When I started paying back my debt at a faster pace than the absolute minimum that my lenders required, I got really excited about it. In my eagerness I started talking to friends about this radical practice, thinking that they would be grateful for the life changing shift in perspective. These conversations, for the most part, didn’t go as smoothly as I expected. I shared links or stories I’d heard, but there weren’t many lightbulb moments where someone decided that they could change their finances too.
I realized that it wasn’t the lack of information that was keeping them committed to mediocrity, it was the excess of information.
When we’re younger, all we ask is ‘why?’ Why is the grass green? Because grass has a pigment called chlorophyll that absorbs sunlight. Why? Because it needs to absorb energy to grow. Why?
Now we say ‘but..’ But how do you save? Live on less than you earn. But how do you live on less than you earn? Reduce your expenses or earn more. But why would you make all of those sacrifices? So you can have the freedom to choose to leave your job. But why would you want to leave your job?!
We still question everything, but we no longer do it to learn. We question because we’re trying to justify our current existence. We’re searching for the ‘gotcha’ moment: See! I knew it couldn’t be done!
If it can’t be done, if it’s impossible, then the fact that we haven’t done it yet ourselves isn’t a reflection on us. We can abdicate our responsibility for our own lives completely and blame external factors for our lack of progress.
The Paradox Of Personal Finance Case Studies
Logically it might seem that the more information we have about successful people, the easier it would be to replicate their success. In reality, every detail about a given person’s finances or lifestyle is an opportunity to reject their knowledge based on any one of their perceived advantages.
We could review the finances of every successful person on the planet and discount each one of their experiences for some reason or another. Maybe they were able to graduate debt free because of several scholarships. Maybe a small inheritance allowed them to put a down payment on a rental property. Maybe their parents let them live at home while they started their own business.
We can get so caught up in picking out the one factor that gave them an advantage over us, that we don’t see the big picture. Instead of trying to find a role model in something, we look for one in everything. Rather than reviewing advice from a variety of sources and applying the relevant pieces to ourselves, we search for that one person who is exactly like us.. our personal finance unicorn.
By the time we get through the preliminaries of outlining the ideal personal finance doppelgänger case study that would convince us that financial success is possible, it’s like we’ve constructed an overly ambitious dating ad.
Must live in a high cost of living area, not be extremely frugal, have pets, enjoy equipment-intensive sports, make an income below six figures, and save 50% of it.
The problem with this approach is finding someone who fits all of these categories, and then not finding another attribute about them, a deal breaker, that will cause us to scrap the whole thing.
Oh, but this person doesn’t like Will Ferrell. How could I possibly take financial advice from someone who doesn’t like Will Farrell? Nothing they say would ever apply to me in a meaningful way!
Your Personal Finance Unicorn Does Not Exist
If you find yourself pointing out someone’s advantages or choices as a dismissal tactic, try being brutally honest with yourself. Are you really interested in learning something, or are you just trying to give yourself an excuse to continue being mediocre?
You’re not going to find someone out there who is exactly like you. Your personal finance unicorn does not exist. There are horses and narwhals though, and you can piece them together in a metaphorical hybrid patronus. That has to be better than spending your life looking for a unicorn that will never appear, or not searching at all.