Standing 330 meters above the ground, I tried my best to keep my composure and breathe deep into my belly. Every cell in my body was diametrically opposed to the idea of me falling face-first toward the ground at the speed of 9.8 m/s — but that is exactly what I had signed up to do. The view was breathtaking, but I didn’t register any of it. My mind was singularly gripped with the present possibility of death. Would I have a moment of spiritual realisation and clarity as I hurtled toward the ground?
I inched toward the end of the platform. The count. The push. The entire mass of planet earth pulling me toward it, calling for my death. Plummeting at a speed unimagined.
As I fell, there was no spiritual realisation, only my embarrassing cries of fear like a frightened child. And then it was all over.
After my nerves had calmed, I thought about what I had just done. I had just jumped off a 233 meter tall structure with nothing but a cord around my feet. But… how?
After talking through it with a friend who had accompanied me to witness my lunacy, I realised that the only way that it was possible for me to do the bungee jump was for me to have faith in the system. Although I only had a very casual knowledge of the physics and mechanics of the bungee jump, I had enough faith in the system to entrust my life with it. Viewed from one perspective, this is absolute insanity. A death wish. If I don’t even understand it, why would I trust it with my life?
But on the other hand, isn’t this something that we do on a day-to-day basis anyway? When we get into a plane, we have faith that somehow the airborne mass of tube-shaped metal and crude oil petroleum will safely get us to our destination. So much so that we can watch a chick-flick and pass out in our seats. Even with something as simple as drinking a glass of water, we need faith in the water distillation system which we might not fully understand to filter out any poisons that might destroy us.
As humans, we have no choice but to live by faith. It is impossible for us to fully understand everything and assess all risks before taking any form of action. Every time we get into a car, take a bite of food, make a bank transfer or even send an email, we make a split second subconscious decision whether to put faith in the system or not.
So what determines whether a system merits our faith? It goes without saying that not all systems are created equal, and definitely not all systems should be trusted.
As far as our daily choices go, there are two subconscious criteria for systems selection:
1. The system has a consistent track record of success and;
2. The system is widely trusted by other people
Generally speaking, if it seems to work consistently and other people are doing it, we trust it to work for us with or without our understanding of how. I trusted the Macau Tower Bungee Jump because it had an unbroken track record of success (people jumping and NOT dying) for thousands of people in the past. If bungee jumping was a new concept and I was the first to do it, my faith in the system would have faltered, to say the least.
Ideally, both criteria are met. But sometimes, we’ll settle for just one and not the other.
By and large, our lives are a constant unconscious repetition of these 3 steps:
1. Identifying a desired result
2. Selecting a system to deliver that result based on the above criteria
3. Executing the process according to the system
Whether you’re trying to jump off a 233m tower and remain alive or build a submarine, we very rarely do something that is completely original. Chances are that somebody has already done what you want to do consistently, and has established a system for achieving that result. In theory, this 3-step process can be applied to achieving a goal of any magnitude, large and small. This process is incredibly effective and automatic, and serves us very well to get us through our day to day tasks.
This is Why Blind Men Don’t Rule the World (or Succeed in Real Estate)
However, it starts to get unnecessarily obscured when it comes to achieving bigger and longer-term goals. This is because the bigger the task, the more we tend to conceptualise it as separate components instead of a singular whole.
This is best illustrated by the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Not having encountered an elephant before, blind men feel different parts of the giant animal, each coming to different conclusions. They get into an argument, not realising that they are all part-truths.
Failing to see the entire elephant and only recognising its separate components, these blind men will never be able to implement a system to guide and control the whole animal.
We are not so different from the blind men. When it comes to larger projects in our lives such as building a business or creating wealth through real estate over decades, we become overwhelmed and fail to recognise any overarching proven system that governs the results produced.
We then become overwhelmed and lose ourselves in the details, which leads to confusion, frustration and the eventual forfeiture. In our own way, we remain blind.
The leaders of the world in business and politics are not people who are somehow special and unique. While most people only recognise the part of the world they immediately occupy like the blind men, political leaders and captains of industry have simply opened their eyes to see the world as one unit and see the systems that govern it. Only then can they manipulate the variables of the system and exert an impact on the world that can seem superhuman to the average person who remains blind.
This is why (figurative) blind men don’t rule the world.
Resources and Systems for Building a Real Estate Empire
One of the best resources I’ve come across that points to the elephant in the room (OK, enough elephant metaphors) is a book called “The Millionaire Real Estate Investor” by Gary Keller, Dave Jenkins and Jay Papasan. The book presents a clear multi-decade system that clearly meets the basic criteria for systems selection. It has a proven record, and undeniable social proof. This is not the place to go into the details of the system (I’ll do a separate post on it later), but don’t just take my word for it. Read the book.
Although the authors of the book do not explicitly state this, the principles of the system are generally aligned with those of value investing. Combining these two, I have a clear intended result that I want to produce and a proven overarching system to deliver the outcome. The final, and perhaps the most important step is for me to have faith in the system and consistently execute over the long term.
Even if at one point you open your eyes and see the whole elephant, it’s easy to get sucked back into the details and forget. That’s why I come back to the book and read it at least once a year. For any real estate entrepreneur who want a reminder of the fundamental principles, I can’t recommend this book enough.
Truth is, I’m probably preaching to the choir. If you’re reading this, you probably already knew that to succeed with real estate investing in the long-term, you need to find a long-term system that supports your goals and implement it.
However, before I was a real estate investor, I was first a real estate agent. When I spoke to people who were looking to buy property, I realised that most people don’t have a long-term systemic concept when it comes to investing in real estate. Generally speaking, they see each property as being a separate event (seeing the component, not the whole), and the only long-term plan they have is to hope that it goes up in value over time. Given that the property could be the largest purchase of someone’s life, it was disheartening to see it be made with their eyes shut and so little context.
I wrote this article with the hope that it could give at least one person the understanding that there are systems that can be followed to grow your real estate portfolio over the long term, and point them toward at least one resource that has helped me personally. If you know someone who could benefit from this information, please pass this article on. Alternatively, you could hand them a copy of “The Millionaire Real Estate Investor”.