Two months shy of his 73rd birthday, Jeff Young has earned his daily tee time, but he’s got things on his agenda a lot more important than golf: he still goes to work every day, and when he isn’t working, he’s mentoring young men, giving them the life advice that he wishes he’d gotten at their age.
Young is one of those individuals to whom you can point and say, “He did life right.”
Young served in the military, built a successful career in financial services, has been married forever, and has built a comfortable retirement for himself as well as financial security for his family.
“I get enough exercise and eat my vegetables,” Young laughs. “People ask me, ‘You’re still working?’ I say, ‘Well, I don’t golf or fish.’ I’m fortunate. I get a great deal of satisfaction from my work as an investment advisor. Some of my clients go back 30 years.”
In addition to his ongoing work as a financial advisor, Young serves as a mentor figure to a wide range of young people from diverse backgrounds throughout the Phoenix area, and he says it keeps him, no pun intended, young.
“What’s your job in life when you’re my age?” he asks. “You’re financially comfortable if you lived within your means, postponed gratification, sacrificed, and invested wisely and with a lot of luck. So, what’s your responsibility at this point in your life to your community, to your country, to your family? Since I’m comfortable, I can turn my attention to young people who are just getting started.
“Developing good credit, opening bank accounts, and managing debt — what I call financial consumption — these are the things that young people need to learn to do,” Young says, “Once that foundation has been developed, they can start to approach investing.”
Young’s guidance goes far beyond financial matters, however. He meets with his younger mentees during Sunday afternoons, to discuss their transitions from high school to college. For older mentees, he welcomes them to his office, or meets with them at a local coffee shop. There, he discusses with them subjects that they might not have learned about at home or in their schooling.
“How should a young man dress for work?” he asks. “We talk about that. Often, they have no idea. We also talk about racism and sexism in the workplace and what to expect and how to handle it. We talk about the importance of being on time for work. We talk about how to set daily goals.
“These are critical work skills that aren’t taught in our public schools or anywhere else,” he adds. “So I see my role as equipping young people with the guidance they need in order to succeed in life. But most importantly, succeeding at their life’s stage.”
Young cites as an example a young man who was a recovering heroin addict.
“I worked with him for a long time,” Young says. “Now he’s married, has two children, and works hard in life. Sometimes people just need an older figure in their lives, a mentor who can talk to them about the basics. It can change everything.”
Young is constantly amazed by the willingness of young people of all races and ethnicities to use culturally inappropriate language and cautions them on how the use of a loaded pejorative can get them fired in a heartbeat.
“I tell them the story of Earl Butz,” Young says, speaking of the man who served as President Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture. “One time he was sitting in the back of a plane with some reporters, and he must have had a few drinks because he started making some racist comments. His career was ended in an instant.”
“Language matters. It’s important to never use any term that denigrates any race, religion, ethnicity, or group, even in a private setting. So I’ll sit a young man down and tell him, ‘I know more about you from what you say about others than what others say about you.’ It sounds so obvious, but if people are going to succeed at work, they need to know the basics of life, and this is one of those basics.”
What makes mentoring so satisfying for Young?
“I get enormous satisfaction,” Young says, “from young men who still call me years after the mentoring has ended. They remember the lessons and the things we talked about. It’s incredibly gratifying. John Stuart Mill said something that if you are materially comfortable and you are not happy, it’s because you only think of yourself.
“I have to have something I can pass on,” Young says, “so that when I die, they can put me in the veterans’ cemetery, and someone might come by and say, ‘Hey, this guy made a difference.’
“The most important thing we do in our lives is to make a difference, in some small manner, just taking care of our corner of the world. It means something to me. If you were to psychoanalyze me, it may be that deep down, perhaps, I do this because I was not given these lessons — or, if I was given those lessons, I wasn’t inclined to listen to them. I made mistakes that I shouldn’t have made. If I could help young men avoid those same mistakes, then what I do is worth it.”