit.  Until you have paid it off, you don’t own it; it’s that simple.  Not understanding that or the basic difference between an asset and a liability is just the result of poor or non-existent financial education.

I see that you don’t race as much as you used to when I was little.  Did you get tired of that?

I’m not sure if I got tired of it, I think I still like it.  But at the same time, there are other things in life that I like just as much or even more now.  You must always evolve as a human being.  Part of your growth is learning when to unload certain aspects of your life to make room for other aspects that have become more relevant at a later time.  That may include new goals, relationships, beliefs, philosophies, hobbies, etc.

Team MGR Racing at PKRAWhen you started to like karting 4-5 years ago, I realized that it would be a great opportunity for me to spend more time with you, teaching you everything I know about racing and having a lot of fun in the process.  At the same time, I have raced cars for almost 20 years and I have very little more to prove.  I’m not aspiring to go into F1 or any other professional series, but at the same time, I’ve already achieved a certain level of success at the local and regional level.  So, I decided that rather than spending weekends out of town by myself racing at some far away racetrack, now I have more satisfaction if I spend a few weekends at a local track karting with you.  To me, that’s a much better use of my time right now, and I really enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed driving a racecar a few years ago.

Is that why you always say the “Time” is your most important asset and that it bothers you more to lose time than to lose money?

Well, I wouldn’t generalize it like that.  Both bother me.  But the truth is that, at least at my current age and stage in my life, if I lose $100, I’m temporarily upset but I know that I can always recover or earn that amount of money again somehow down the road.  Or even if I don’t, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.  However, when it comes to time, that’s not something that you can “recover” or earn back once you’ve lost it.  At some point in your life, you realize that Time (not money) becomes a much more valuable and “irreplaceable” asset, so you become much more conscious about how you spend your time each day.  That’s why I keep nagging you when you spend so much time playing video games or watching TV.  You don’t value your time so much now since you’re fifteen, but trust me, once you get older, you will not want to waste time doing nothing… you will never get that time back!

Who were your heroes when you were growing up?

My dad of course, your grandfather, was and still is my greatest hero.  I mean, he was a jet fighter pilot for the Spanish Air Force, what more can you ask for?  I grew up living in different cities and always around Air Force bases surrounded by fighter planes and seeing your grandpa flying them every day!  That’s as cool as it gets!

I’ll never forget one summer being at the beach with my friends.  Grandpa had called me earlier in the morning from the base saying that he would do a “fly-by” over the beach at noon just to say “Hi.”  So, this is when I was about 11 years old.  I told my buddies that my dad was going to fly-by in a Mirage III jet, capable of Mach 2 speed around noon.  Of course, they wouldn’t believe me.  But sure enough, at noon, you could see two fighter planes rapidly approaching from the horizon, just a few feet above the ocean, head-on towards the shore… and towards us, flying super-fast!…  and just like that, they were right above us, thundering engine noise, on a steep climb to clear the mountain behind the beach and disappearing behind it!  Seeing my friends’ faces after that was worthy of a selfie!  Too bad we didn’t have smartphones back then!  Needless to say, I became very popular among my friends after that.

But aside from the cool factor, grandpa became my real hero once I grew up and I was able to better understand all the great sacrifices that he made for his children throughout his life.  With time, I was able to assimilate all his lessons and to put into practice the proper life values that he passed on to his children.  And because of that, today our family, your aunt, your uncle, myself, we’re even closer together now that when we grew up under the same roof.  That’s his legacy.

Ok, this is my last question.  Like you always ask me: What are you going to change about yourself in the next weeks, months…  to make you a better person?

I like that!  Great question buddy!  In truth, I ask that question myself almost every day.  In my mind, I’m constantly changing.  Not major changes but small adjustments towards what I think will lead me to a happier and more successful life, better relationships, attitude, etc.  This is almost like we do in racing when you are constantly making some minor tweaks to both, your driving style and the racecar, trying to go a tenth of a second faster here and there.  I try the same thing in my everyday life. I learn something new every day, meet new people every day, read new books, etc.  Even talking with you inspires me all the time!  All of these experiences lead me to try and “fine tune” aspects of my life to make it better for me and for others.

For example, I’ve noticed over the years that as people progress financially and professionally, it is easy to become less compassionate.  You tend to see the world based on your own perspective without considering other people’s experiences.  For me, it becomes more challenging to separate MGR the business owner from MGR (or Manuel) the person.  A good leader is supposed to be somehow immune to other people’s problems or pains in order to be able to make the most rational business decisions without being affected by feelings.   But you can’t separate your feelings all the time.  You shouldn’t.  You also need to be compassionate.  Compassion allows you to understand other people’s problems and see what is causing them pain and do something to make that person feel better.  A good leader needs to consider compassion as a critical management factor, a necessary ingredient.  That’s why I always consider and treat our MGR team like family.

In the end, my ultimate goal is not just to be happy myself, but to make everyone around me happy too.  And that involves family, our MGR team, my friends, clients, giving back, contributing, etc.  Today, I find much more satisfaction and happiness when I ‘give’ than when I ‘receive’ and that’s something that I want continue doing as much as I can.

I’ve learned that happiness is not something that you can chase.  That approach usually leads to disappointment.  It’s much better to pursue your passions, do the things that you like, hang out with the people you love, and happiness will just take care of itself.

Ok Papá, I think I’ve taken enough of your time, that’s all I have for today!

Great job buddy!  Now let’s go have some fun!

“All my life I have only been as good as my associates, and in them I have found my good luck, my fortune.”

Conrad Hilton