Set the Right Goals for You

I think this is my favourite chapter in the book because it nicely brings together almost everything we've been talking about so far. And if I had to pick my top principle or “tip” – the one that I felt was the most vital to your success in life and business – it would be this one. If you don't pick the right goals for you – that suit your skills, that you feel passion for, that will make you proud – then everything else is a bit of a waste of time. No amount of planning, or due diligence, or shifting of your perspective will make your life or business better if you have chosen the wrong goals for you!

A big part of having “perspective” is being able to see yourself truthfully; having a really deep knowledge about exactly who you are, and honouring that without trying to be the person someone else wants you to be. We are all different. Not everyone needs to achieve the same things in life. I was lucky that I knew what was right for me quite early on.

But there is a difference between what you want and what you are suited to; what you have the skills to be. I would have loved to be a professional footballer, but did I really have skills that could have competed with the top professional players out there? Because being a third-rate professional footballer would not have suited me. I am ambitious and want to be the best at what I do, even if that means being a big fish in a small pond.

And would I have been happy just playing football all day, every day? Would I have been happy on the road every weekend, being away from my family all the time? Definitely not. For the same reason, I knew that I wanted to base my business close to home, so that I could take my kids to school regularly.

I think I am very well suited to the responsibility of building and running a business, but I know that what I do would not be right for everyone.

It's wise to remember all of this when you become a parent, too. You may have an idea of what might be right for your child, but they are also an individual and have their own perspective.

Everyone was raving about the film Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. The film portrayed a mother who was completely set against her son marrying a particular girl, because the girl was from the wrong background. The mother felt she knew what was best for her son, but she wasn't viewing things from his perspective, she was viewing everything from her perspective; in other words, what she wanted for her son. She risked losing her son by not accepting his choices.

If you try to impose your perspective on your children, you risk losing them. That's a very important lesson that every parent should learn. Obviously, you can tell your child what your thoughts and concerns are, but ultimately you have to let them make their own choices. Don't push something on your child that they definitely don't want; it's their life!

I feel that this is particularly relevant in Asian families, where there is this huge pressure to be traditional and ambitious. Really old-fashioned Chinese families can be extremely pushy. Obviously, my parents put a little pressure on me, but nothing that I felt disregarded my own thoughts and feelings. My dad would have loved it if I'd become a doctor, because that was his dream, but I knew a career in medicine wasn't right for me. Ultimately, he completely supported my choices. My mum was very happy that I took my accountancy qualifications and would have preferred me to stay in a good, secure salaried job; but once I had my back-up plan in place (getting my qualifications and experience in banking), I knew I had to follow my dream of becoming a businessman and entrepreneur. But even then I had perspective; when I was building my property portfolio, I would never have said, categorically, “This is how you make money.” I know that property (development, ownership and management of) is not for everyone.

Don't let anyone else impose their idea of success onto you. You find out what's right for you and follow that. Other people love to give you advice. But it's easy for them to give advice when it's not their money or reputation on the line. You should always listen to other people's opinions, but filter them through your knowledge. No one knows you and your business better than you. No one else is standing in your shoes. No one knows what is right for you better than you.

Find your own path in life; do what's right for you.

Doctors and Nurses

We all played at being doctors and nurses when we were young, or some game where we played a fantasy role. When you're a kid, you want to try out everything. But as we get older, we know what we would and would not be suited to. Not everyone could be a brain surgeon – I'm not sure I'd have the ability to poke around in someone's head! We're not all suited to becoming dentists, or teachers, or politicians (especially these days – can you imagine having every word that comes out of your mouth recorded and analysed and judged on social media!).

And not everyone is suited to grow and run a multimillion-pound business.

This is a good thing. If we were all trying to do the same job, the world wouldn't work at all. So, it's important to figure out what you are good at and what you enjoy, and then choose your own career path. For some people, this comes to them pretty quickly. For others, it can take longer. Some people know exactly what they want to do from a very early age and never waver from it. And that's a good thing – they tend to be our doctors and firemen and architects, professions that require rock solid commitment. Some people spend their whole lives not knowing exactly what they want to do, but stumble across ideas and become our most fascinating and creative artists – and even entrepreneurs. We need those people, too. Life wouldn't work if we were all the same. It's important to get clarity on who you are and what you want. Don't ever let someone else dictate that for you or you could end up feeling very dissatisfied with life.

