Nobody Owes You Anything: From Gardener to Entrepreneur

The average Nicaraguan is born in a shack with a dirt floor. He earns less than $15 a week.

“E,” my gardener in Nicaragua, does much better than that. But he is still, by U.S. standards, poor. Since I am in daily contact with E when I’m there, I often think about how I can help him earn more money. He wants more material goods — and who can blame him, when he sees how “well” we gringos live (in person and on television)?

Several years ago, I was tempted to give him the few thousand dollars it would have taken to make his house one of the nicest in the hamlet where he lives. But I knew from experience that it would do him no good. It would go as quickly as it came. Given money always does.

Worse, it would reinforce the very bad idea that money comes from me to him, instead of from his own labor and ingenuity.

Because I wanted E to have a nicer house and because I wanted him to understand that money represents something of value (hard work, enterprise, etc.), I gave him the opportunity to do some extra work for me.

Since he was already being paid for gardening, I told him I’d pay him considerably more on a per-hour basis than what he was making on a salary — but to earn it, he had to work in his spare time and develop more valuable skills.

He began by learning to paint and do a little carpentry. Then he learned how to do a bit of plumbing and electrical work.

About two years ago, we switched from hourly pay to job-related pay. This gave him the chance to learn how to estimate his time and write up bills and keep receipts and even to negotiate (with me!).

Today, he has the house I would have liked to give him years ago, but he got it with his own efforts. It wasn’t a gift, and he knows it.

He’s also used some of his extra earnings to build and stock a little store that sits in front of his house. His wife works there. It provides his family with a second income.

In his transformation from gardener to entrepreneur, E faced an obstacle that was greater than his lack of skills.

E went to grammar school (the only school they had) during the Sandinista years. The Sandinistas, to remind you, were Communists — so E was taught two very dumb ideas about wealth:

  • Everyone is entitled to an equal share of it. (“To each according to his needs.”)
  • Those who have more than others should give it up. (“From each according to his means.”)

These ideas move very quickly into thoughts like:

  • “It is the responsibility of my government to take care of me.”
  • “It is the responsibility of my boss and the business I work for to make me secure and financially successful.”

When E met me, the path to wealth was through Michael Masterson because Michael Masterson, his boss, had the money that E wanted. He didn’t want to have money like me. He wanted to have my money.

He saw money as a static thing. He believed that there was just so much of it in the world, and the only way to get some for himself was to get it from someone else. Since I was the only wealthy guy he knew, it made perfect sense for him to base his strategy for growing rich on “101 ways to talk Michael Masterson into giving me money.”

It is a very good feeling to know that E doesn’t feel like that anymore. I am still his biggest client, but he has done fix-it jobs for other homeowners in our community — and he has the extra income from his store.

Wrongheaded ideas about wealth are not unique to Communist countries. They exist in every country of the world, including the United States.

  • Some people think they are entitled to be taken care of by the government. The result: They spend their time applying for government handouts.
  • Others think that all the profits of a company should be distributed to its workers. The result: They’re never happy with what they earn.
  • Still others think that no one is entitled to have more money than they have. The result: They keep trying to get people they know to give them some of theirs.

None of that will make you wealthy. In fact, it will make it harder for you to acquire wealth. Every minute you spend thinking about or asking for money you didn’t earn is a minute wasted and a bad habit reinforced.

Becoming wealthy in America s not difficult if you are willing to work for it. Anyone who is willing to do what E did can enjoy a much higher income and, eventually, financial independence.

It starts with recognizing that you are responsible for your own future. You must reject every idea that is about acquiring wealth for free. That includes blaming others for your situation — however bad it may be.

The next step, as E learned, is to acquire financially valuable skills. For him, that meant painting and carpentry at first — and later, the basics of owning a business. You probably already have a financially valuable skill — something you know how to do better than just about anyone else you know. You can build on that by acquiring marketing skills. And then management, negotiating, and the other skills that made E the successful entrepreneur he is today.

But to begin, you must overcome inertia. Inertia is the enemy of every worthwhile goal.

Inertia is the reason you can’t find the time to start developing the skills that will bring you financial independence. Or the reason you start, get busy… and then forget about it. Inertia is every excuse I have ever heard from people who return to ETR’s wealth-building bootcamps year after year and tell me why they haven’t yet started turning their dreams into reality.

Inertia is the problem, and there is only one way to overcome it. That way is to take action. Some significant, positive action that will get you going, even if you are not now sure exactly where you want to go.

The Internet abounds with self-help and wealth-building programs that can guide you along the way. (At ETR, we like to think that we offer some of the best.) If you have done nothing else so far, invest in one of these services today and get started on applying the lessons you learn.

And here is where the circle connects: Action is the key, but action won’t happen until you decide that you are responsible for your success.

So repeat after me:

“My parents owe me nothing.”

“My children owe me nothing.”

“My friends owe me nothing.”

“The world owes me nothing.”

“I — and no one else — am responsible for my success.”

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]