What role do you have in the game of life, and how are you playing? Are you making conscious choices to improve your world? Are you creating your own opportunities and thinking creatively? Or are you lost in reaction to your environment, living in survival mode, and adhering to the status quo? Are you playing offense or defense?
For many of us, we’ve had no choice but to live in defense; we struggle to survive financially, emotionally, and even spiritually. We may assume that the way things are is the way things are and make no effort to change them. While we may have a glimpse of inspiration or a sense that there’s another way, we quickly forget about it. Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to realize we can’t keep going the way we are going.
It’s a gift to meet someone who defies the odds in ways that make us feel we can no longer tell ourselves the same old excuses. My guest, Leon Howard, is one of those people. Born into a city where the sound of bullets in the park is commonplace — and where kids are taught early how to duck and run from those bullets — Leon watched his mom get shot at the age of 9. He was in prison by 17 but had a fortuitous meeting with another inmate who taught him about the stock market. Recognizing this blessing for what it was, Leon embarked on the long journey that brought him where he is today. He now teaches financial literacy to marginalized communities, and while being entirely self-taught, has the expertise that rivals that of an investment banker.
Leon’s life changed when he decided to play offense — to be proactive, to live with intention, and to do things differently. Remember, greatness rarely follows the well-worn path. And if you want your life experience to change, you’ll need to change too. Let’s get started!
Known for “educating the culture on how to build wealth one share at a time,” New Orleans native Leon Howard, popularly known as Wallstreet Trapper, has been dominating wealth building through the stock market for years. Growing up in New Orleans, Leon is no stranger to the streets and the pitfalls that exist there. During his 10-year prison bid, he learned about the stock market and since then has been applying and teaching it to everyone willing to learn. Leon provides a plethora of resources to students ranging from courses, ebooks, and a private members-only group where he simplifies wealth creation and normalizes generational wealth for the black community through investing in the stock market. Today, he has a community of over 700,000 Trappers that he teaches about investing and wealth building.
Leon grew up in New Orleans in a community deeply affected by violence, poverty, and substance abuse. He suffered hardship at an early age when he saw his mom shot before his eyes, grew up in gang territory, lived with his grandmother while his mom was in prison, and was homeless at 14 when his grandmother passed away. In his community, there was little choice when it came to survival. You either became a gangster or became an athlete, and those who didn’t protect themselves were easy targets.
While not everyone will be able to relate to Leon’s childhood environment, too many others will. As Leon pointed out, socioeconomic disparities, segregation by class and race, and other imbalances have created a wide rift in our society. Not only do marginalized communities often struggle with gaining access to the same opportunities as others, but they also have access to a completely different set of knowledge about money.
We cultivate an understanding of investments, real estate, equity, life insurance, and other aspects of generational wealth through connections. Phone calls, parties, fraternities, and other social situations are where people make introductions and share information. Knowledge is passed down from person to person — not just in schools — and is a fundamental part of what stops people from generating true wealth.
While Leon was cut off from this information, he had a stroke of good luck. During his ten-year stint in prison, he had the blessing of meeting a teacher in the most unlikely of places — a semi-solitary confinement cell.
“He was like, ‘Have you ever seen a million dollars before?’ He was like, ‘You’ll never see it playing that game.’ Playing what game? The streets. … And I kind of just took that in for a second. Because up until that point in my life, I never met a successful drug dealer.” – Leon Howard
He spent 45 days with this inmate who was in for financial fraud, who taught him about investments, real estate, and true wealth. Leon reflects on the three points that hit home the most: Stop trading time for money, learn how to make your money work for you, and learn how to give value to people.
These lessons still influence Leon’s approach to wealth today.
Stop trading time for money. What does that mean? While Leon’s experience may be very different from your own, almost everyone could do with learning this core lesson. So many of us are playing the game that was laid out before us — we don’t even think about changing the rules.
To start with, we have to shift our mindset. The time-equals-money formula actually goes against what many of us have been taught, either directly or indirectly. If you grew up watching your parents work themselves to the bone, you likely equate making money with exhaustion and having no time, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Be proactive. Find ways to work smarter, not harder, and educate yourself about investments. Learn about passive income, develop a long-term plan, and have a diversified investment portfolio. Be creative.
“I [started using] the market as a savings account. … Because I knew that my money wasn’t making any money in a savings account. … So I started buying index funds. … [and treated them like my] savings account. And then I’d do individual stocks for my real investments. So if I can get eight to 10% on an index fund … that’s my savings account then.” – Leon Howard
If you don’t know where to start with investments, start with what you know. The more complicated things are, the more excuses you’ll make to avoid beginning.
