Experts Need a Past Littered With Mistakes

When it comes to experts who teach us how to improve our lives, they should have real-world experience in the things they're teaching us.

The guy teaching your kid how to hit a baseball needs to be a former player who could turn on a 90-mph sinker and send it into the left-field bleachers. 

Your marriage counselor should be happily married.

And your financial advisor had certainly better be rich.

These people not only need a lot of knowledge, they need a wide variety of experiences with plenty of screwups and recoveries. They should have a long trail of mistakes behind them because they're going to tell you how to avoid them. They need to have experienced the agony of defeat and have some pretty awesome stories as a result.

It's why I'll never listen to a 25-year-old life coach.

Think of it this way: the guy with eight fingers knows a lot more about firework safety than the guy with all ten.

That's not to say the ten-fingered guy knows nothing. But the eight-fingered man knows that one thing you should never, ever do. He has firsthand knowledge about this rule of thumb, although he may have a little trouble grasping the subtleties.

Similarly, the best drug and alcohol counselors are recovering addicts. Certainly much better than the dude wearing the "Lips that touch wine will never touch mine" button.

Years ago, I was riding with a guy, and he was telling me about how people can cure their addictions instantly.

"This ought to be good," I thought.

"They just need Jesus."

"Ah, I see," I said, not seeing. I said, "Have you ever been drunk?"

"Nope, never touched the stuff," he said.

"So you don't know how awesome it is."

I thought he was going to drive us off the road so he could meet Jesus right then. But I pressed on because I don't know when to keep my mouth shut.

"If you had ever been drunk, you would know that it feels great at the moment. That's why people do it. But they do it over and over until they can't stop doing it. Besides, there are plenty of Christian alcoholics and drug addicts, so that's not it."

It was the last time he ever drove me in his car.

But there are jobs where we don't want our experts to have a career checkered with catastrophic failures.

Like pilots. Surgeons. Bomb disposal techs. Skydivers.

What about financial advisors?

I recently read about a financial advice columnist who fell for a scam and handed a stranger $50,000 of her own money.

Charlotte Cowles, a financial advice columnist for The Cut, was tricked by a rather brilliant con into giving away her entire savings account. She recently wrote about it in her column. (You should go read it.)

This wasn't some Nigerian prince email that promised millions of dollars if she sent her bank account information or payment of delinquent taxes with gift cards from Starbucks. The scammers knew her social security number and details about her family.

It started with a call from someone who claimed to be with Amazon and ended with her talking to a bogus CIA agent who said she was connected to extensive criminal activity in multiple states, and there was going to be a two-year investigation that would freeze her accounts.

The fake agent told Cowles that if she talked to an attorney or law enforcement, she would be considered non-cooperative, her house would be raided and her assets seized. 

The agent said that if she gave him a large amount of cash, he would cut her a government check and she could support herself by cashing the check.

So she withdrew 50 grand from her account without telling anyone, including her husband, and handed an "undercover agent" the cash. And then, surprise surprise, everyone disappeared.

It seems obvious now when you read it, but these conmen had an answer for everything.

Except Cowles didn't spot the red flags in the scammers' stories that should have alerted her.

First, the CIA is not allowed to operate inside the United States; that's the FBI.

Second, government agencies don't ask you for money. The CIA has an unlimited budget.

Third, don't give someone cash so they'll give you a check that you can cash. You already have the cash! Why would you need to do all that?

Finally, if you're in legal trouble, always contact your attorney. No real law enforcement agent will advise you not to — that's all kinds of terrible advice.

I have to hand it to Cowles though. She's the last person that she thought would ever get tricked, but she got conned out of enough money to buy a BMW Gran Coupe.

It's a painful and embarrassing lesson and one that will take her years to recover from financially, but it's one she shared with us so we would avoid getting tricked ourselves.

Honesty is the most important quality to have in a financial advisor.

Because she probably can't hit the hanging curve to save her life.

Photo credit: KeithJJ (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available from 4 Horsemen Publications. You can get the ebook and print versions here.