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Don McNay

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One of the Five Reasons People Blow Their Money: Not Having a Purpose

Posted: 11/02/2012 7:31 pm

"I believe the key to happiness is someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to."
-Elvis Presley

The King had it right. If you can do the three things he outlined, you have won the lottery of life. The irony is that Presley was not able to practice what he preached.

Elvis died at age 43. At the end of his life, he didn't have a partner in love, didn't have much to do and didn't have much to look forward to. He turned to binge eating and pills to make it through the day.

Like many people, Elvis died while he was still breathing.

His life got too complicated and frazzled. He's one of the most famous and influential figures of the 20th century, but had some miserable final years. A lot of people want to be like Elvis, with the money, fame and Cadillacs, just like a lot of people want to win the lottery and live that lifestyle.

Elvis died young, like a lot of rock stars do. Most lottery winners run through their money in five years or less. I loved Elvis, but I would not trade my life for his.

When you study the wealthy people who are truly happy, most like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates used their money to give back to society. Just like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller did in the first part of the 20th century.

Ironically, Carnegie, Rockefeller and Gates did not start out as good corporate citizens. It's hard to find three people that were more hated by their competitors.

To find a version of "the happiest billionaire," my best candidate is Bill Cook.

Lots of rich people talk the talk, but Cook, who died in 2011, was one who truly made a difference. By opening a resort and casino.

Cook was a self-made billionaire, who lived in Bloomington, Indiana. He made his money in the medical device business.

He was totally unknown outside of the state of Indiana and liked it that way. He had hobbies like driving his friend John Mellencamp's tour bus. He invented his first medical device in a small apartment, moved to a small house and stayed in it for the rest of his life. He became a billionaire, but it never changed him.

Cook didn't spend much on housing, so the irony is that he sunk his money into the ultimate real estate white elephant: The West Baden and French Lick Hotels in French Lick, Indiana.

The West Baden had been a historic landmark falling on hard times and literally falling apart. The French Lick Hotel was also long in the tooth and the local unemployment rate in pre-recession 1996, shortly before the resort opened, was over 20 percent.

It was a dead facility in a dying town before Bill Cook ponied up millions to bring both the resort and city back to life. In the pursuit of historic preservation and jobs for the community.

I found out about Bill Cook at an unusual time: my honeymoon.

I had been to French Lick, but never West Baden. My wife had never been either. She was a little disappointed that we didn't fly to a more exotic honeymoon destination until she got to the West Baden. Now she wants to go back every week.

Most of the jobs in the French Lick area are related to the resorts that Cook restored to their original glory. The jobs are held by people proud, skilled and glad to have them.

Bill Cook didn't get into the West Baden and French Lick projects to make money. He had all money he needed and hotels looked like white elephants. He got involved to preserve a historic property and make it a destination point.

If you are looking for a model on how to be rich, pick up the book on Bill Cook.

You don't have to be a billionaire to give back to society. Al Smith sold his newspaper chain for millions, but it took him a long time to get to prosperity.

Al is one of the most important people in my life. He is my role model, inspiration, father figure and friend. He gives back in a total and complete fashion. At age 85, he is still atoning for wasted years in his youth.

In his fascinating autobiography Wordsmith, Smith's writes with gut-wrenching honesty about how he overcame self-destruction. It might be one of the best books that anyone anywhere has written about overcoming the grips of alcohol addiction.

I knew Al's basic story. His drinking caused him to lose a scholarship to Vanderbilt and many jobs in New Orleans. He stumbled into a small town, Russellville, KY, as a reporter, found his way to an AA meeting and stopped drinking. He found a wonderful wife, created a blended family, bought a bunch of newspapers that he later sold for millions, was appointed by Jimmy Carter as head of the Appalachian Regional Commission and became one of our greatest Kentuckians.

It gets more complicated than that.

The sections of the book that I found spellbinding were Al's years in New Orleans and the early years in Russellville when he was working as a reporter and living in a sleeping-room hotel.

