The more I live, the older I get, and the more the world changes around us, the more I see that our minds are not designed well for the current complexity of life in modern civilizations.
Our minds are built for very slow-moving and almost static environments where the people you know, the tools you use, and the dynamics around you change at a very glacial pace. The pace used to be so slow, that it would take generations for things to change. A ancient person could move back and forward in time 500 years and they'd likely be in a world that's mostly the same - same farming tools, same modes of transport, same deeply-local and family-based existence.
Imagine you went forward 500 in time. You're certain -- as I am -- that whatever world we arrive at 500 years from now, it'll be vastly different from the world today. We'd feel genuine anxiety traveling 500 years into the future because of how unpredictable we know it could be. We know at a deep subconscious level that the world is changing quickly.
This cosmopolitan, global, hyper-dynamic, tech-filled, and complex world we live in today requires that we embrace technology and use it in productive and effective ways. By using tech to offload memory, for example, we'll be making a prudent decision - remembering a few things in ancient times is different than having to remember hundreds of things with each thing in its own category (eg. home, work, car, finances, etc.). Another example might be using finance software or MS Excel to manage your money - living in a world with no money at all and mostly living in a quasi-communist family-oriented society is quite different than having to manage multiple account and making transactions with other humans and organizations on a daily basis.
It's fun and easy to focus on macro stuff - we read or watch the news and see what's happening in DC and around the world. The media loves to write about such things because it gets readers/clicks and it's something everyone is going to find relevant (as opposed to micro stuff like your local real estate market, which is not important to 99.99% of the world).
In reality, however, the micro stuff is more important most of the time. Not all the time, of course - sometimes macro events can have such large (usually negative) impacts that they outweigh anything that is happening at the micro level. In these cases, you hopefully have built a strong and resilient existence to weather any storms that may have come your way.
The micro things are your day-to-day habits and your ways of living in this world - they may include things like
One would be well-served by focusing on the micro stuff while ensuring they are well-protected from significantly adverse macro events.
The illusion that anyone can build wealth and reach financial success – a personal finance myth propagated by the personal finance media
Widely propagated on personal finance blogs, YouTube videos, magazine article, and on personal finance-related TV shows is the idea that anyone can get out of debt, save money, and build real wealth as long as they just try hard (both in educating themselves about money and in actually doing what's needed). This idea about personal finance and wealth building is a fiction, however. Not everyone can achieve financial success because financial success and lasting wealth depend, in part, on luck.
In modern Western Civ, people tend not to like to chalk up success (both of the financial and non-financial variety) and well being to luck. But, in many cultures around the world and in many periods throughout history, chance was understood better, and people didn't have as much resistance to accepting how much of a role luck plays in their lives. In finance, as in everything else, luck plays a huge role.
Whether or not you have a job that can provide you with enough income depends on so many factors, including whether or not you have skills that will provide value to other humans. To have such skills, you'd have to have gone to school or have developed them through some sort of apprenticeship (an apprenticeship could range from very formal to very informal). Whether or not you had the opportunity to develop skills, then, is at least in part determined by luck. What if you were born in a harsher place, to a more discordant community, or a less well-off family? Would you still be where you are today with a decent/good/great job? Maybe not. Likely not.
Beyond just the skills you possess, your disposition is dependent deeply on genetics and on how the first few years of your life went. Even the desires to save, to read personal finance blogs, to become better, or to move forward with your life may not be entirely yours – you might be lucky to have them, owing them in part to your parents (genetics) or your first few years of life.
Can a homeless man build wealth? Can a single-mom work three jobs while dealing with depression and build wealth? Can a crippled veteran who was deeply abused build wealth? Can a devastated black man who has only been taught that the world is dark and harsh build wealth? Can a family from the former Soviet Union whose members (especially the family's leaders) have deeply dysfunctional and ingrained problems understanding how to function in a capitalist society build wealth? Maybe, but it's not that easy.
