Failure Is The Key To Success
This article is the 10th of a 14-part series that explores the core tenets of Get Rich Slowly.
The ability to keep going in the face of failure is critical to success when learning any new skill to include learning to manage your money. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes with money every day. I’ve made tons in the past, and I continue to make them. Here are just a few examples:
I managed to take on over $185,000 in consumer debt before turning things around.
I tried (and failed) to repay my debt several times before stumbling on the debt snowball method, which worked for me.
Before I embraced the idea of mutual funds, real estate and CD’s I repeatedly poured money into stocks that tanked.
I could name dozens of other examples big and small. But the key is every time I realize I’ve made a financial mistake, I learn from it so I don’t repeat it in the future. Sometimes I do repeat my mistakes on a smaller scale only now I fail forward.
Building success from the ashes of failure
In Failing Forward, John C. Maxwell writes that there are seven key abilities that allow successful people to overcome failure instead of taking each setback personally. Successful people:
Reject rejection. Successful people don’t blame themselves when they fail. They take responsibility with the ability to respond for each setback, they don’t take the failure personally.
View failure as temporary. “People who personalize failure see a problem as a hole they’re permanently stuck in,” writes Maxwell, “achievers see any predicament as temporary.”
View each failure as an isolated incident. Successful people don’t define themselves by individual failures. They recognize that each setback is a small part of the whole.
Have realistic expectations. This one is huge. Too many people start big projects such as paying off their debt with the unrealistic expectation that they’ll see immediate results. Success takes time. When you pursue anything worthwhile, there are going to be bumps along the way. And remember: The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Focus on strengths. This was one of the biggest lessons I took away from Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. When I interviewed Ferriss last year, I asked him to expound on this idea. He told me: “Focus on leveraging and amplifying your strengths, which allows you to multiply your results. Fix any fatal weaknesses to the extent that they prevent you from reaching your goals, keep in mind perfection isn’t the path to your objectives; finding ways to cater to your strengths is.”
Vary approaches. “Achievers are willing to vary their approaches to problems,” Maxwell writes. “That’s important in every walk of life, not just business.” If one approach doesn’t work for you, if it brings repeated failure, then try something else. Maxwell is saying that to fail forward, you must do what works for you, not necessarily what works for other people.
Bounce back. Finally, successful people are resilient. They don’t let one error keep them down. They learn from their mistakes and move on.
These seven points form a firm foundation for dealing with failure in all parts of life, including personal finance. As you pay off your debt, as you learn to invest, as you cut your spending, accept that some failure is inevitable. This does not mean you are not your mistakes. Own them, learn from them, and move on. (And remember: Good habits keep small mistakes manageable.)
It’s never too late to change direction, to start making smart choices. If you’re 40 and don’t have retirement savings, you can start saving tomorrow. If you’re 30 and staggering under the weight of credit card debt, you can cut up your cards and make a commitment to change direction. The wonder of the future is that it can be built upon the ashes of the past.
At 45, I can look at who I am and can connect the dots back through my life. Though I do not regret saving for retirement when I was younger, though I do not regret accumulating massive credit card debt, though I do not regret living a consumerist lifestyle, I do now see that these experiences made me the woman I am today. Without them, I wouldn’t be motivated to help others make smart money decisions. (And let’s be clear: I am not advocating that others repeat the mistakes I’ve made.)
Failure is okay
Embrace fear as a tool to serve you rather than a prison that holds you in bondage from enjoying life in all of its glory. Step out of your comfort zone, take on new adventures, mitigate risks and enjoy the journey, if you don’t experience the things you are scared of, if you don’t risk failure you will never succeed.
If you’ve made poor financial choices, don’t let them get you down. Don’t let them make you afraid to live again. Draw from your experience, fall down seven times, get up eight.
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