The Best Way To Get Ahead Is To Tell Yourself Hard Truths

Tough love is important for your finances - The Best Way To Get Ahead Is To Tell Yourself Hard Truths

The best way to get ahead is sometimes not the most pleasant way. In fact, I believe the best way to get ahead is to tell yourself hard truths.

Is it better to tell someone what they want to hear or tell them what they should hear? I choose the latter, because sooner or later the fairy tale will end.

Between the ages of 10-16 I started reading a lot about Eastern philosophies, particularly the concept of karma. I used karma as an excuse for everything!

Examples of Using Karma As An Excuse

“If I'm meant to get into a good university, I will, so don't worry about my studies mom and dad!”

“If I'm going to die young, I will, so let me buy the 600cc Honda CBR motorbike OK?”

“I cannot change whether I'm going to be rich or poor, so let me have some fun while I'm still alive.”

“I can't do anything about this bully. Let fate handle him.”

“We're either destined to be together, or not. I'm not going out of my way to woo her.”

Karma is a pretty neat way of rationalizing not having to study, be safe, work hard, fight back or go after what you want. My dad finally knocked some sense into me when I asked about the motorbike for the umpteenth time. He said, “Son, don't be stupid. A colleague of mine just drove his motorbike into a wall and died. You want that to happen to you before your life even starts?”

“Oh, OK. Maybe I'll stick with riding my bicycle to school then,” I remember saying. I actually did end up buying a mini-50cc replica racer motorbike without them knowing in high school. Its top speed was only about 45 mph so I figured if I did hit a wall I'd survive. Too bad it ended up getting stolen because it was sweet!

Listening To Stinging Criticism From My Father

My father also said something that really deflated my enthusiasm for tennis during high school. When I didn't win some difficult match sophomore year he consoled me by saying, “Well, I guess you're just not good enough.

That was a zinger because I stayed after school every day during tennis season to practice for 2.5 hours. By the time I got home all I wanted to do was sleep, but I had another 3-4 hours of homework to complete. Even my hero at the time, Andre Agassi loses, so why can't I? For about a month I didn't do jack shit because I was depressed.

It was hard to hear “just not good enough” at the time. But the reality is I wasn't good enough to take my game to a Division I school. It was better I spent that extra hour practicing for my SATs instead of on my backhand. I did end up getting a small scholarship to play for a Division III school. But I passed to go to a better institution.

The one thing about sports is that scores don't lie. You are either a winner or a loser. The best way to get ahead in sports is to face reality and work on your weaknesses.

I'd like to think I'd come to my senses on my own about not being good enough after losing one too many difficult matches. But who knows. Maybe I would have stayed in a long state of denial that would have been detrimental to my life. At least I was able to get bumped up to a 5.0 USTA rating at age 39! 5.0 gets me competing against ex-college players.

At the end of the day, I think we need to know hard truths so we can focus on areas that will bring us happiness. Here are three truths I plan on reminding myself every so often to make sure I'm on track.

The Best Way To Get Ahead Is To Tell Yourself Hard Truths

Here are some hard truths that may provide for the best way to get ahead in each circumstance.

1) Your Business Model Is Flawed

My definition of being a successful entrepreneur is making at least the per capita income of your city, state or country within three years. If such a profitable income cannot be achieved in this time period, then we are just spinning our wheels as hobbyists. If we cannot recognize that we are failures after three years and get a job, then we will probably go down a financial path of destruction as we keep investing more time and money towards a lost cause.

Certainly there are many great businesses that took longer than three years to see tremendous revenue growth or profitability. Tim Westergren from Pandora is a famed example where he went through over 200 venture capital rejections before finally getting funding. Now Pandora is everywhere and Tim is a hundred millionaire. But for every Tim, there are thousands of failures who end up way poorer for joining a startup than if they had just worked for a traditional corporate.

A day job is so much easier than entrepreneurship. But the one thing that entrepreneurship has over a day job by a mile is excitement. I wake up by 6am every single morning because I'm so excited to see what happened to my business while I was sleeping. At midnight, I get another wind because that's when potential clients in Europe get in at 8am. To be able to run my online properties from an iPhone in Europe for three weeks is exhilarating!

Unfortunately, the good times don't last forever in business. We must keep adapting or else we will die due to competition or structural changes in the industry. Always reassessing the business model is a good way to stamp out flaws before they become all consuming. Work on your online brand and leverage the internet to keep growing.

