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How my Navy SEAL failures later built my planning career

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I’m fortunate to be celebrating two professional milestones this year.

This summer, my wife Kristen and I opened a wealth management practice, 994 Group, in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, in October, I will be promoted to rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.

People often ask me how I’ve been able to progress this far in both my civilian and military careers. The parallels are closer than you might think.

I have served as a reserve officer since I finished active duty in 1995. This service has entailed a few lengthy deployments to the Persian Gulf and countless short-term missions lasting one to four weeks — all in addition to the one-weekend-a-month drills for which reservists are also known.

For the past 10 years, I also ran a consulting group for one of the largest asset managers in the world. We supported clients (primarily large brokerage firms and financial advisors) with education and insight to improve their businesses.

Building a business and gathering clients is hard, and failure is an ongoing theme in the process.

The Navy has a clear vision, strategy, goals and mission, and that’s where the parallels between my two careers begin. These elements are all key tenets of long-term success for any organization, including wealth management firms. The Navy’s values support strong leaders who inspire others. As an advisor, I directly leverage my Navy leadership and management skills to maximize my team’s engagement and impact.

The failures I experienced in the Navy are also equally defining.

When I was younger, I was initially rejected for NROTC scholarships and did not get accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. Only after three attempts did I finally receive a two-year NROTC scholarship. After graduating from Villanova, I entered Navy SEAL training — a program notorious for failing dramatically more sailors than passing. After six months and numerous setbacks, I too was dismissed from the program. Heartbroken and distraught, I transferred into the surface Navy with renewed grit and determination.

The stubborn persistence that enabled me to prevail in my naval career, especially in those early days, culminated in a formula I’ve used to strive for success amidst failure.

  • Who is your nightingale? It’s said that a nightingale only sings if it hears another nightingale. We need mentor “nightingales” to help us sing in life. This is an important question to evaluate self-awareness and determine whom you can count on for honest coaching and insight.

  • What is your mission? This question can help you clarify what precisely you are trying to accomplish and your goals to achieve it.
  • Are you a Lincoln? President Lincoln’s will preserved the union. This question can help you discern your commitment and will to persist through difficulty.

In starting 994 Group, Kristen and I use this formula on an ongoing basis.

Building a business and gathering clients is hard, and failure is an ongoing theme in the process. Throughout both my military and civilian careers, I’ve gained tremendous respect for people who not only demonstrate personal perseverance, but also support and coach others to do the same.

This perspective is one of the reasons Kristen and I decided we wanted to work directly with clients, and to guide their journey through life’s joyful and challenging experiences. The Navy has transformed not only my life, but also Kristen’s, and it is now our shared mission to transform the lives of the clients whom we are honored to serve.

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