I knew, from an early age, that I wanted to be successful in business. I probably didn't have investment banking and mortgage brokering in my sights specifically (I wouldn't have known what they were when I was growing up) but I knew I wanted to be in business, and that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Investment banking, along with the qualifications I needed to get on that career path, was an ideal route to what I wanted.

My determination to do something that created wealth was definitely motivated by watching my parents struggle. I wanted to make them proud of me, and to help them out, financially. I knew it would take a lot of hard work, but I was prepared to do what it took; I knew I could handle that journey.

For me, making money was never a single goal; I also wanted to do something I enjoyed – and I genuinely enjoy making deals and adding value to people's lives. I love the buzz. I enjoy the challenge of building an empire. When I was growing up, one of my favourite games was Monopoly. It was only natural that I wanted to continue doing that with real houses! But I'm also a people person; I didn't want to work on my own. I like being part of a community of business-minded people. I enjoy working with people and I have a passion for inspiring people. At school I was always the organizer of events, the go-to ringleader, the one planning all the parties. It was almost frustrating that no one else did it, but perhaps that was because they knew they could count on me; I was too good at what I did!

When people ask me, “Did you ever envisage having a company you built with almost 200 people working for you?” I say, “Yes!” No one does this accidentally!

Do Your Due Diligence on You

Before you do your due diligence on any potential project, your first job is to carry out due diligence on yourself! This involves looking closely at all your strengths and weaknesses and assessing what they could be best applied to. Don't compare yourself to others who don't have the same attributes as you. We are not all the same. And we are constantly evolving, so this is an ongoing process. Taking stock of who you are, and what you want to apply your skills to, at regular intervals throughout your life, can reveal shifts over time. Be fluid.

We all have more opportunities than ever these days. But meritocracy is a double-edged sword. While everyone has the same opportunities, thanks to the availability of information on the Internet and access to massive online markets, this means that competition goes up too… even more reason for finding your own small niche and figuring out your unique skills. Everyone is different, so try not to compare yourself too much to anyone else. That includes me. One of my goals with this book is to ensure it isn't another “this is how to become me” motivational book. Rather it is a “how to be the best you” motivational book. A lot of people write books about their journey, assuming everyone has the same skills as them. What I'm saying with this book is: work hard but focus on your strengths; they could be completely different from mine. Try things out whenever and however you can. You might think that you wouldn't be any good at managing people. But if you get the opportunity – even if only for a short time – try it out to check if it fits. Part of your due diligence on yourself is to try out situations that might seem like they wouldn't be right for you, in order to get to know yourself better.

Give Everything a Go

There is actually no better way of getting to know yourself, and testing yourself, than setting up your own business. When you set up a business from the ground up, you have to master every aspect of that business in the first instance, before you can afford to delegate it to someone else. The administration involved in a setting up and running a business is endless. As I did, you have to learn everything about owning a company on the legal and financial side. You have to understand sales, HR, compliance, etc. You have to be able to plan and budget. It's not for the faint hearted! I have big departments taking care of every aspect of my business now, and I can say to every one of them “I have done your job.” I pass on to my team all the due diligence I did when I was doing their jobs.

When I started out, I was brokering one or two mortgages a week. I had to learn how to get those leads, using marketing and selling techniques. I had to do all the admin associated with those deals. I had to learn all my compliance so that I was operating within a regulated framework. I had to do the IT side (that would normally be done by the “back office” of a large company) and work out how to automate the processes and make them slick. I had to master the accounts associated with a mortgage application and offer which, even for me – a qualified accountant – took some time to get completely fluid with.

If you only like one side of a business operation – for example, you love doing sales, but you hate admin work – then running a business is probably not the best fit for you. Go and be part of someone else's business and be their star salesperson in the area that suits you best. Or, for example, some people are excellent accountants but lack people management skills. They are best suited to being accountants (in house or freelance). Obviously, most CEOs are going to have a good grasp of accountancy, but it doesn't necessarily work the other way around.

