Where Not to Find Inspiration

Peter's picture

I have a small problem with some people's idea of an inspirational story about "how they did it." You know the one's with the headline: "How I Made Enough to Retire by Investing" or "How I Left the Rat Race and Now Love Life." Sure they sound like the exact thing you are looking for but when you read them they leave you feeling as if you will never be able follow in their footsteps. Sometimes people who "succeed" in simplifying their lives just don't make good role models for the rest of us. Here's why.

The Fortunate

Back when I was first getting interested in managing my money and planning for my future I got in the habit of reading up on personal investment strategies. There are lots of books on the subject and many of them are worth while reading. However, some are definitely not useful to the vast majority of people interested in investing. I don't remember the exact title of this one book that I read but it was something like "How I Made $2 Million on the Stock Market" by so and so. It sounded great: some real experiences from someone who was very successful at investing. Unfortunately, the story went something like this:

  • I saved up about $100,000 and invested in a few stocks
  • One of the stocks I picked went through the roof
  • Now I have $2 million

OK, I'm paraphrasing an enormous amount there but you see the point. No one can sit down, research some stocks and find one that is going to go through the roof. You can speculate but you are more likely to lose your money that way. You can pick some that you think might do well but for most of us that can be a daunting task if you don't have the experience. Sure, if you pick the right one you'll be set for life but that only happens to a few of us. Most do not have that kind of capital to begin with and even if we did have it, we would not feel comfortable investing in a handful of speculative stocks. This story is just not one that I could relate to at all.

The Executive

The other type of story that I find does not do much to inspire most of us is the retired executive story. Again, back when I was first getting interested in simplifying my life I was soaking up all sorts of personal accounts of how others were able to make the transition. This one time I was listening to a radio interview and the guest was telling her story about how she and her husband made the transition to a simpler life. Here are the key points of her story:

  • I had a senior position in some big corporation and was generally overworked and not very happy
  • One day my husband and I decided to make a change in our way of life
  • We looked into our finances and found that we had enough saved up to buy a small place in the country and live off a modest investment income from the rest

Again, this is great but most of us can't do this. Most of us don't have a huge amount saved up. We can't drop everything and leave the city in one big jump. Our investment income wouldn't be enough to pay a phone bill let alone be enough to live off. When I heard this I thought I'd never be in that position. I would be working for another 10 to 15 years before even getting close to that point. It just made me feel like I'd never be able to do it.

If We Look a Bit Closer Though ...

The types of stories I find most inspirational are the ones where people make small changes. They make adjustments to their personal routine and way of life that sets them up for future success. That being said, I do think that there are some tidbits of knowledge that we can take from The Fortunate and The Executive:

  • Firstly from The Fortunate: Definitely save and save regularly. Invest this money into something other than a chequing account or under a mattress. Overtime your investment will grow and you'll be paving the way for your escape.
  • Secondly from The Executive: You really aren't trapped. You can decide to do things that will lead you to a more fulfilling way of life. Every journey requires a single step to start it so remember that you do have the power to change your life.
  • And thirdly: People are out there making it happen. They might seem to have a huge head start on you but with some dedication and determination you can get there too.

So be wary of intimidating stories that are wearing a motivational mask. Sometimes someone else's situation can be so far from your own that it seems impossible that you could accomplish what they did. Just remember that everyone is different and that your escape route will be different from everyone else's. Finally, remember that there is likely some real wisdom in every success story but you might have to look a bit harder to see how it relates to you.


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