When it comes to practical wisdom, one of my favorite people to follow is Derek Sivers, a musician, blogger, programmer, best-selling author of Anything You Want, and the founder of CD Baby – in its heyday, the preeminent online store for independent musicians. What does Derek Sivers have to do with your finances, you ask? Just you wait…
The Dangerous Lure of Dramatic Success
Before we tie this to your financial life, allow me this quick tangent.
One of my favorite posts by Sivers is Kurt Vonnegut explains drama. I won’t rehash the entire post (honestly, just take a second to go read it and then come back. I’ll wait.) but here’s a quick summary:
Think of life like a graph with a continuum of joy and despair on one scale and time on the other. The stories we grow up with lead us to believe that life is a wildly dramatic affair, that, as time goes on, life is all over the place on the joy-despair scale. Think about the story arc of well-known favorites like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast or almost any popular movie.
These stories are just a series of sensational twists of fate, one after another. Because we love these stories, we think these wildly dramatic oscillations between happiness and pain are normal, or, worse, to be expected. We can easily start to believe our lives should be like that. There should be exhilarating highs, crushing lows, and drama, drama, drama.
But real life isn’t like that at all.
Real life is pretty boring relative to these fantastical tales. Overall, our lives are pretty good. We’ve got all the necessities: clothing, food, shelter. Things move along over time with mostly normal things happening. Some of these are pretty good, some aren’t so good. Over time, things tend to get better, but gradually.
This is normal, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking something is wrong with your life because there isn’t enough “excitement” in it. It feels “wrong” when things are just sort of humming along. In fact, I’m sure you know somebody (or somebodies!) who love manufacturing drama. Often, it’s because these people have fallen into the trap of believing life should be like the stories we love.
Boring Financial Success You Can Count On
The same idea applies to your finances. (See! I TOLD you I’d bring it back to personal finance!)
We love reading about lotto winners or young entrepreneurs whose businesses explode into billion dollar valuations. If we’re not careful, we start to think this is THE way to achieve financial success. It comes in one dramatic moment when your entire financial life is changed and all of your goals come true.
The danger with this belief is that we stop doing the boring things – things like spending responsibly, saving regularly into boring, diversified investments, gradually working our way up the pay scale at work, etc. – and try to chase the overnight financial success.
The problem is that these boring things work consistently. They work for everyone. You can always count on them to move you along towards financial success.
But when we think financial success comes all at once in a big, dramatic flash, we chase hacks and tricks and secrets that we’re sold and give up on the boring, consistent path to success. We’re shown other people that have used these hot tips and achieved amazing results. We fall for the enticing possibilities we’re shown because, after all, the financial successes we read about and see in the movies comes FAST. It comes DRAMATICALLY. We should be able to do it the same way, right?
But the reality is, these tricks to achieve fast success don’t work consistently. They may have worked for a few lucky people, but you can’t count on them working for you. After all, just because one person achieved their financial goals by winning the lotto doesn’t mean you can count on that working for you.
Tips, tricks and hacks may have worked on occasion (and, sure, it’s fun to throw money into Bitcoin), but the boring stuff works every time.
Stick with it.
You can’t count on achieving overnight financial success. But you CAN count on growing rich gradually by sticking to what works, even (especially) when it feels boring.
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