A latte-sipping college-educated person with a relatively healthy mind, decent health, a neutral disposition, and without deep financial/family/psychological burdens stands a far better chance than the people described above. When the financial and personal finance media propagates lies about what's possible and what's not possible, they are abdicating their real moral duty in favor of clicks, views, likes, or short-term gain.
Can investing in your career provide more financial benefits than investing in the financial markets? Maybe...
For most people -- especially for those in the 1st half of their working lives/careers -- investing time, energy, and even money into their careers might prove to be very valuable investments. For many, investments in their careers might prove more rewarding than typical financial investments.
The reasons why this is the case for many people are two-fold. First, most people don't have a lot of initial capital to start off with - saving and investing is key for them, but with so little capital there's not much that can be achieved in the short run for the typical retail investor. Second, investments in your career (e.g., investments in your skills and knowledge) have compounding effects over time as one progresses in his/her career.
It's hard to give a useful guide on what to pour your money, your time, and your energy into because each job is different and careers are diverse. However, it's a safe bet that building the following skills/attributes within yourself will prove very beneficial over time:
Figure our your "why" for saving, investing, and building wealth - it'll help you financially and emotionally
A lot of well-educated people in today's modern economies save and invest a lot of money relative to their less-educated or less well-off counterparts. But, too often, these people in advanced economies lose sight of what they are saving and investing for.
It's not for anyone -- especially this blog -- to opine on why people should be saving and investing. But, it is troubling when most people can't come up with an answer quickly.
When you can't think of an answer quickly, it means you haven't thought about the question/problem long enough. In the case of saving, investing, and attempting to build wealth, that's a problem - if you haven't thought about "why" you're trying to build wealth, you're doing a disservice to yourself and your community (e.g. your immediate family, broad family, friends, etc.).
The point of building wealth is to use it - you can use it soon, you can use it far into the future, or you can put measures in place so that your wealth is used when you are dead. If your wealth is never used, it is clearly wasteful. If you don't think about how it's going to be used, that doesn't mean it won't be used; that doesn't mean you're wasteful. You're not - you're saving and building wealth. BUT, by failing to think about how you'll use your wealth, you fail to
It would do you a lot of good -- both financially and emotionally -- to grab a cup of coffee once a year and go for a long calm walk while thinking about your "why" (or any similar clam and contemplative activity).
Newton said there's inertia in the universe, so we now know more about our world and physics is better for it. That's not the inertia we're talking about here. Forget the universe for a second - focus on inertia in your mind.
Mental or spiritual inertia is a real thing. We won't try to define it here, but everyone who has experienced it knows what it is. It's when
Here are some examples of using interim in your own favor and taking quick, small, but intense bursts forward in whatever you'd like to achieve:
The problem with modern Western self-improvement and self-development thinking is that it treats the human mind as a machine when it should instead be treated more like a tree - we'll get into what this actually means in below. But, the vital thing to note is that this type of thinking has permeated self-improvement and self-development thinking quite profoundly. It has penetrated so deeply that when most people think of becoming better human beings are strictly in the machine paradigm; most people don't even understand that a different way of thinking about the mind and self-improvement exists.
Machine vs. Tree: Be a tree, not a machine
Machine: The machine paradigm is easy for most Western readers (e.g., readers who grew up in an environment where Western post-Platonic thought formed the foundation of academic/scientific thought) to understand. Treating your mind like machine means having a paradigm where you believe improvements to the machine (your mind) are to be made based on external analysis/planning/thinking (exogenous improvements) and where those improvements can be immediately implemented (e.g., upgrading the machine).
Tree: The tree paradigm is more difficult for Western-oriented thinkers to understand and is somewhat more in line with Eastern, though, but not completely. The tree paradigm is where you believe that mental "upgrades" are impossible or exceedingly rare, and you acknowledge how little control you actually have over your own mind. Instead, with the tree paradigm, you more clearly see the only real way to make lasting changes to your mind: through feeding it with useful information over a long period of time and allowing that information to be absorbed, integrate, and recalled later. Someone who understands the tree paradigm has a far clearer perspective on their own mind, their ability to improve or develop it, and the timeframes it takes for such improvements. This is just a brief into the tree paradigm - there's as much and more here as there is in the well-known machine paradigm
The descriptions above are accurate, but they might seem confusing to readers without proper examples. Often, the best way to illustrate a point quickly is to give examples. So, here are a few.