You are only suited to setting up your own business if you feel you can be good at, and master, every side of a business operation. To start and run a successful business, you need to be multi skilled and good at multitasking. It's all a big juggling game!

Testing Your Appetite for Risk

Setting up your own business carries a big dose of risk, so you will really need to test your appetite for that. There are many questions you have to ask yourself. How are you going to cover yourself, financially? Do you have a family you are supporting? How would you support them if your business failed? Can you live without luxuries and benefits, such as holidays and health insurance? You might have to sacrifice these until your business becomes successful enough to afford them.

My appetite for risk is that of an astute entrepreneur. I didn't start my business until I knew I had a safety net. I had invested enough in growing my property portfolio to know that, if my business failed, I could liquidize some of my assets in order to support my family. I also ensured I had an impressive resumé before I struck out on my own, so that I would be able to secure a good job down the line if my business collapsed or if I discovered that running a business wasn't right for me.

Being Patient

I have always been a naturally patient person. This is a good thing because I knew I would need patience in order to achieve my ultimate goals. I was always aware of the qualifications that were required to build a successful financial services business, and the life experience I would need. I started my property portfolio at the age of 21, but I didn't start my business until later. I wanted to get all my ducks in a row first. I wouldn't say I am “risk averse.” You can't really build a business if you're not prepared to take risks. But I'm not reckless. I take calculated risks. I make sure I do my due diligence in order to reduce my risks. Everything is a risk when you set up a business. Leaving your job is a risk. As you grow your business, you take more risks. Going into new markets is a risk. But the more due diligence you do, the more you reduce risk.

At each stage of the process, as I built my business, I checked in with myself and asked myself if I was happy and if everything was going the way I wanted. I had to feel happy with where I was at, even if there were obstacles I needed to overcome. You can never avoid setbacks altogether. There will always be pain. You just need to develop a thick skin. You have to believe it is all going to be worth it in the end. I think if I'd ever hit an obstacle and felt it wasn't right, that it wasn't worth the pain it would take to get over it, I would have changed direction.

You have to get out of your comfort zone in order to move forward, but you have to be able to see ahead, to the next place where you know you will feel comfortable again, and say, “It's worth suffering temporarily in order to get to that next stage.” I've met plenty of people who started similar companies to me, but they didn't want to grow to the size I wanted to get to. They wanted smaller operations. They didn't want the HR headaches, and the increased regulations and compliance. Some people will always be more comfortable with smaller businesses. I've just had slightly bigger goals – and the vision to match them. Having said that, I have also met people who are massively more “successful” than me, who have much bigger companies. But that level would never be comfortable for me because I wouldn't want to make the sacrifices (such as not spending enough time with my children) that I know that level would require.

Bigger does not always mean better. You just get different challenges at each level, and they need to be challenges that you are comfortable with. Building a business is not for everyone. For some people, the security of a pay cheque will always beat the thrill of building a business. They don't relish the added risk of building a business. This is great. If these people didn't exist, I wouldn't have anyone working for me! And some people only want a smaller, lifestyle business. That's okay, too. We are all different.

The key to your success and happiness is finding out what is right for you and honouring that.

Being Flexible

Even when you know what you want, you need to be flexible. When I was offered the opportunity to get into investment banking, even though it wasn't directly what I wanted, I could see the huge advantage of getting experience in that world.

My best advice to you is: get clear on what you want, put it out there, and then listen to the ways in which life guides you. Grasp unexpected opportunities, try them out, gather experience and knowledge; they may not seem obviously related to what you want, but you never know how valuable those experiences could be to you further down the line.

When I got the opportunity to work at UBS, I discovered two hugely important things. I knew I wanted to have a career in that financial world – I loved the buzz of travelling into the city and getting off at Liverpool Street and mingling with other “suited-and-booted” bankers – at that young age, it made me feel important and powerful; but I also knew I didn't want to work for a huge corporation for the next 30 years. Much as I loved the city, I wouldn't have wanted to work there while raising a family. I knew I would want to be heavily involved in my future children's lives on a regular basis. I love being able to do the school run regularly and going to watch all their sporting events. I couldn't be doing that if I was still working for UBS from dawn until night Monday to Friday.

