It’s not hard to find bad economic news that applies to you. If you’re a millennial, chances are the job market is terrible for you. If you’re a baby boomer, chances are that you’re either underwater in your house or you have not enough saved for retirement. If you’re a woman, the gender pay gap is still rearing its ugly head (though being spoken about more). And no matter who you are, chances are that your income is not nearly keeping up with your perceived needs.
Forget the 1% versus the 99%. It runs out that 20 people have as much money as half of America.
You may conclude from this that the system is rigged against you. And in this, you’re basically right.
But you may also think, as the saying goes, that “the little guy can’t get ahead“. As in, that you can’t win.
And that’s not true at all.
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I believe that there is a fundamental difference between an acknowledgment that the things are tough for you, and the belief that you can’t succeed. It is an important distinction. From where do we make this logical leap?
No one said being financially free was going to be easy. And if they did, well, they were probably trying to sell you something. For almost everyone, it takes most of your life to get to that point.
But people do get to that point. That point where you realize that you’ll be okay no matter what happens. Some people, like for example, Mr. Money Mustache, get to that point in their mid-30s. I feel like that’s kind of an outlier situation, but if you had 30 extra years from then—that’s 360 months of extra time and income—do you think you could get to that point? I believe you can, if you start now.
See, the danger here is that people look at the challenges inherent in becoming financially free and just give up. It seems insurmountable, and so people decide not to try.
That is the real problem. At what point did we decide that giving up is an option?
Your invisible privilege
“Oh but they’re different. They had help or luck.”
And you’ve had neither? Oooh, flag on the play.
We live in a prosperous age. You have your health, or at least most of it. You probably don’t need to worry about civil war or armed conflict. You’re intelligent and savvy enough to read a blog, so you have computer skills. You were raised by loving or at least moderately supportive parents. A piano has summarily failed to fall on your head.
The problem with privilege is that you can’t see it. So you don’t know how much help or luck has made up your life. But boy is it all over the place.
I’m not saying this to make you feel bad, only that we are totally terrible at seeing that other successful people are often no different from ourselves. There is no secret sauce.
But okay, so let’s say that other people are different from you, and have had more help and luck than you had. Let’s say you truly are operating at a deficit.
Looks like you are going to have to work that much harder then. It sucks, but you have no alternative.
Retirement age will still hit you. You still need to take care of yourself, if not your family. If you give up now, and stop planning for a future in which you will feel comfortable and secure…what then?
Why you give up
I understand the draw of giving up. Of saying that you’ll never make enough money or have enough money to live the life you want. Because when you believe something is impossible, then it frees you from having to try. If you can’t do something, then you don’t have to.
And that is much easier. You can’t fail if you can’t succeed.
Now, I’m no therapist, but I can’t name any important area in your life when “easiest” was equivalent to “best”.
So consider that your belief in the impossibility of getting ahead stems not from any intellectual consideration of all the facts involved, but that you may just feel afraid of failure, and that as a defense measure, you put this narrative in place to save you from having to worry about failure.
Does this feel like it rings true for you? No one’s reading this over your shoulder, so you don’t need to admit this to anyone at all. But in a quiet, judgment-free, compassionate way, ask yourself, are you taking the “easy” way out?
I know what that’s like, for sure. There are so many areas in my life where I’ve told myself that what I’ve wanted was impossible, because it was easier than feeling like I had agency in the matter and that I still might not succeed. There are areas in my life where I’m doing that right now. So believe me when I say that I’m not doing any judging.
But just like you can decide that something is impossible, so can you decide to change that narrative. You can decide today that it is possible, and that you can stand up and say “I am terrified.”
Remember your mantra
In fact, here’s a kind of mantra for the financially despondent:
“I am terrified that no matter how hard I work, no matter how hard I try, that I will never be financially successful, that I will never feel like I have enough, and that I will never live the life I’ve envisioned.”
But here’s an additional mantra for the Unlikely Radicals out there:
“Regardless of my fear, I will work, I will strive, I will keep trying. The reward of being financially successful is such a big one, the payoff so great, that it is worth pushing past my fears, my avoidance, my despondency. Even though success is never guaranteed, my will to continue is stronger, because the goal is worth it.”
Now it’s your turn.