Recently I posted an article on social media by a minimalist author I read, Joshua Becker. The article, “All The Things I Want to Say About Money But Never Do,” spoke some tough words about the difference between those who say they want to have a different life but live very differently than the story they tell.
Probably one of the hardest hitting lines of the piece reads like this: “You would have more money for the things you want if you stopped foolishly wasting it on other things.”
Woo, boy. Let’s just lay it all out there.
To be clear, Becker wasn’t talking about things like “if you’re poor, stop being poor” or how the ever vilified millennials could afford a house if only they could give up their love for avocado toast. Becker was quite clear — there are people he knows who have said they wanted to do things differently with their lives and finances, yet the lifestyle they choose daily reflect a different pattern.
I have people in my life who are like that also. Over time, I have learned to keep my mouth shut. Well, mostly. I’ve gotten better about it over the years. I have found that no one wants to hear how they’re doing something wrong, especially when they’re not ready to make a real change.
An acquaintance of mine called this viewpoint “disgustingly condescending and unrealistic,” in addition to “extremely elitist and smug.” He then went on to talk about my family’s progress in getting out of debt, and then spent the rest of his time talking about how our progress would be impossible in his current situation. As such, he derided our progress in claiming that the success we had couldn’t be applied to everyone.
I tried to point out that we sacrificed a lot, cutting down expenses to the bone. I tried to explain that I had worked two jobs, and as such put all extra money on our debt. I tried to point out that our income hasn’t always been good, and that there were plenty of times where there was no more money at the end of paying bills for the month.
He didn’t hear what I was saying. No, he didn’t want to hear what I was saying. The hard and simple truth was this: he was brimming with envy, because he wasn’t living our life.
That is a dangerous road to go down, and one that will never lead to happiness or success.
There was something he said that gave me enough pause that I’ve spent weeks thinking about it. He said, “But the amount of money you were able to put toward paying off debt each month is more than some people even bring home in a month. That’s your blind spot.”
He is partially correct. My family’s ability to pay on debt was more than some people bring home every month. But the blind spot isn’t mine, it’s his and everyone like him.
I don’t consider my family rich in the western mindset view of that word (but I would say we are in the global sense). We’ve worked really hard to get to zero, but our total net worth, especially for the age of my wife and I, not very far in the positive column. We may have cut off all the red chain links, but the black chains aren’t linking together, at least, not yet.
But this discussion really isn’t about money. The actual conversation revolves around the idea that you are responsible for your destiny. Money problems are only a symptom of a greater problem that you haven’t yet taken ownership of your life. Even worse, when your thoughts are consumed comparing your life to someone else’s, you end up stuck in a cycle of defeat.
Envy is the seed that plants a tree of spiritual death.
For every 10 people who have asked me about how to make a change in their career or how to pay off their debt, there’s only one or two who actually make an effort to create change. Yes, of course, there are people out there who are burdened with terrible wages, no skills, and difficult life circumstances. Of course! But that in no way means there isn’t a way out for those who have grit.
Change won’t happen overnight. Sometimes, it takes years. Take the story of the woman whose picture of her name badges went viral last year. The picture shows the progression of her work from a fast food worker at KFC, to eventually becoming a registered nurse.
There are people I know who found free programs to teach coding, sacrificed their time to learn some new skills, then found an apprentice job. Taking a pay cut from their previous employment, they are working toward an unknown future but betting on the one thing they feel they have the best investment in: themselves.
Or how about a friend of mine who has spent a long time working in the service industry, and decided that life wasn’t good enough for him? He learned new skills, dove into the work, and just accepted a position where he’ll be doing tech support for a company in Kansas City. He used to be just a guy that served drinks at a local watering hole, but now he’s on a different path. “I’m excited to get out of the bars,” he told me.
If you go to your favorite search engine and type “what the rich don’t understand about the poor,” you’ll find no shortage of articles talking about successful people and their blind spots. But what if you flip that on its head? If you search for “what the poor don’t understand about the rich” you get very different and sparse results. The best answers I could find on that question came from Quora: “What do rich people understand that poor people don’t?”
It seems there’s plenty of blind spots to go around.
Outside of the books necessary for my job growth and my decade plus interest in nutrition and health, the only other topic I’ve read and researched immensely would be personal finance. The one thing all of these texts have in common are a common question that is asked of the reader, either blatantly or with subtlety — what are you doing to improve?
I most like how the philosopher/writer Mark Manson put it: “How do you choose to suffer?” If you want to make change and make progress, it is imperative you learn how much you’re willing to suffer to get what you want. There is no way around it — struggle is necessary for growth and success.
I am positive I could look at just about anyone’s budget and find ways to make cuts. I am certain I could look at someone’s work and lead them on a path toward greater prosperity. Will someone else have the same outcome that we are now enjoying? I certainly hope not. I hope he is more successful. I hope she makes fewer mistakes. I want everyone to be successful, and enjoy a rich, full, happy life. And that, most certainly, will mean different things to different people.
There’s an old saying that says, “You can show someone the door, but you can’t make them go through it.” To those who want to poo poo their life and compare their circumstances to others, there will be no happiness. Those who blame the government, their families, their jobs, or whatever for their current situation will have no peace. Can they truly look themselves in the mirror after yet another year and say, “Nothing has changed because the world hasn’t let me progress?”
On the flipside, there are those who refuse to be complacent. They may be battered, but they are not done fighting. They may have the odds stacked against them, but they are working to find their way to the next level, and the next, and the next.
I don’t have enough time to outline all my failures, nor would I choose to do so. Instead, I’m working to keep getting better at all the things I do. I’m going to persist in looking forward, and I keep stepping away from my past. I don’t find much value in looking backwards.
You have before you two paths, one that leads to self pity, and another that leads to struggle. The obstacle is the way.