The Courage To Be Disliked: Change Your Life Because You Can

The Courage To Be Disliked is one of my favorite books. It is a must read for all of you looking to improve your lives.

As I contemplate returning to work once my daughter turns two years old, I fear leaving my wife alone with two kids under three and a half. She's not too thrilled about the idea, which has tempered my enthusiasm for bolstering our finances.

Since April 2017, I have been a stay at home father with her. I am mostly in charge of feeding the family, cleaning the house, dropping off and picking up our son from preschool, and being her mental support during difficult days. On average, I spend roughly eight hours a day caring for our children and the house.

We're just facing a predicament because if our finances stay static or if there is a bear market, we may experience a significant financial shortfall by 2022. If there is a shortfall, I won't be able to provide the lifestyle we want. But at the same time, I don't want to give up our current lifestyle we've spent so many years building.

Then one day I came across a wonderful book called, The Courage To Be Disliked. This international bestseller helped me get into a better mindset about the future. I encourage you to read it as well if you would also like to make significant changes in your life.

The book made such a positive impact on me that I asked my wife to also read it and write a review of the most salient points to share with all of you.

Have The Courage To Be Disliked

The Courage To Be Disliked is written as a series of five fictional conversations between a philosopher and an unhappy, dissatisfied male youth who learns how the teachings of Alfred Adler can bring positive change, happiness, and fulfillment to anyone's life.

Here are some lessons from The Courage To Be Disliked that I thought were thought-provoking and worth sharing. I've also included my own spin on how some of these philosophies can be applied to personal finance.

1) We Each Have Our Own Unique Reality

“None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.”

I find a lot of truth in this. Even though we all live on the same planet, our experiences can be so vastly different.

Even if you grow up in very similar circumstances as someone, what you perceive as reality isn't the same as his or her reality. No matter how alike we may think we are, we all have different personalities, values, emotions, memories, hopes, aspirations, and motivations.

Thus, it's no wonder conflict can arise so easily between people. But realizing that we each have our own unique reality can be very freeing. I think this is why I don't hold onto grudges or stay upset when people are rude to me. Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree and move on.

How This Relates To Personal Finance

All of us need money to survive in this world, but the way we each value, spend, save, and invest it is unique. Often we share similar views and habits, especially amongst those of you who are regular readers here on FS.

Yet we each have our own money reality, just like how fingerprints are unique to each person. Thus, we should not rudely judge or criticize one another about money matters. Having civil discussions and keeping an open mind on money topics is so much more pleasant and constructive.

Sam has to field negative, rude, and disrespectful comments and emails all the time from people who cannot grasp this concept. It's not easy to be the daily recipient of blatant attacks from people who believe their way is the best and only way, especially when they lack credible knowledge or experience. I wish people would be more respectful online. Hopefully more people will if they think about this concept of individual realities.

Related: Why Households Need To Make $300,000 A Year To Live A Middle Class Lifestyle Today

2) Everything Is Subjective

Well water stays up pretty much the same temperature all year round, at about 60°. That is an objective number – it stays the same to everyone who measures it. But when you drink the water in the summer it seems cool and when you drink the same water in the winter it seems warm. Even though it’s the same water, at the 60° according to the thermometer, the way it seems depends on whether it's summer or winter.

… It’s not an allusion. You see, to you, in that moment, the coolness or warmth of the well water is an undeniable fact. That’s what it means to live in your subjective world. There’s no escape from your own subjectivity. At present, the world seems complicated in mysterious to you, but if you change, the world will appear more simple. The issue is not about how the world is, but about how you are.

It's easy to blame the world or the past for one's unhappiness and misfortune. But doing so will leave you perpetually miserable. I like the concept that everything is subjective because the onus of how we perceive others, view life, and succeed or fail is really entirely up to us as individuals.

How This Relates To Personal Finance

Common complaints amongst people who are not financially secure are that the wealthy are to blame for their suffering, working more than 40 hours a week is too hard, only smart and/or rich people can invest, getting out of debt is impossible, and the list goes on. These are all excuses that stem from not taking responsibility of one's actions and outcomes.

Building wealth and achieving financial independence must start with a desire from within, paired with a relentless determination to improve one's circumstances, and a willingness to learn and change.

The amount of wealth or poverty out there in the world shouldn't be blamed for one's financial successes or failures. Your financial health depends on your actions after all. We must avoid blaming others. Adopt a strong money mindset.

3) Unhappiness Is Caused By Interpersonal Relationship Problems

If you spend a lot of time comparing yourself to others, you'll likely wind up feeling constantly unhappy due to feelings of inferiority. If you always make excuses and blame others for your stress and unhappiness, you'll fall into the trap of refusing to change.

In addition, the philosopher in the book explains that if you constantly seek recognition and/or worry about getting judged by other people, you'll remain unhappy because you're essentially living your life for other people instead of yourself.