“I always say … invest in what you understand. So if you wear Nikes … you should be looking at apparel brands. If you’re a workout person, then you should be looking at Planet Fitness. … If you use an iPhone, … be looking at Apple.” – Leon Howard
Shifting your mindset is also key to becoming an effective investor. Not only will it help you take small steps toward your goals, but it will also shift the way you view the products you’re consuming.
“Every time I buy a product, I [look] at who made it. … [I see if it’s a] public company [or] if it’s a private company. If it’s public, that means we can all invest in it. If I can invest in it, I want a piece of it. … Just to keep it simple. We don’t even have to make it hard.” – Leon Howard
As you can see, small habits are the key to success. Not only do they help you build your bigger goals one day at a time, but they also strengthen your mindset. Have the mindset of taking back control of your life. When it comes to money, shift how you view things and start seeing yourself as being an active player in your financial health instead of a passive consumer.
“Instead of consuming everything, start owning something … even if it’s one stock, one new next fund, a piece of real estate from a real estate investment — … you don’t have to buy a whole house. Know [that] you can spend $20 on a stock … and let that work for you.” – Leon Howard
Making a plan and sticking to it is key. Leon invests half of any income or money he gets. You don’t have to do what he does, but set up some habits like automatic savings that you don’t even have to think about. Taking decision-making out of the picture will make the process much smoother.
I’m so incredibly on board with one of Leon’s big lessons — that of creating value. Wealth is much more than money. To create wealth that generates more and more wealth, focus on your value. This can mean so many different things.
Remember, Leon said that financial information is spread between people. That means those people — those who have the right connections, information, or skills — have value. Consider that relationships are like currency, and identify what type of currency they are.
“I always say that I use my money for three things — to [gain] information, access, and assets. … Information and access allow you to become the asset. … You become the asset, [you’re not just] investing in assets. … You are the most valuable asset.” – Leon Howard
So how do you become the asset? You do it by adding value. You do it through building relationships, cultivating skills, and gaining experience. You don’t have to be the smartest or more qualified person in the room. Your value could be the Spanish you learned by studying abroad, your gift for storytelling and persuasion, the kindness and warmth you share with everyone, or the connections you made at your last job. Write down all of the things that make you valuable and go over them regularly.
Your value could be how you engage with people. What effect do you have on people? Do you make them feel inspired and optimistic? Or do they feel drained around you? If you make them feel good, they are more likely to want to do business with you. We all like to think we’re so rational, but the fact is that emotion drives a lot of our decisions. We like to know that others care for us and will do things for us. Doesn’t it feel good when people give as much as they take?
“People need to learn how not to go into a situation [thinking] ‘How much money can I make?’ [and instead think] ‘How can I provide value to you? … What can I do to help you out? How can I be of assistance? How can I make your situation a little bit better? Or [how can I], based on what I know, become the asset.’” – Leon Howard
Invest in your education, your skills, and your experience. Invest in mentors and teachers who can teach you what they know. See yourself as the asset, which is different from seeing yourself as the best, smartest, or most important person in the room. Investing in your growth means you stop sitting around passively waiting for things to happen to you. It means you don’t get to make excuses anymore about why you can’t do something because you didn’t get those opportunities.
“No one can ever take that away from you. … So you use the money to put you in a situation to get information and buy access. [When you] can do those two things, you become the asset.” – Leon Howard
Remember, since information and resources are spread between people, we can’t do things alone. You need a strong team to make it in this world.
“If we can become assets in every situation, we’re in, that’s playing offense. … It’s [all] about leveraging this thing called life … because there [are] people out there making hundreds of millions of dollars. … They didn’t do that on their own. … They knew someone at some point that plugged them with somebody that put ’em in a room that put ’em on a phone call that helped them get that role.” – Leon Howard
Who’s playing on your team?
Guys, this interview is jam-packed with so many words of wisdom from the incredible Leon Howard. Listen to the full episode for more, and don’t forget to share the episode with someone who needs to hear it: You could change someone’s life.
Follow Leon on social media (listed in the show notes below) and check out his investment courses at Trapper University.
I want to acknowledge Leon for transforming his life and being of service to people who struggle with finding these types of breakthroughs. It’s not easy to lift ourselves up from past conditioning, and he has shown how possible it is.
Friends, join me on Episode 1,209 to learn about building financial freedom no matter where you come from with Leon Howard! It’ll change your life!