2) Money Can Make You Happy

While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.” – Groucho Marx

Unfortunately, this is one of the rare occasions where Groucho was slightly off the mark. We all know that money can buy happiness up to a certain point. That income point is $200,000 a year based on my experience of making much less to much more. Don't listen to researchers who say $75,000 is the magical income for maximum happiness when the most they've ever earned is $75,000! They don't know.

While that's not to say being rich doesn’t come with its own unique set of challenges, the champagne problems of the upper classes are infinitely preferable to the challenges faced by the impoverished who have no money to fall back on until their next payday. The only people who pretend wealth isn’t intrinsically linked to happiness are the super rich, who annoyingly have all the money in the world, and the impoverished who console themselves for not having much.

I sometimes tell myself money doesn't buy happiness given my passive income is only 55% of where I want it to be. I'm progressing in my quest to build a $200,000 a year passive income stream, but damn does it take a while given low interest rates. The slow progress often times makes me want to quit.

Money Won't Lead To Happiness

Money continues to be around 70% of the reason why marriages fail. A lack of money is stressful. Having enough money reduces this stress. Reduced stress leads to greater happiness. It’s pretty simple logic.

Obviously, there are some caveats. Happy, frugal, not so wealthy people are everywhere out of choice or out of necessity. In addition, there are plenty of other (arguably more tangible) things that make us can make us happy, and money isn’t the be all and end all of life, but it’s a pretty huge factor.

The pursuit of money itself can lead to a greater net stress than the acquisition of money can reduce – i.e. it’s inadvisable to chase a pay rise so hard you end up having a heart attack before you’re forty. So once you get to $200,000 a year, take a load off for a bit. You'll live longer as a result. The government is watching.

If you want to be happy, you need to have intrinsic motivation where you're willing to do the work regardless of the money. The extrinsic motivation of money can motivate you in the short term. But you need to believe in the work.

3) You’re Not Working Hard Enough

Although it might not be apparent with the amount of content that is produced here every week, I suffer from laziness. The Lazy Devil is always sitting on my left shoulder telling me why the hell would I bring a laptop on vacation. Therefore, I don't even though my business is content. The Lazy Devil tells me to take naps after lunch every day, so I do. The Lazy Devil tells me that life is good so why bother trying so hard, so I don't anymore. Damn you Devil!

We’ve discussed previously but it bears repeating: if you’re only working 40 hours a week (or less), it’s not enough if you want to outperform. Try adding another ten or twenty hours, and then you’ll start getting somewhere. Single digit workdays are for folks who are happy with the status quo. And those who complain about not being able to get ahead while only working single digit work days can never be saved.

If you’re happy with your current work life balance and the trajectory you are on, certainly don’t ever let yourself feel guilty about working 40 hours a week or less – you’re not a slacker, and it’s not that your dreams aren’t big enough. All it means is that you’re one of the very few people to have reached a Zen state, and you should embrace that for all its worth.

Work Smarter Please

For many of us, we’ve got places we want to be, and understand that we’re not going to get there solely on safe, salaried hours. Obviously it’s counterproductive to burn one’s self out, but realizing that you only get out what you put in is one of the key underpinnings to a successful business mindset. It shouldn’t be something you hate doing, either, otherwise you might be better off sticking to the ol’ nine-to-five after all.

Every day can be a Friday or a Monday when you work for yourself. Whenever my lazy meter stays on a Friday for too long, I tell myself to get going. After all, Fridays are great because of painful Mondays through Thursdays are they not?

Related: Don't Make Over $400,000 A Year: Look At Goldman Sachs Analysts Suffer

Get Ahead By Facing Reality Every Day

The best way to get ahead is to face reality. Be in tune with your strengths and weaknesses. Then press accordingly. Don't suffer from Dunning-Kruger, where you are too delusional to recognize reality!

Understand your failures. I've highlighted my perpetual failures before. Be humble enough to know when you aren't good enough. At the same time, be unapologetically FIERCE about pursuing your dreams!

1) Invest In Private Growth Companies

Invest in private growth companies through an open venture capital fund. Companies are staying private for longer, as a result, more gains are accruing to private company investors. Finding the next Google or Apple before going public can be a life-changing investment. 

Check out the Innovation Fund, which invests in the following five sectors:

  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Modern Data Infrastructure
  • Development Operations (DevOps)
  • Financial Technology (FinTech)
  • Real Estate & Property Technology (PropTech)

Roughly 35% of the Innovation Fund is invested in artificial intelligence, which I'm extremely bullish about. In 20 years, I don't want my kids wondering why I didn't invest in AI or work in AI!