When I think of men who have overcome the depths of addiction, I often think of Johnny Cash. Al's book reminded me of Johnny Cash's music¬: stark, honest and deeply personal. And with the raw edge of a man who looked the devil in the eye and stared him down, but knows he is always just one drink away from falling back into the abyss.

In many ways, Al's journey was far harder than what Johnny went through. Johnny was a star before he fell into the depths of addiction. He had a lot of help. Johnny was married to a remarkable woman, June Carter Cash, and had a strong and supportive family.

Al didn't meet his remarkable woman and raise his family until after he had stopped drinking. He kicked the habit with the help of AA, his own determination and the support of a small community in Western Kentucky. He did it with a drive to make up for the years he had lost to alcohol.

I doubt many would have predicted that the tipsy reporter in the sleeping-room hotel in Russellville, Kentucky, would someday be a man of national and international influence.

There is a lesson all of us can learn from. The Bible says, "Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me." We can't throw people away. We never know when the addict might go on to make a significant contribution to society. Al was one of the least of our brothers. He has never forgotten and constantly gives back. He portrays in gripping detail how near the bottom he was.

Overcoming adversity seems to be a common theme for those inclined to give back to society. Once you hit the bottom like Al Smith, you are more inclined to give back to those who have not made the same climb.

Al came of age in a small town. Like John Mellencamp, "I've got nothing against the big town," and grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati. Having watched Wall Street meltdown in 2008, I started to appreciate the common sense values of people who live and work on Main Street in small towns.

Like James (J.T) Gilbert in my hometown of Richmond, KY.

J.T. is the kind of lawyer every small town should have. He spent 18 years as Chair of the Board of Regents at Eastern Kentucky University and even longer as city attorney for the neighboring city of Berea. Along the way, he became one of the nation's top trial lawyers.

Kentucky has its share of big time rural lawyers. Sam Davies in Barbourville and Richard Hay in Somerset are two of the best injury attorneys the nation has ever produced. It's easy to see why small town lawyers make it to the top. There is a feeling of grounding that people don't have being anonymous in a large cities.

Pete Mahurin of Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the Executive Vice President of Hilliard Lyons, a regional investment firm. He has been one of their top brokers for many years. He owns or is a board member on several Kentucky banks in places like Cecilia, Albany and Mayfield. He and his wife Dixie completed a million dollar gift to their alma mater, Western Kentucky University, and fund many other charities.

He started life in Short Creek Kentucky with hopes, dreams and an incredible work ethic. "I grew up on a little scrub farm," Mahurin said. "My brother thought we were broke. I just thought we were temporarily out of money."

Over 70 years later, he made his fortune, but still maintains his enthusiasm for high achievement and hard work.

It's easy to see why some people might be distrustful of Wall Street based advisors. They all went to the same Ivy League schools, live in the same suburbs, talk to the same people and developed a lifestyle that never allows them to interact with ordinary people.

Mahurin is all about ordinary people. He grew up in Short Creek in Grayson County, Kentucky, and then graduated with a degree in physics from nearby Western Kentucky University. He taught high school physics before joining the investment world and has spent most of his life in Bowling Green.

Both wealthy and working class Americans seek Pete's advice. One on the wealthy side is Lexington, Kentucky Mayor Jim Gray, who asked Mahurin to sit on the board of the successful Gray Construction Company.

Pete has the common sense of a man who grew up in Short Creek and achieved higher than those from wealthy families and Ivy League pedigrees. What he did learn from childhood was that one has to seize opportunity when it is front of them.

Jim Gray passed along a story in Pete's own words:

"When I was young, all the little communities in my area had a baseball team. One Sunday afternoon, someone on the other team hit a little pop fly that at least three of us were close enough to catch. Three of us ran toward it and all stopped, waiting for another person to catch it. No one did, and the base runners ran around the bases. We lost.

"Fifty years later I realized why that memory remained fresh and bitter. It was not that we lost, or that an error was made. Losing because I failed to act stuck with me forever, while failures made attempting to execute faded away."

Gray said that Pete "represents patience to the point of painfulness. After he talks, often everyone will nod quietly in agreement, as if divine wisdom has been spoken."

