A friend shared some unique life and money advice as we talked this week. Our conversation struck my mind as life-altering advice long after it was over. He said, “A human being’s most important financial asset is the quality of their supply line.” I felt inspired to write a fiction story based on the wisdom he shared to illustrate this point. Here’s the story I wrote:
“The Most Important Thing I Learned in the Vietnam War.”
Jay watched as his father’s eyes drifted away from him. All morning he seemed to be bouncing between reality and the memories in his mind as they drove. He whispered cryptic things to himself like: “Life is like war in a lot of ways. You’re either going to accomplish your mission, or you’re not. There’s not a lot of valuable middle ground in life.”
It was strange seeing his father act like this. He knew his father had served in the Vietnam war, but he never talked about it growing up. Today was different.
When they got to the gun range where they were sighting in their rifles for the upcoming deer hunting season, Jay took his gun out of the truck and leaned it against the picnic table. It was his 20th birthday today. He wondered if this is why his father was acting strange. He was now the same age as his father when he went to war.
His father walked up beside him with his own gun and sat down. “There are two things I learned in the Vietnam war that totally changed my life. I want you to learn them today, so you can live a successful life without living through a war to learn these things.”
His father exhaled. “Do you smell that?” His asked.
Jay smelled the air. He smelled the faint scent of dead leaves in the dry autumn air.
“It’s fall.” His father said. “Summer is leaving. Change is the only thing you can count to happen to you in life. There will be so much change you will encounter. Smart people are always ready for change to come. Be ready for change. Embrace it. Prepare for it the best you can. Trust me, there will be events that will surprise you, and spook you. Things will change shape on you, even if you’re certain of them. The most successful people in the world are those who know how to adapt to change. Those are the people that did the best dealing with life in, and after, the war.”
The afternoon sun was getting hot. Jay pulled his rifle out of the case. He took his sweatshirt off. A warm breeze blew through the valley. The leaves were changing into the red, brown, and yellow colors of fall.
His father looked off at the target in the distance. “Now I want to tell you the second most important lesson I learned in the Vietnam war.”
His father opened his gun case, and pulled out his rifle. He set it against his chin, and hugged it into his shoulder. He pointed the gun barrel at the target 100 yards away. “Have you ever heard of the Ho Chi Mihn Trail?”
Jay shook his head. “No. Never heard of it.”
“The Ho Chi Mihn Trail was the supply line that the North Vietnamese used to sneak supplies through the jungle into South Vietnam to fight the war. The Ho Chi Mihn trail taught me that every human being needs a supply line to stay alive. If you cut off a human being from their supply line, they’ll naturally die because they’ll run out of food, water, and medicine. But if you allow humans to have an endless line of incoming supplies, human beings can fight to infinity.”
“The only reason the tiny, poor country of Vietnam was able to win a war against a giant, rich nation like America was because we were never able to completely shut their supply line. I’ve always remembered that lesson. I want to pass that bit of wisdom onto you.”
His father sighted his rifle and shot. The explosion from the gun echoed through the hills and trees around them.
His father continued: “The secret to being able to support yourself, even when life changes, is to always keep your supply lines of incoming resources open. All the great leaders, who fought all the wars in history, knew the same thing: An armies most important asset is their supply line of fresh resources. Always think in creative ways to improve it. Grow it. Never cut yourself off from it. The quality of your supply line will dictate how your life will go, and if you’ll win your own personal wars or not. That is the most important thing I learned in the Vietnam war.”
He set his gun down, and looked at his son. “Think about it. Did you ever not have food, water, and shelter growing up?”
Jay shook his head. “No. I always had everything I needed.”
His father continued: “That’s because I always had a job. I made sure that I had a salary that acted as our supply line to bring fresh resources into our family. I then started side-businesses to make secondary supply lines in case I lost my primary job. I didn’t retire until I trusted my retirement income streams. When your supply lines are dependable, you can do anything you want in life. But if you lose your supply lines, you will lose whatever mission you are fighting for.”
Jay looked at his father as he was deep in thought, and kept talking: “I learned all of this during my time fighting in the Vietnam war. The Vietnamese never separated themselves from the Ho Chi Minh Trail that brought them fresh food, ammunition, and soldiers. America would bomb it, and they’d rebuild it. We’d find it, and they’d move the trail. The scariest thing for a leader in a war, is losing their supply line. The same rules are true as you figure out life.”
His father continued: “Once I returned home from war, and I re-adjusted to American life, I realized this philosophy of always keeping your supply lines open, works in a financial sense too. To succeed with money, focus on establishing quality supply lines. First get a job to create your first supply line. Then work on creating new businesses for secondary supply lines. But never, ever cut yourself off from an established supply line until you have a new one in place. The supply lines you build are the energy sources that will keep you fighting toward your dreams no matter what challenges you face. That is my advice to you.”
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