Problem: A man realizes he's terrible at relationships - his wife is unhappy and he finally realizes that there are things he just doesn't know about women, relationships, and how to have a happy marriage.
Problem: A man's friends sit him down and tell him that they feel he has a deep problem with aggression - at bars he picks fights, friends are always afraid of him getting upset when he's drunk, and they remind him of how he became aggressive with his wife a few months ago.
Problem: A high school kid who is good in school but self-conscious, timid, and possibly under-developed physically compared to his peers gets harassed at school by older, more aggressive kids looking for easy prey.
Hobby vs. Business - A business is a value-creating entity that receives some of the value it creates in the form of revenue
What is a business? This is a deep question that is rarely asked - possibly never asked. Everyone goes about their lives today talking about businesses, thinking about businesses, and dealing with businesses, but almost know one ever thinks about the definition of a business.
This likely stems from the fact that we seem to have an inherent understanding of what a business is - we guilty learn it growing up and see no need to ever define the term. Even MBAs in the world's greatest business schools - schools like Wharton, HEC Paris, Booth, or the London School of Economics - never seem to really discuss what business means. They (and everyone involved in any sort of human enterprise that attempts to create value) would be well-served by taking some time to dig deep and understand what business really it - having a workable conception beyond the mere imagery we currently use to understand the concept.
A business is an individual or an organization that is engaged in value-creating activities in order to earn remuneration for the value-creation at least equivalent to the costs of creating the value but attempting to charge enough to earn both a nominal and a real profit.
Let's dive deeper into our definition in order to flush out the meaning each of the definition's subcomponents:
The modern world is the epitome of security when taken from a historical perspective. We have taken a rough, difficult, dangerous, and unpredictable existence as human beings and, over many centuries, transformed it into a far more predictable, calm, and secure way of life.
Now, by security and insecurity I don't mean the modern definition of the term - I don't mean confidence or lack of confidence in yourself. I mean something much deeper and more universal when I use these terms in this context. I'm talking about being truly secure and being deeply insecure as a human being in relation to the world around you.
To better illustrate what I mean by these terms I'll provide an example:
Be the Mouse?
So, if a mouse is the epitome of an insecure creature and a lion is the epitome of a secure creature, why would I imply with my title that insecurity is somehow good - why would I imply that you should somehow be insecure? Because you're not a lion.
You're not a lion - you're a fragile human being that has to be concerned with far more than his or her place in the animal kingdom. You have to be concerned not only with your survival today in a physical sense, but with your survival in a financial, career, emotional, and mental sense. Life more difficult for us human beings - we're competing on more playing fields.
Security = Death
Although being too deeply insecure will cause you mental trauma, the only way to truly have security in any of the places where it is important is by being constantly insecure. The moment you are too secure you're dead meat. The moment you're content with your situation or position or the moment you let your guard down you give room to the cold and harsh world and those in it to destroy you. Don't give the world or any person that room - be constantly vigilant and never feel sorry for yourself for it.
Don't feel bad for being insecure - the modern world we live in makes us think that a sense of security is one of the ultimate goals in life. In today's world too many people feel that we should have a constant sense of peace and calm and security - we want to feel like everything is ok and that there's nothing to worry about. Stop wanting that and realize that the game will never end and the struggle will never cease - the moment you overcome something, there is something else waiting for you. The moment you achieve some sense of security, there is something else to be on guard against. You must stop putting so much value on being in a calm state - a calm state means nothing and is nothing. A state of vigilance and security in everything you do is another state and it's not less good - it's the natural state of a creature as fragile as us.
If you cannot save money, the seeds of greatness are not in you.
