The resolve of the mountain climber, or how to deal with financial overwhelm

Mountain Climbing

I think of building wealth and becoming financially secure as a process not unlike climbing a mountain. It’s a big one, and it’s hard going, and it involves a lot of successes and setbacks along the way.

The top of the mountain is totally worth it, as once you’re up there, the going is all easy. The view is great, and sliding down the mountain, is going to be fun as hell.

But that may not be much comfort to you if you’re not up on the top. And it might feel like you’re never going to get there.

So slowly, you make progress. You make a plan. You make your buckets. You stop buying what you can’t afford. You build an emergency fund for when problems strike.

And slowly, after a while, you may find that you’re making progress. You start feeling good. All this hard work may not be paying off totally, but you get a sense that it will.

And then the tide turns.

It starts small: An unexpected doctor appointment. But then it keeps going: A car repair, a reduction in income.

Maybe it even gets worse: a major illness, a job loss.

All of this can evaporate any sense of gains you’ve had. And make you wonder whether it’s hopeless, and you should just give up this idea of ever getting ahead.

I understand the feeling here. There’s not a single person reading this (me included) who hasn’t faced some kind of financial setback at some point. The struggle is real.

But just because you’ve had a financial setback (or many of them), doesn’t mean that you’re not making progress. It may just feel like it.

The pain of the climb

Let’s continue with the analogy. You’re the doggedly determined mountain climber, determined to get to the top to enjoy the view.

You’ve got a pack on your back, which includes all your accumulated struggles: all your debt, all your problems, all the stuff that makes it hard to climb.

But every step you take is your income, your determination, your resolve.

The lighter your load or the greater your determination, the more progress you make.

Conversely, the heavier your load, the slower your progress.

Now, let’s talk about your setbacks. Each setback is more weight added to your pack. Your pack is getting heavier and heavier, making progress slower and slower. Maybe your pack is so heavy now that you stumble and fall down backward a bit.

After all that hard work, to fall backwards! Not just making no progress, but maybe even going backwards! How dispiriting. You may as well quit right now.

But to this I ask you: where would be if you hadn’t been climbing all this time? If you gave up, would you not notice a big difference?

But from the short term perspective, it only feels like you’ve gone backward. But look how far you climbed to get to the point you’re at?

More to the point, your determination and drive is the reason why you’re not falling down even farther. How much worse off would you be if you gave up?

I know that things can seem overwhelming now, and the setbacks can feel nothing short of punishing. And, frankly, when you’re dealing with an emergency, the emergency needs to be attended to first and foremost.

But now is not the time to get overwhelmed with a sense of futility. Quite the contrary, this is when your resolve is most crucial.

Keep climbing

Every day you have a chance to move forward. Every day you can make a choice. It doesn’t matter what happened the day before; every day you get to decide.

Did you make a mistake yesterday or last month or last year? Well, that happened in the past. You get to decide what you do today.

Perspective is everything. Keep climbing. The view from the top is worth it.

But enough about me: how do you deal with financial overwhelm?

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