There are plenty of people who have achieved greatness in different walks of life. Many of these people are in the public eye, and have achieved notoriety through their achievements in certain high profile vocations. Politics, sports, entertainment – these have created some of the most popular examples of success in our modern society.
What makes some of these people so successful? Sure, some have inherent, incredible talent – but many of these people needed a chance to develop their skills, and often times it’s a matter of opportunity and practice that got them to where they are.
Two books – Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers”, and “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin, take fascinating looks at what gets someone to be successful to the point of being exceptionally successful in their specific areas of focus. In “Outliers”, it becomes clear that it’s not just the natural inherent talent that certain people have which gets them successful, but it’s a matter of opportunity as well. Once they get the opportunity, they may get even more opportunities, exposure, etc – which leads them to success. For example, Canadian hockey players who are born soon after the January 1 age cut off tend to be disproportionately part of top teams even later in their teen years. These kids were more physically advanced at early ages than their counterparts born later in the year, and were selected for the top teams, received the best training, most ice time, etc – until they became the best. The results fit the selection.
In “Talent is Overrated”, the author looks beyond natural gifts, and focuses on practice as a means to greatness. It is the hard work and deliberate, repetitive practice that someone takes on which can ultimately drive the person to high levels of success.
Taking these two interesting books together, it can be surmised that greatness might not be just a matter of natural talent, but rather of opportunity plus hard work. Old fashioned, but in this day and age of instant celebrity status, perhaps it is these standby approaches to success that still hold true.
Taking this further, can this be applied to personal finance? In other words, is it possible for any of us to achieve “financial greatness?”
I say yes!
Sure, it will be harder for some of us to achieve certain levels of strictly financially-measured levels of success than others. Some already have more than others, are born into wealthy families, have lives free from encumbrances, are healthier than others, etc. That said, I think success is a relative term, and it is different for each of us. What financial greatness means across the board, however, is reaching levels of success that are truly beyond what we originally thought possible.
How do we get there? Well, I’m not there yet, so I can’t give you a foolproof path to riches. Even those that are there can’t give us a guaranteed path, because otherwise we would all be on the way there. But I’m willing to say that learning from the examples in the books I mentioned, it’s possible for each of us to reach extraordinary levels of success. For some of us, it could be a matter of opportunity – or putting ourselves in position to succeed. For most of us, I suspect that hard work and a regimented, disciplined approach to money management can get us there. If this has worked with athletes, musicians, actors, public speakers – as well as people studying math, history, etc – then I believe it could work with personal finance.
Here is my suggested approach, utilizing 6 steps:
Have a philosophy: Visualize what you want your life to be like, and where money fits into it. For me, money is part of what I call the HWR framework – interrelated with health and relationships as a component of overall quality of life. Since I would like a high quality of life, with strong relationships, strong physical health, low stress with lots of enjoyment, and plenty of generosity, I think having money to fulfill those dreams can be helpful. It’s not just about accumulating the highest dollar total for me; it’s about total quality of life. Of course, if it’s about the bottom line for you, so be it. This part is highly individual.
Set goals: Ok, so I just got done saying its not just about accumulating the highest dollar total for me. True. But, in order to facilitate the bigger overarching goals I have, specific money amounts do come into play. This is where goal setting comes into play. I believe that as in many other activities, it helps to set a goal that is aspirational yet conceivably achievable. Figure out how much you need to make your dreams come true, and go for it. Write it down, record it – make yourself aware of it on a regular basis, while not obsessing. The goals may be different for each of us – sky high for some, while many of us will have more modest goals, relatively speaking. Again, the specific goals are highly individual. Putting this into practice, one can determine goals at the 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 year markers.
Learn: Get educated, and make it a continual practice. There is always something new to learn every day. Keeping a mindset that is attuned to constant learning can only help. Reading books, blogs, talking to people – these are all great ways to learn. For me, blogging on personal finance is a way to increase my knowledge of this space. Learning about financial concepts, different asset classes, how debt impacts your finances, different products in the marketplace, and ways to save money on purchases are all good uses of time. Often times, it’s what you don’t know that you need to know that can help the most. That’s a continual journey for all of us. Let’s put ourselves in a position to succeed.
Record Expenses: Keep track of your expenses, and analyze where you money is being spent. It’s a topic that is blogged about frequently, and I am a proponent of doing this, at least on a period basis. If never done before, it can be an eye opening experience. Done right, it can tell you where your money is going, and help you control where future cash outlay is going, in order to meet your goals.
Spend in a Disciplined Way: This, I believe, is a critical aspect of influencing a successful outcome vs. the alternative. There are plenty of stories about regular people of average means who were able to grow a comfortable next egg just by being disciplined in their money spending decisions. This helps maintain or even grow the important income minus expense gap.
Manage your Career: This can take different forms, but it essentially means protect and ideally grow your potential to bring in positive cash flow. How can such cash flow come in? Well, if it is passive cash flow that requires very little effort, that’s great. For most of us, however, we need to get to the point of having such investments that can do that for us. This is where your career comes into play. It is the other side of the equation – it provides the money that you can manage through steps I mention above. While many of us tend to spend a lot of time thinking of ways to save money, it’s often the income stream that makes the biggest difference. Actively managing your career so that you can put yourself in a position to maximize your earnings potential can only help. Over deliver on the job, seek promotions, build your resume, learn in everything you do, and keep a strong network going. Combine those actions with long term goals and keeping your head in the game, and you’ll be on the way to financial success.
I plan to follow these 6 steps, with overall discipline and practice, day in day out. I don’t plan to be obsessed with this. Rather, I am working toward making this a part of my routine, like brushing teeth 🙂
This is my game plan, and we’ll see what happens. My strictly financial goals are probably more modest than others, but as I said, it’s all individual.
What do you think? Is it possible for the average Joe or Jane to achieve “financial greatness” using such disciplined strategies?