To become an excellent saver over the long term you must get some sort of mental reward from saving - if saving is a difficult process (like resisting eating food when dieting), you might be able to do it for a little while but over time you'll fail because we all only have limited amounts of willpower and energy. The real secret to being an amazing saver is to love saving - the secret is to have saving be a very enjoyable thing.
For some people saving money is very easy - they were either born with a mind or a disposition that rewards them when saving or they developed such a mind or disposition over time. Rarely will you see a really excellent saver who has to consistently battle himself or herself to put money away for the future or to resist spending in order to save - it's just too hard to do over the long term.
Other people, however, just can't seem to save. They spend all of their incomes (and sometimes even more) and they don't seem to feel any reward by putting money away - it feels like a chore to resist spending all of their money or putting some money aside. They won't become wealthy unless they strike it rich through luck or unless they have extremely high incomes. For most people who can't seem to enjoy saving money, they will need to change their mind a bit in order to be able to become truly excellent savers capable of building real lasting wealth overthe long term.
How can you change your mind? That's the hard part. You'll need to force or will yourself to start saving at first despite any internal resistance you have to it. When you do save some money, take the time to sit down and think about what you just did:
Reward yourself with a nice dinner, a nice movie on Netflix, or anything else you enjoy. Let the pleasure sink in and try to associate the pleasure with the act of saving money. Do this consistently and over time saving will seem more pleasurable and easier.
5 tips and tricks to get you on the path toward saving immediately
Here are some other tips to help you become an excellent saving:
Now, it's possible that not everyone can be an excellent saver - as much as we want it to be true, it seems like some people either don't have the personality or the internal energy to become excellent savers. That's a sad proposition. However, if you're reading this post, you're very likely not one of those people - you've already shown excellent initiative and you're already ahead of the game in your search for high-quality information. Go out and practice the tips above with vigor and intensity until you saving feels amazing for you also.
I went to the orthodontist today to get a fixed retainer removed. It was put in about a decade ago, when I was a teenager, right after I had my braces removed. It was supposed to keep my bottom teeth in place, but after a decade in my mouth it started wearing out. Last week I had to get it repaired and more recently another part of the retainer broke off, making repair impossible and requiring the removal of the entire fixed retainer.
Why am I telling you this? I'm telling you this because I had a really interesting insight during my orthodontist visit, specifically as he was removing the excess adhesive (which bonded the retainer to my teeth) and polishing the back of my teeth after removing the retainer.
I am not afraid of going to the dentist at all, but I do understand that dental work performed with no anesthesia can be excruciatingly painful. My parents, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, tell me how painful such work was as they did not have anesthesia then (or they did not have access to it). Obviously, with no anesthesia, people likely neglected dental work. Additionally, I experienced dental drilling when I was a young child with relatively little anesthesia (I am not quite sure why) and I remember that it was very painful, even though some anesthesia was used. It is a very unique and particular type of pain and it is extremely uncomfortable. So, I knew that drilling teeth with no anesthesia at all is extremely painful from stories and a past experience with relatively little anesthesia. With this knowledge and with this past experience I sat down to get my retainer removed.
The orthodontist told me that he wouldn’t use any anesthesia because he wouldn’t be drilling into the teeth or doing anything that would hurt. He told me he would just be removing glue from the surface of the teeth after he removed the retainer. He removed the retainer and then he began removing all of the excess adhesive with a dental tool that looked very similar to the tools that dentists used on me when I had fillings in the past. I am a layperson when it comes to dentistry, so I assumed it was the same tool and I assumed it was capable of drilling deep into a tooth.
As he began removing the adhesive from the back of my teeth I felt a tiny bit of pain. I wouldn't even call it pain. It was more of an annoyance, but I knew very well that the minor annoyance could turn into excruciating pain should the dentist go deeper into the tooth. I thought to myself, what about when he finishes removing the adhesive? Then the drill will be touching the actual tooth and there will no longer be a layer of adhesive between the drill and the tooth. Will that hurt? It will likely hurt!
