We all know Ashton Kutcher was a heartthrob in the late '90s/early 2000s. Like so many others, I had a huge crush on the actor, plastering my locker with photo tear-out sheets from teen magazines.
Fast forward to the present, though, and grown-up Ashton Kutcher is a far cry from his role of Michael Kelso, the cute, dumb boy on That '70s Show.
The actor and venture capitalist has been investing for well over a decade, turning a $US30 million fund into $US250 million by investing in companies like Uber, Skype, Airbnb, and Spotify with his firm A-Grade Investments; he's also a co-founder and partner at Sound Ventures.
When I attended the QuickBooks Connect conference in the Bay Area in early November, he was one of the keynote speakers, and during that conversation with consumer tech expert Katie Linendoll, he shared anecdotes and insights about being a tech venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
While I'm no multi-millionaire, I learned a thing or two from Kutcher about money.
Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions
Kutcher's first piece of advice: Don't be afraid to sit in a room with people who know more than you and ask questions that might seem basic or just plain stupid.
When he was first introduced to key players in the tech world, Kutcher would ask every question he could think of - with zero ego.
Through the course of a decade, he earned himself an education in tech.
"Oftentimes we get to the point in our careers where we're afraid of looking dumb," said Kutcher.
"Every time you fear your own ignorance, you're limiting your potential to learn."
Instead, he said, keep asking the dumb questions. It will help you learn, but it will also show you where your blind spots are. When you're making a decision about your money, whether it's which ETF or stock to invest in, or which type of disability insurance you should purchase, it's important to admit you don't know something. That way, you can find people who are experts in their field and can help you make the best decisions about your money. Recently, a few of my fellow freelance writers and I hopped on a group conference call with an insurance agent. We were all curious about purchasing liability insurance for our businesses.
By speaking to an expert, we could ask all the elementary questions we wanted. By the end of the call, we had a better idea of what to look for in a policy.
Having a vision is good, having a plan is better
Near the end of the keynote, Linendoll asked Kutcher to share the one buzzword he's tired of hearing. The word? Vision.
He explained that while having a vision is important, you'll get further if you make a plan: Start with what you've done to work towards your vision or goal, then look at what you can do next to finally achieve your vision. In other words, look at the day in, day out reality of your situation - the nitty-gritty details that get you from point A to B. When we're trying to set money goals or change our habits, mindsets, or behaviours about our finances, instead of getting too caught up in "vision," we can get grounded instead by looking at what we've already done to reach our goals and what we're doing in the present. For instance, while I have a grand vision of being a homeowner in Los Angeles, what am I doing in the present to reach that goal? Have I done research on how much homes cost in certain neighbourhoods? How much do I need to save for a down payment on a home, and am I on track?
Focusing too much on the big picture at the expense of understanding the steps it will take to get there is a surefire way to lose your footing.
Kutcher comes from humble, blue-collar roots - his dad worked at a meat-packing plant and his mum was a school teacher. Because of that Midwestern upbringing, his philosophy on investing - and life in general - is to give back to those who need a helping hand. "I'm very appreciative of the things I have," said Kutcher.
"I'm always fighting for the little guy, no matter what, because I always feel like I am the little guy. If you're lucky enough to be doing well, it's incumbent upon you to help folks who are struggling to grab that first rung on the ladder to start their climb."
To me, that means that if you can afford to, give back and help those who are less fortunate. If you're having a great year financially, then consider donating to a local charity or non-profit that speaks to you. And that doesn't just mean money. You can give back in the form of offering your time or your advice to those who could use some help.
Also, if you're in a position to mentor or lift up a colleague who's facing structural barriers, use your power to help them along on their journey.