I don't expect divine wisdom from my advisor, but I would like some common sense.

There are some people who don't let fame and money overshadow their core values. Carl Kremer is one of them.

Carl and I became close friends at Eastern Kentucky University. I thought his future was in politics. He ran my campaign for student body president and a year later, I ran his. I lost. He got 90 percent of the vote.

A guy who can get nine out of 10 people to agree ought to be President of the United States, but Carl had different ideas. He wanted to teach high school history and coach. He wanted to raise a close-knit family like the one he grew up in. His goals never wavered.

Carl married his college sweetheart, but the road towards his life's vision was bumpy. His son was born with a serious heart defect and was given little chance of survival. After several heart operations in Philadelphia, he made it.

Carl came to Cincinnati Moeller, one of the top high school sports programs in the United States. Professional sports are littered with Carl's former students. He was at the big time, but coaching tennis, a sport he knew absolutely nothing about.

Then the head basketball coach resigned midseason and Carl took over the team. He turned the basketball team into a national powerhouse.

Carl received numerous offers to climb the coaching ladder. Many big time college programs offered him positions, and it was obvious that Carl had what it took to coach a major program.

Every time he got an offer, we talked, but Carl always said no. The long hours and disrupting his family was not worth fame and glory.

Instead, Carl has happiness. When you see people like celebrities dying young or doing stupid things, maybe fame and fortune isn't all it is cracked up to be.

Matching your values and spending habits is a skill many don't have. People ought to look at the model Carl Kremer offers.

One of the reasons Carl has been successful is that he never forgot his roots. His father was a union bricklayer in Troy, Ohio, and he had five brothers and sisters. Another who never forgot his roots was Frank Haddad, Jr., Kentucky's greatest criminal attorney before his death in 1995.

Many people hate lawyers until they need one. As Thomas Wolfe said in The Bonfires of the Vanities, "a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested."

Haddad Jr., once declined a potential client, saying, "He doesn't need a lawyer; he needs a hacksaw." There were not many people too hopeless for Frank Haddad. People in serious legal trouble often found their way into Frank's Louisville office.

A biography of Washington trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams was entitled The Man to See. In Kentucky, the man to see was definitely Frank Haddad. Frank was a friend of mine, but he had thousands of other friends too. His funeral in 1995 was one of the largest in Kentucky's history. He grew up poor, but when he died he was a multi-millionaire.

Frank was humble, but not afraid of anything. He was quick-witted with a magnetic personality. He had a great sense of who he was. I once called him on a trivial matter telling him that I needed his help. His immediate response was, "Don, you must really be in trouble if you need my help."

Frank was loyal to his friends both rich and poor. He surrounded himself with a number of talented lawyers, including his brother Robert Haddad. They did more free legal work than anyone I have ever met.

It would not be unusual to see a famous politician or millionaire sitting patiently in the law firm's lobby while the firm was doing pro bono work for a janitor or someone from Frank's old neighborhood.

If Frank couldn't help them, they probably did need a hacksaw.

My father was a professional gambler and owned bars. As a child, it would stun me to see men who had toiled all week in a steel mill or hard labor job come into a bar and gamble a week's pay in one night. The workers knew how to make money, but had no purpose for it.

People need to have a purpose. With their money and their lives. Otherwise, they are going to cut both of them short.

When it comes down to happiness, we want is to live in a world with good people. Being a good person, good family member and living a productive life is a tremendous accomplishment.
I've learned when people get large amounts of money, it doesn't cure happiness. It can often magnify problems. People need to focus on being grounded and developing a solid foundation.

Abraham Maslow developed a famous hierarchy of needs. Maslow believed that you couldn't advance to self-actualization until you had your physical, social and safety needs met.

No matter whom you are or how much money you have, people can find satisfaction and happiness by being good role models for their family, friends and neighbors.

You don't need to win the lottery to make that happen.

Don McNay's latest book, "Life Lessons From The Lottery" will be released on Kindle on November 17.

 

Follow Don McNay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Donmcnay

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