When I look back, I realize that working for UBS was a huge catalyst for me: it opened a door to the rest of my life. That and the first property I bought for such a huge discount in Wimbledon were my two lucky breaks. And I regularly refer to these things when I talk to people about my journey in life and business. Even though investment banking got a very bad name during the credit crunch, I still talk about the value of my experience with pride. A few bad people gave a solid industry a bad name!

While you should know yourself and what is right for you, you can still be flexible within that. I can't say I knew I was going to be running a mortgage brokerage, per se, at this point in my life. I knew I wanted to start my own company, but it was my growing interest in property that got me interested in mortgages, which I specialized in before branching out into other financial services. As new experiences and opportunities came my way, little things shaped and pushed me in a certain direction, nudging me to where I would end up.

Stay focused but stay open. What you want today might not be what you want tomorrow. You have not “failed” if you change your goals.

Your Time Is Precious; Use It Wisely

The younger you are, the better. Try as much as you can. Youth is your opportunity to try things out and see what suits you. As you get older, you become more focused. By 50, you tend to know, pretty much for certain, what you like. But you are never too old to set new ambitious goals. As far as we know for sure, you only get one life; squeeze every drop out of it! I believe you're never too old to set up a business or try a new skill. Indeed, because you know yourself so much better when you're older, you're more likely to choose goals that really suit you. I think that's why people can suddenly get very successful when they take up new challenges later in life. You become more aware of mortality and you realize life is finite. You get more focused. You make the most of every day. You appreciate every moment. You take nothing for granted.

When you're 25, you can't really imagine being 45. But when you are approaching 45, the end of your life seems to be arriving with alarming speed and you can imagine yourself at any age. I know I don't want to be working this hard when I'm 55. I love life too much. I want to travel more and spend a lot of time with my family. Life is short. My children may end up living in other places in the world. I want to be around them to watch their successes in life. I want freedom. I have to plan for that now. That desire now colours every goal I set, every decision I make.

Whatever you do choose, just go for it; make the commitment to try something out. Make a decision and follow it through. The lessons you learn through failing are far greater than the ones you learn through succeeding. The only thing you should never do is nothing! Think… plan… then do! Too many people get stuck on the “think” and “plan” parts.

Don't procrastinate!

A big part of knowing which goals are the right ones for you is knowing how many goals you can realistically work towards at the same time. Don't set too many goals at the same time (remember what happens when you push too many trolleys!). It's important that you identify the value in achieving your goals; if you set too many, you won't achieve any and could get disheartened.

Setting goals that motivate you comes right back to identifying what is right for you, and this includes working out why something is of value to you. You set goals to motivate you, not because they are right for someone else. For some people, university is right; for others, it's not. For some people, job security is what they want; for others, life is boring without risk and change. Ultimately, you must set the goals that you will enjoy once you achieve them. For example, you may want to get into investment banking, but you don't want to do an economics degree because you excel at languages and would get a better grade in a language degree. Well you don't necessarily need an economics degree to get into investment banking. You are better off spending your time at university doing something you enjoy (such as languages) and thus getting a better grade. You can do all the necessary qualifications once you get offered a place on the graduate programme. You will never be motivated to complete something unless you enjoy it.

You need to enjoy the process. Through my worst moments, I have still stated that I enjoy building a business. Everyone has bad days and setbacks, but you have to enjoy the journey to get to your goals. What matters most is that you do set goals.

Five Out of Eight Ain't Bad

I know myself well enough, now, to set the right goals for me – goals that suit my skills, my stage in life and business, and that I can comfortably achieve without completely burning myself out. I have done one of my spidergrams every year for a long time now and I would say, on average, I achieve five or six of my eight goals, which is a pretty decent rate. Anything above five is good for me. If you are achieving all eight with ease, you are probably setting goals that aren't hard enough (you'll remember I almost achieved all eight in 2018, so I might need to get tougher on myself soon!) If you are only achieving two or three, you are being too ambitious, you are not setting goals achievable for you.

