What Jürgen Klinsmann Can Teach You About Personal Finance

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The man, the myth, the soccer coach

“We want to start them thinking that they’re responsible for their own career.”
–Jürgen Klinsmann

For those of you who do not know who Jürgen Klinsmann is, he’s the coach of the United States men’s national soccer team. He was one of Germany’s premier strikers and the lead striker in their 1990 World Cup victory. After he took over the United States soccer team in July, 2011, he set about to change the attitude of the soccer team. I was thrilled that he’d taken over. I saw him in the 1990 World Cup and watched him coach Germany in the 2006 World Cup, and was excited to see him bring his magic to the U.S. Yes, I am a soccer nut…I even wrote an unsolicited letter to the first pick in the 2013 MLS Draft!

Herr Klinsmann, ich bin ein großer Fan!

As this excellent Wall Street Journal article describes, Klinsmann took over a team that was still resting on the laurels of its World Cup performance nine and a half years earlier and had come to accept mediocrity in their results. Even for stars like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, their current performance levels are, in Klinsmann’s eyes, not good enough. This has come as quite a surprise and a shock to some of the players, who were used to accepting good but not great results under previous regimes.

What are some lessons that we can apply from Klinsi?


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There is always another level. If you one day reach the highest level then you’ve got to confirm it, every year.

  • If you’re in a job where you’re doing just well enough to not get fired, then one day you will get fired. For years and years, the United States ran under a reasonable assumption that we had a vast lead on the rest of the world and that our economy would continue to grow and to churn out great numbers. With the flattening of the world via technology, this is no longer the case. Current unemployment and underemployment numbers show that “just good enough” is no longer good enough. Every employee is responsible, in some way, for top and bottom line performance of their employer, and they must act that way. Ask yourself every day how you provided value to your employer and always strive to improve it that much more. The thought of improving your performance can be daunting, but it is always possible to improve. If Gates, Jobs, Buffett, or Zuckerberg aren’t at the top of their games, then you certainly can’t be at the top of yours.
  • Thinking that you’re doing enough in your personal life. The same applies for your personal life as it does for your professional life. In fact, I should probably reverse the order of these two points, as, to me, it’s your personal life which feeds into your professional life. Have you ever tried to work with someone who didn’t have everything aligned in their home life? The performance usually suffered, didn’t it? Understand your priorities in life. Align your time, effort, intention, and energy to those priorities. Truly be present when you are with people and focus your energies on them. What you receive in return will be more than fulfilling and replenishing. Be critical about how you spend your time. Does sitting in front of the TV flipping through channels really fulfill you as much as doing something else could? I’m not suggesting all work and no play and that there should be no down time in your life, but I am suggesting having intentionality with what you do.

If you take a week off as a programmer at Apple, you missed the train, you lost the job.

  • Act as if someone is about to surpass you because if you don’t, they probably are. Companies that have high expectations of their employees, such as Apple and Google, get good results out of them. There are many other factors involved, but, if you don’t set high standards, nobody is going to try to reach out and achieve them. Set high standards for yourself both in your professional and your personal life. Ask yourself what you can be doing better and then take real steps to achieve them.
  • It takes a long time to recover from a big mistake. Truly taking a week off and mailing it in at Apple would be a big mistake. It might even get you labeled and make it a lot more difficult to get a job afterwards. You’d have a lot of explaining to do. Furthermore, you’d have lost a job at Apple. What programmer wouldn’t want to work for Apple (unless, of course, you work for OpenSource Connections, the best Solr consultancy in the universe, in which case, you’d be crazy to go to Apple)? You’d have looked the gift horse in the mouth, and it will most certainly take a long time to recover yourself back to an equivalent position. The same holds true for your financial life. Borrowing from your 401(k) fund to pay for a vacation, running up a huge credit card bill in a short amount of time, or signing up for some bad loan or insurance product can set you back a long way and take a long time to recover from the mistake. To quote Alastor Moody from Harry Potter, “Constant vigilance!” Think about decisions before you make them rather than letting Monkey Brain make those financial decisions for you.

This team needs to measure itself with the best out there in order to get better.

  • Don’t make yourself happy by choosing a lower standard to compare yourself to. I’m sure all of us know someone who is a total screw up in life. When times are tough or we do something that we feel foolish about, it’s easy enough to say, “Well, at least I’m not Biff,” assuming Biff is the screw up in your life. However, that’s the easy way out. Monkey Brain wants us to feel better about ourselves not through being inspirational and showing us what we can be – because, hey, that’s hard work, and work is the dirtiest four letter word in Monkey Brain’s vocabulary – but, rather, by finding something really negative to show us what we’re not. Great! You’re not Biff. Congratulations. Instead of finding a lower standard to compare yourself to, find someone whom you truly admire and respect and compare yourself to that person.
  • The good ones didn’t get there by luck. It’s easy for us to allow Monkey Brain to tell us that the successful people had their lives handed to them on a silver platter and to come up with excuses for why we can’t be as successful as those people. Those are limiting beliefs; they’re scripts that Monkey Brain comes up with to justify mediocrity. Don’t listen. 47% of the world’s millionaires are entrepreneurs. Most rich Americans are first generation wealthy, which means that they didn’t have some handout or trust fund to get them to their status. Yes, I fully believe that there is some element of luck in any success, but relying on luck alone is not a good strategy for getting ahead in life. You have to work hard and to be diligent and thoughtful in your approach to life to create as many opportunities as possible for good luck to give you a boost up.

We said the only way was we got to attack, we[‘ve] got to go forward.

  • Your debt won’t go away by itself. Credit card companies would love for you to pay the minimum payment that is stated on your bill. They’re trying to anchor you to that number, because it’s optimal for them and they want you to think that it’s optimal for you. They tell you that you can have fun today and that you can pay for it sometime later. They want you to use hyperbolic discounting. If you don’t aggressively attack your debt, you’ll eventually suffer from the downside of hedonic adaptation and think that debt is a part of your everyday life. If you’ve heard someone say that everyone has a car loan, then you’re witnessing someone who lives through that downside and has come to accept that they’re going to have a car loan. They have made that choice. You don’t want to make that choice. Be aggressive and pay off your debts, because there is no such thing as “good debt.”
  • Your retirement won’t take care of itself. In my grandmother’s time, Social Security was probably just enough to allow most retirees to make it, but nowadays, if you expect Social Security to provide your retirement money, then you’re going to need to start acquiring a taste for cat food, as Social Security payments will likely not support a lifestyle that you’re expecting or accustomed to. The reality is that nobody is going to be responsible for your retirement but you. You’re going to need to set aside money for retirement now, and if you’re questioning whether you should or could be saving more for retirement, then the answer is most likely going to be yes.

If you can live your life according to the wisdom of Jürgen Klinsmann, then you’ll probably do quite well for yourself, personally, professionally, and financially.

What do you think of his advice? Good? Too strict? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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About Jason Hull

Jason Hull is a Fort Worth financial advisor. Before becoming a Fort Worth financial planner, Jason co-founded, built, and sold a software development company. He is a CFP candidate, has a MBA from the University of Virginia, and a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is the owner of Fort Worth financial advisor Hull Financial Planning.

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