It can be hard to keep the complexities of relationships from impacting our lives because we are continuously surrounded by people, physically and digitally. But it is possible to be happy in a world filled with so many different people if we simplify how we view and treat these relationships.

What helps is to accept the fact that you don't have control over what anyone else thinks. They have their own reality, remember? Figure out how to live the life you want, regardless of what others are doing or saying, and you'll find your happiness start to increase.

How This Relates To Personal Finance

Have you ever blamed your parents, spouse, or boss for your financial stress or difficulties? It's easy to do, especially when you're feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. But that's not a mindset you want to habitualize. The same can be said for trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Instead, set your own financial goals, find a job that matches your skill sets, work towards building some passive income streams, and find a risk tolerance that you're comfortable with. If you're married or have a partner, strive to get on the same page financially and have shared and individual goals.

Who cares if someone else is earning 10% more a year, has a bigger house, and a fancier car. Focus on your personal situation and you will be happier.

4) Separation Of Tasks Is Key

One of my favorite lessons in The Courage To Be Disliked is the importance of adopting a mindset that embraces the separation of tasks. When we worry about things we ultimately cannot control and that shouldn't concern us, we are not separating tasks. This causes feelings of burden, unhappiness, stress, anxiety, and resentment.

If however, we can learn how to make the distinction between things that we can and cannot control, happiness can drastically increase for us and those connected. It's also beneficial to treating our relationships with others horizontally instead of vertically.

For example, if you have a horizontal relationship with your parents as an adult, you probably get along well because you treat each other as friends, as equals. But if your parents still treat you like a child in a vertical relationship, you will likely avoid spending time with them.

Conflict arises if you do other people’s tasks, feel responsible for other people's tasks, or have your own tasks intruded on. This isn't to say we should only care about ourselves and ignore everyone else.

To help unburden yourself from other people’s tasks, tell yourself “from here on ___ is not my task.” You can give all the assistance you can to those in your life, but don't intrude. This truly helps lighten your mental load and makes life simpler. Respect the separation of tasks and your relationships and happiness will improve.

How This Relates To Personal Finance

Money has never been my parents forte so I was determined to achieve FI and not to let the same thing happen to me. Fortunately, my finances are in order. But there was a time in my adult life when I felt a tremendous amount of stress about my parents' money matters, which took a real toll on my happiness.

For example, back in 2014 I spent hours and hours compiling my mother's expenses and debts, and put together a list of actions she could take with a clear budget to help her stop accumulating credit card debt.

How did she react? She got mad and stopped speaking to me. She rejected my help, said she simply couldn't cut back on the things I suggested, made a bunch of excuses and refused to change.

I was beyond frustrated. All I was trying to do was help, but she didn't want it. I kept running numbers and offering solutions every 6 months for the next 2 years, clenching my fists in secret, but staying super patient and kind throughout. But ultimately no matter what I said, she wanted to do things her way. I finally stepped back and let go. How she spent her money wasn't my task. Her reality was vastly different from mine and I couldn't change that.

After unburdening myself with her tasks, my happiness increased, she relaxed, and we were able to reconnect. And she knows that I'm always here if she needs and wants financial help. Do I disagree with how she manages her money? Yes! But I can only offer assistance. I can't make her change. That's not my task.

Sam's note: The “separation of tasks” is my favorite takeaway from this book. I felt it was my duty to provide as close to as equal amount of care for our kids as my wife provided. However, after a while, this often made me miserable because I also had to manage our investments and constantly write on Financial Samurai.

I've held onto this mindset of doing more because I met my wife in college when she was only a freshman and I was a senior. I was usually the one providing guidance and earning more because I was older. As a result, this act of always being a leader has carried on for over 20 years. But she's almost 40 years old now and I need to change my attitude.

Since reading this book, I've slowly gotten more comfortable with not spending as much time taking care of the household. As a result, I feel happier spending more time writing and getting out of the house more. My guilt has significantly lifted largely because I've grown confident that my wife can handle the separation of tasks.

Related: No Mortgage More Courage: Pay It Off!

We Are All Capable Of Positive Change

Life may not be easy at times, but it can be a whole lot less stressful and happier if we:

  • Adopt an abundance mindset
  • Respect that each individual has his/her own reality
  • Recognize our surroundings are subjective
  • Build horizontal relationships, not vertical ones
  • Utilize the separation of tasks
  • Are self accepting; there is no “100% person”
  • Have the courage to change what is in our control

The less stressed and happier we are, the better our financial health tends to be as well. Figure out how you want to live your life, not how anyone else thinks you should. Work towards building wealth to support it. If you do, I'm confident your happiness will rise!

A New Book To Buy

If you're looking at trying to make optimal decisions about some of life's greatest dilemmas, I encourage you to buy Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Freedom And Wealth. I spent two years writing the book with my editors at Portfolio / Penguin Random House.