Having said all that, no matter how careful you are, no one can get all their goals spot on, all the time. I do carry forward my goals sometimes, when I haven't achieved them in the year I set them. I had the goal to buy a “midlife-crisis car” on my list for three years before I finally got it. I had never had a fancy car; I'd always bought practical cars. I rarely treat myself; I'm not that extravagant. For example, I don't generally travel in first class. But I finally felt, as I hit 40, that I needed to do something flashy for me. So I finally got a BMWi8 last year.

I think it's important to make some of your goals fun, frivolous ones. Because it's not just about the car or whatever material object you set as your goal to own; it's about the achievement, about the fact that you can do it.

I always buy my cars outright; I think financing is “cheating” and it also creates “bad debt.” I only have mortgage debt, what we consider “good debt”, and only on my investment properties where I am making a positive return on my investment. If I took debt on furniture, or computers or cars, it would be bad debt because those things depreciate fast. “Good debt” is when you have debt on something that is working for you. If you are borrowing money at 2% on a property, but you are getting a rental yield of 5–6%, then this is good debt. (You are also making money, as your capital investment in the property goes up with the long-term rising property market.) If you buy a car and you are borrowing at 4% interest rate, you lose money because you will end up paying more for that car than it was ever worth (while its resale value goes down).

When you are goal setting, avoid anything that you can't control yourself. You can't pursue things that are governed by external factors or other people's decisions, like “win an award.” But that doesn't rule out things that you aren't in control of but you can work towards achieving. For example, if you want a promotion, although you are not in direct control of that, you are entitled to say to your manager, “What do I have to do to achieve a promotion?” If you then do those things and you don't get the promotion, you need to go back and ask why.

No Magic Formula

Goal setting is an ongoing process. When you start to achieve your goals, you don't stand still – you have to set new goals. For example, it is now my goal to make this book successful. I now have the same passion and vision for this book as I had in the early days of building my company. My ultimate hope is that this book gives people inspiration to set new goals, the right ones for them, or continued confirmation that they are on the right path. You can use this book to measure your position and progress. When you check yourself against the experiences of someone else, it gives you perspective. You can assess whether you are on the right path.

And sometimes, even when you know you are on the right path, you need to be challenged. Don't stay in a safe place for too long. Take a leap of faith on something, even when you can't necessarily see the outcome.

But there is no magic formula. I can't tell you that everything will work out, just because you know you're on the right path and you took a leap of faith. Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Take the hit, bank the experience and move on!

Why, Why, Why?

Remember to keep the focus on why you want the things you want, not just what you want. Knowing your “why” will always help to keep you focused. How is each goal relevant to your objective? You can't guarantee happiness, but you can work towards it. The most important thing is to be happy in yourself. If you're not fundamentally happy in yourself, external things won't help. Success can be very short-lived if you don't feel at peace with yourself. Don't rely on the idea that some particular dream is going to make you happy. If you're not happy, look for the things that are making you unhappy and change them.

Everyone's “why” is different; your “why” will be different to my “why.” For some people, their “why” is their family, for others it is human progress on a grander scale. I think Richard Branson and Elon Musk's “whys” are different from my “why.” I think they are more motivated by making a difference to the world on a very big scale. I am more motivated by making a difference to my family and the families of my team.

You need to understand your “why” so that you can set the right goals for you. If your “why” is pure greed for yourself, your motivation won't last too long. If your “why” is to change the world, your motivation is going to be endless!

This flags up an essential distinction between ambition and greed that we will look at in the next chapter.

Ultimately, you need a huge amount of awareness to be truly successful in life. Stay aware of what is right for you, know exactly what makes you feel happy. Check your mindset is positive. Look at the pitfalls you generally encounter and find solutions. Don't set your bar too low or too high. Stretch yourself; but give yourself a good chance of succeeding. No one likes to be out of their comfort zone, but contentment doesn't move you forward. It's a nice place to sit for a while, but you do, eventually, have to get up and get going on new challenges. Listen to those around you, but ultimately listen to your own gut and do what is right for you! In other words, don't borrow other people's goals, always make your own. It's okay not to know what your goals are yet. You'll find out if you keep searching. And don't ever be afraid to say, when you have tried something out for while, “This is not what I want, I want to change.” Don't quit because it's hard work, because all goals are hard work – whether running a marathon or building a business. But it is okay to make changes to your goals if you don't feel they are right for you anymore.

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