The investment minimum is also only $10. Most venture capital funds have a $250,000+ minimum. You can see what the Innovation Fund is holding before deciding to invest and how much. Traditional venture capital funds require capital commitment first and then hope the general partners will find great investments.

2) Manage Your Finances In One Place

The best way to grow your net worth is to track it for free with Empower. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize.

Before Empower, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing, how my net worth is progressing, and where my spending is going.

Their 401K Fee Analyzer tool is saving me over $2,000 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying. There is no better free platform out there that is helping me manage my money. The entire sign-up process takes less than a minute.

Retirement Planner Personal Capital is the best way to build wealth
Is your retirement on track? Sign up to find out!

3) Start your own online business

The best way to get rich is by starting your own business. By starting one financial crisis day in 2009, Financial Samurai actually makes more than my entire passive income total of $200,000 that took 15 years to build. If you enjoy writing, creating, connecting with people online, and enjoying more freedom, see how you can set up a WordPress blog in 15 minutes with my tutorial. You get a free domain for a year too.

It's important that everybody at least establishes their brand online. Companies are getting rich off you and the internet, why shouldn't you get rich off yourself? Thanks to my blog, I've been able to also earn more consulting income than what I made at my day job as an Executive Director at a major bank. 

You never know where the journey will take you. What used to cost tens of thousands of dollars to start your own site now costs next to nothing. The key is to just start. You never know where the journey will take you.

Blogging For A Living Income Example: $300,000+ - Best way to make money
A real income statement example from a blogger. Look at all the income possibilities!

Photo: Fishing in Westchester, NY.

About The Author

33 thoughts on “The Best Way To Get Ahead Is To Tell Yourself Hard Truths”

  1. Well this isnt true!!! You can tell yourself your an airplane and fly around the room all day till your arms fall off still doesn’t matter if nobody give you a chance!! Ive been busting my ass since i was 14 and never asked for anything in my life! Parents told me if i want it work for it so i did!!! 2010 was hit my a car as a pedestrian on the job and the car was going 45+mph after all said and done still tryd working until i wasnt able to wrench on cars anymore. Over 15yrs of experience down the drain. Then denied left and right for disability so tried going back to work and even tryd getting into new feilds to take it easier on myself and ive gotten nowhere!!! I absolutely hate asking for help or even relying on others and because of it i suffer from severe depression. If it takes me going crippled to keep an income coming in id do it!! The hard truth is NOBODY CARES!!! If its not them in a struggling position they look a way and your just a fart in the wind!! Thats the hard truth!

  2. First time commenting but I have been reading quite a few articles of yours and thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    The one about doing more to get ahead really speaks to me and is a good indicator that I’m on the right path. I think a lot of us are in search of that because we want to be certain of a better future, especially if we are striving for it.

    But this is really helpful coming from you and can definitley tell that you’re being honest. Thank you for sharing how you feel about your business as well and keep up the great work!

  3. Pingback: A Massive Generational Wealth Transfer Is Why Everything Will Be OK | Financial Samurai

  4. Tis true, which is why all the huge recent entrepreneurs all seem to be in their mid to early 20s. Less distractions, more hardcore focus on their business.

    It’s a tough balance for those who want family and other things.

  5. mysticaltyger

    Ehhh. In your first paragraph, I think you meant “I choose the former” (not latter), didn’t you?

  6. Great subject and column, reminds me of a quote from Robert J. Ringer…
    “People say they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love is true.”

    The story of your father consoling you sounds like it might have been a tough message to hear so soon after your effort. Congrats on taking that moment and appreciating what could be taken from it. It is quite easy to avoid ‘reality’ by avoiding competition, confrontation, or any metric (like a sports score). And there are some truths that are known but don’t need to constantly be reinforced. It was pointed out to me, after a similar situation you experienced, that even after all the qualifying to play at Wimbledon, at the end of two weeks there will be one winner and 127 losers. And that winner will have to do it all over again the next week in the next city. Thanks for sharing this, FS, continued success to you!

    1. Nice analogy on Wimbeldon. Lots of losers indeed! To tennis players, they are all our heroes. But with their pro standards, I’m sure they don’t feel good getting knocked out before the third round.

      All expectations!

