An Extraordinary Day

Bill WaltonCulture, Investing, Self Help

Today, my 68th birthday, I had the most extraordinary experience at my local Social Security Administration office in Culpeper, Virginia. I went in to modify slightly the payment plan I had chosen recently. It was my first visit and I was surprised to see a lovely, tasteful and simple white frame building. Inside, I was greeted politely, asked to sign in and take a number. After a short wait, I was asked to go to “window four” where I was greeted by a very pleasant and smiling Mrs. Smith. As a small government libertarian, I began asking myself, “so where’s the ugly government building and the snarling bureaucrat I had expected.” Mrs. Smith and I quickly resolved my matter. She was both professional and personable. So today, I had a great experience with the Social Security Administration.

But that was not the extraordinary part.

After we had finished, she looked at me very intently and said, “May I ask you just one question”? Of course, I said. “What, in one sentence, is the secret to your success?” This took me aback some. Then I realized, she had all my personal income data for the last 30 years. As it is no secret – the Washington Post published my compensation data every year for 14 years when I was CEO of public company in Washington, DC – I earned a very good income in the investment business.

After a moment’s thought, I answered “invest in yourself, keep at increasing your skills and talents. And take “risks.” Don’t fear failure. So-called failures are simply part of the process of learning what works.” Some self-help basics. She thanked me, I left to get into my car, and it hit me. I’d missed something essential. So I went back in and asked for Mrs. Smith. She came out and I said, “I missed the most important one; it’s the Golden Rule: treat other people the way you wish to be treated.”

The Golden Rule, which she personifies, is the Essential. Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for helping me to remember this – an extraordinary birthday gift.