I didn't say anything while he was drilling because I trusted the orthodontist, but the annoyance increased and I felt a very slight tinge of pain. Now I was a little nervous, but I still trusted the orthodontist because I knew he worked with children and that he likely had an abundance of anesthesia. He would likely use it if he felt that there was even a chance of pain as medical professionals are overly cautious when it comes to these things today.
When he took a break from the drilling and the adhesive removal, I took the opportunity to ask him about my concern because I was pretty curious. I told him what I thought would happen and he told me that it wasn't possible. He said that what he was using was a rubber drill tip, not a metal drill tip capable of lacerating and drilling into the tooth. He said that even when the tip touches the tooth with no adhesive, which it would do soon once all of the adhesive was removed, it still wouldn't hurt. My outlook on the entire procedure immediately changed in an instant and I was shocked at this.
When he began drilling again the minor pain went away completely. Obviously I still felt the same sensation I felt before, but now I knew that it would never be different than it was now. I knew that the drill was not even capable of causing the pain which I was afraid of and that made the entire thing not just a little bit more tolerable, but turned the whole thing into a completely different experience. I now wanted him to continue with the procedure despite the light discomfort because I wanted the back of my teeth to be as smooth as possible and for all of the adhesive to be removed.
I know this is a simple example, but I cannot ignore what it has taught me. My assumptions played an enormous role in my experience at the orthodontist. I felt the same sensation (maybe even a greater physical discomfort after I found out), but something changed. The sensation in the beginning was combined with a certain fear that it would increase and an assumption that the tool that was being used could also grind deep into my tooth. After I learned about what was going on, my old assumption died and was replaced with a different assumption, this time a more accurate one. That accurate assumption allowed me to understand that the tool had a rubber tip and was incapable of drilling into the tooth. It was not the same tool that dentists use to drill into teeth to fill cavities.
What can we learn from my experience? We learn that assumptions matter a lot. I've always felt this before, but my experience at my orthodontist really brought this home for me. It was an almost profound experience in terms of how quickly I learned and internalized something pretty important. We won't always be able to change our assumptions and when we get more educated and our assumptions do change, we might realize that our original assumptions gave us more peace of mind. However, whenever we're suffering in one of endless ways we can suffer, we should take a minute to think about whether or not our suffering is caused in part by an assumption that we have. We should then seek to understand why we have that assumption and really do our best to understand whether or not it is rational, correct, and true or whether it is only based on ignorance and our own limited past experiences. An assumption can act like a pair of glasses that color everything else we see in the world. Change the glasses and you can change your view of the world.
I'm at the gym waiting for a buddy of mine to show up and workout with me. After a long day at work I didn't want to workout. I wanted to go home and rest or basically do anything but exercise. However, I made plans with my friend already and I didn't want to experience that feeling you get when you break a promise to yourself, so I somehow made it to the gym. Sitting here in the gym's lobby waiting for my friend to arrive I remembered a quote I heard before, although I am not sure who said it originally. I tried to search for the quote on Google but it seems that it is attributed to many individuals.
"The hardest part is showing up."
Now that I'm at the gym I don't feel this desire to leave. I've already broken the main part of my internal resistance to working out by just showing up to the gym. I know that I will have to have an intense workout session, but that's perfectly fine now that I'm already at the gym. It's hard to explain and it seems to not make a lot of sense because the difficult part is still ahead of me. I've only completed the easy preliminary task. However, that easy preliminary task seems to have been the most important part. If I just show up to the gym I'll likely work out. It's not likely that I'll show up and then just get up and leave. Maybe it's because getting up and leaving will mean a change of course and a change of plans. Maybe that's what the difficult part is: actually getting started. Once I'm already at the gym inertia is acting in my favor. To leave the gym now would require me to go against that inertia.
I'll keep this little insight in mind next time I have a difficult task to do that I don't want to do. Obviously the task has to be of a particular variety for the principle to be effective, but it is easier to think about just showing up than thinking about the entirety of the task in front of you.
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