When I look back over the past 3 years, my life has changed drastically. I went from having $40,000 of student loan debt to being completely debt free. I left a promising teaching career to start a new online business that I had no idea would succeed.
I progressed from a completely negative net worth to having more money than most people do at my age.
So what's the deal? How was I able to do so much in such a short amount of time? Did I just get lucky? Am I just one of those people out there that accomplishes a ton by sheer circumstance? How can a 27 year-old person make incredible strides and meet crazy goals with such little life experience?
The answer is simple. I stopped giving in to fear. I started to trust my instincts.
Before I go on, I need to make it clear that I have spent most of the past 3 years in a crippling state of worry. I've never been a person with anxiety – but every step of the way on my journey of becoming debt free and getting ahead financially has been filled with it. My days have been spent constantly wondering if I was doing the right thing, or if my peers were all passing me up. I was the guy that had less than everyone else, and was on track to MAKE less than everyone else.
Fear was an annoyingly familiar experience for me.
Most of the time when people ask me how I've done what I have, I default to the answer of “maybe I just have good luck”, which is a crappy answer. I'm not one to beat my chest and tell people to bask in the glory of my accomplishments. I'm really uncomfortable writing about it right now.
But at the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that I made choices that most people aren't willing to make. I made decisions in spite of my fear, but I had to recognize what I was afraid of before I could do that.
Here are the three things that every non-decision in life comes down to:
1. We are afraid of failure.
It's almost a cliche at this point, but it's a cliche for a reason. Humans are deathly afraid of failure. We stay in jobs we aren't happy with, relationships that don't work, and routinely make poor financial decisions out of fear. Don't believe me? Take a look around. You'll see people buy every type of insurance available, only because they are worried that something horrible MIGHT happen. There are entire industries dedicated to feeding off of our fear of the unexpected failure!
2. We are afraid of the unknown.
Instead of blindly charging into the abyss of excitement, we choose the stillness of safety. I would argue that the lack of change is what slowly kills our soul, but maybe that's too deep for a blog about personal finance. Regardless, the fear of the unknown robs us of the ability to experience change in our life. If you haven't achieved your version of success yet – doing the same things every day will never get you there.
3. We are afraid of what other people think.
Every lack of action eventually boils down to this ^^^ unfortunate truth. We are so afraid of looking unsuccessful to our peers that we will do anything to pretend that we are “making it”. New cars, big houses, “stuff” in general, it doesn't matter.
When I was in my young 20's (sorry older people that read this…”young 20's” is a thing that only Millennials know about right now) I really cared what other people thought. I hated that I drove a crappy car, my band students made fun of me for wearing old shoes, and I was jealous of all the vacation pictures I saw on Instagram.
Now that I'm edging closer and closer to 30, I don't care anymore. Nobody pays my bills but me, and they never will. If I want to drive old cars or wear old clothes to save money, then so be it. I will never let someone else's opinion put me in debt or keep me poor.
It's OK to be afraid, but to let it keep you from success is a crime against yourself. If you want to change careers – freaking do it. If you have a goal of paying down debt, take the path that scares you the most.
If you are scared of investing, jump in before you're too old to take advantage of compound interest. Don't fall into the trap of worrying what other people think.
The world around you was built by people no more intelligent than you are, and you need to remember that every day.
I'll leave you with this:
If I've learned anything from the journey I started this year – it's that fear keeps us stagnant. People are afraid to take risks, whether it's in life, finance, or career. We more often than not opt for the stillness of safety.
I'm not foolish enough to believe that I understand how to master a successful life, but I have noticed early on that many levels of success take a leap of faith. If you want to feel consistently refreshed, do things in life that scare you and do them often.