      1. Very true! Also, your post reminded me of this great Chance Langton joke…

        “The word ‘karma’ means that I can screw you over for something you did in a past life!”

  7. Rich Uncle EL

    I like to hear the truth, because honesty is the best policy. I also feel motivation kick in, when I hear that im not doing my best.

  8. The First Million is the Hardest

    You’re not working hard enough can be the toughest thing to hear, but also the most helpful. Once I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to get to where I wanted doing just enough to keep everyone happy it was the wakeup call I needed to get my career going.

    1. It’s kinda crazy real right? If the majority of people are working 40 hours a week, it’s harder to get ahead if you too are working 40 hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week to do something! Spending only 23% of your time working is hardly backbreaking.

  9. No thanks on the Murdercycle. Riders always tell me how great they are. Well, sure they are, but it’s not their skill I’m concerned about, it’s the fact that car drivers have their noses buried in smartphones and could KILL you with one accidental lane change.

    On money and happiness? I would personally alter that to say that money can keep you from being too miserable. $200,000/yr with no one to share it with? No thanks.

    Slam dunk on not working hard enough. If you want to make more than most, you need to do more than most.

    1. It is true that the risk is from the car driver who will mow a motorcyclist down which I’m afraid of now. Even if it’s their fault, it could be too late for you.

      When you have $200k/yr in passive income, I have no doubt you’ll be able to find someone to share it with. Not to worry!

      1. Couldn’t help but comment on this – I know someone who made about $30 million from his stint at AOL back in their heyday, he’s now living off the interest, but is miserable because he’s lost his purpose in life. His life revolves around watching sports, drinking, and his dogs. He wants to meet a woman, but can’t seem to find one. It’s sad.

        1. Hmmmm… Is he really that miserable though? $30 mil can buy a lot of happiness and companionship!

          Do you think we say rich people are miserable to make us feel better about our financial status?

        2. mysticaltyger

          I also know someone like this. Doesn’t have 30M….but does have a paid off house in Silicon Valley, a decent pension plus Social Security…and a 7 figure 401K that he doesn’t even touch because he doesn’t need it. Yet he suffers from depression and no purpose in life.

        3. I never had much sympathy for types like this. If you stop and look around, the world is on fire with problems. Use some of your millions and build a school, start a foundation, send 500 high school kids on a mission trip, run for office to make positive change…. A guy who makes $20K per year can sit around in his underwear getting drunk and petting some mangy mutt while staring slack-jawed at some pointless game of football. Sorry – no sympathy – get up and DO something with all that cash.

  10. When I’m feeling tired, I try to remind myself about the hardest days in my career when I was working 14 hour days in a position I didn’t like. That helps me appreciate that the present isn’t as hard or as tiring as it seems.

    1. Reminding ourselves of the worst hardships is a great way to reduce the pain of current struggles. Thanks for the reminder. I sometimes forget how bloody hard it was during one stage of my life after HS and before college when I got into all sorts of trouble.

  11. Taking a hard look at yourself in the mirror is really hard. When I finished college I really struggled to find the right job for me. It wasn’t until I realized that an ego was a luxury that I couldn’t afford that I actually found a job.

        1. Awesome! Keep living the dream. I hope it lasts for as long as possible. I had my dream job for 10 years before my interest started to fade. The 2009 crisis definitely had something to do with it as well. Now, I consider my current occupation as my dream job. Fingers crossed it lasts for just as long.

  12. The truth is where it’s at. Nicely told, and without any trace of happiness in putting another person down, the truth is where personal growth can happen. It also takes recpetiveness to what’s real, and the ability to question prior assumptions.

  13. I always want the truth as long as it is constructive, Some misuse the truth to put others down or to make themselves feel better. I grew up learn right from wrong, but my guiding principle is to do the right thing. This includes making my best effort every day. I try to meet my own standards of excellence which sometimes conflicts with others.

  14. I definitely want to hear the truth, 100% of the time. I’m human, though, and that truth can hurt. But, in order to be the person I want to be to live the life I want to live, I want to hear it. To go back to the first line of your post, though, do you tell others the truth? Or do you lie. I think there is a third, more effective choice. You SHOW them the truth. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite literary series is “words are wind”. People can twist whatever you tell them back into their own reality to deny it. However, if you live the truth you want to tell someone, well, they can’t deny that in a thousand years.

  15. 1. You get what you give.
    2. Don’t compare yourself to others.
    3. It’s never too late to start doing the right thing.

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