In the book, I discuss investing, education, marriage, retirement, you name it. It is my greatest work! You'll gain 100X more value from the book than its cost.

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19 thoughts on “The Courage To Be Disliked: Change Your Life Because You Can”

  1. As I started reading the post I realized I had listened to this book on Audible within the last 6 months. I remember really liking it and thinking I should listen to it again. This may be a book worth buying the paperback as well and use it as kind of life textbook so to speak. I like to highlight sections of books and make notes in them. I think it helps me retain the information and put it into practice, more so than when I just listen to a book.

    I have been trying to justify buying a $100,000 RV to use in retirement to travel the US then ship it to Europe. There I can become a resident of Portugal, rent a cheap studio, then travel the rest of the EU as I want. I am planning on about 5 years in the US, then 5 years in Europe. Many in the FI community would say $100,000 is way too much to spend, but I need it to have very high electrical capabilities to run an AC to keep my dogs safe, while I am cycling and other things. Plus when I look at the cost of ownership per day over a 10 year period for living in my paid-for house vs the RV, the RV will be less than half the cost of staying put. BUT I am still having a tough time with What Other People Will Think. I need to start thinking about how envious other people will be of my new lifestyle.

    I’ll try to do some good during this time by vlogging about how a healthy diet and exercise can help keep your mind sharp. My goal is to increase my Healthspan as much or even more so than my Lifespan. My father recently passed away at 93 ( I am 59) but the last 7 years of his life weren’t great due to dementia and other health problems. Thanks for renewing my interest in this book and leading a courageous and beneficial lifestyle!

  2. “Courage to be disliked” is one of my favorite topics to discuss or just think about because it’s a feeling/concept that we need to intentionally unlearn.

    That feeling gets developed when we’re infants. Babies instinctively react so positively to other people’s attention. When you validate their action with a positive reaction – they react to you and smile. The bigger the reaction, the wider the smile. Adults do this because it just seems like the right, natural thing to do. You boy/girl said their first word? We’re ecstatic. We clap our hands, we hug them, and they in turn look happy because we look happy.

    This loop continues on through young adulthood and I feel like a foundation is completely set. The foundation of being anchored to other people’s approval. Why? Because we’re social beings. We like being liked. We like getting attention from others. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel valued.

    So to unlearn this behavior as we get older is a crazy concept. To detach from what we find comfort in because doing so would actually make us happier. To learn that we need to care less about being liked because THAT will now make us feel better.

    It’s like learning how to walk then later learning during your adulthood that walking actually causes more pain and isn’t worth the benefit. Lol.

    Anyway, I’m in my 30s right now and I’m still working to get unconditioned. I make deliberate attempts to care less and put in less effort to get other people’s approval, but it’s difficult. Old habits die hard I guess.

    (Like, heart, share, and reply to this post.)

    1. Great comment, and so true about UNLEARNING what we’ve learned for so long.

      One realize in this post was for me to STOP thinking of my wife as the freshman I met in college and 100% like an almost 40-year-old experienced mother who knows her stuff. We are stuck in the past, just like how some parents still view their 40+-year-old children like young toddlers.

      Must work on unlearning!

  3. It also reminds me of the saying (local maybe)

    “If you do what everyone else does, you get what everyone else’s (has) got.”

    Staying in the herd provides protection but you will always be stuck in the average. If you go your own way you may achieve massive wealth or crippling poverty. Either way the herd does not like unique individuals (panhandlers or billionaires)

  4. I also feel tremendous amount of stress about my parents money matters and it is taking a toll on my happiness. I have been trying to help them with financial advise my whole adult life. I have just reached financial independence and recently my parents just started hitting me up for financial assistance because they only have social security to live on. Can you write a post on how to deal with parents that don’t plan for retirement and how we can help them out without jeopardizing our own financial security? Thank you.

  5. Sydney, am very happy to see this post, and discussion. Always enjoy when you share your thoughts with the FS readership. Actually, I read this book because it was mentioned on Financial Samurai website some months back. In 2019, I read 88 books, this was one of them, and I gave it a “7.” Interesting that the book’s impression on me was that a path to contentment involved stepping away from “status” games and striving. I have been coming upon that concept frequently in the past several years, and agree and appreciate the intent and results.

    ‘Self-Improvement’ and ‘Pop Philosophy’ is always popular and sells well. SPOILER ALERT: All philosophy studies end with the same conclusion: Life Is Suffering. It sounds brutal, and there are moments of respite, but a combination of acceptance and detachment has been a big improvement for my own mindset.

    This book posits that the suffering manifests in being disliked. I didn’t like it when I finished, but a few days later I came to accept that conculsion as valid. People like to stay in their ‘comfort zone’, and it rankles them when they see one of their perceived peers move ahead of them on their ‘status ladder’. It isn’t so much that they don’t like you anymore, it is that they don’t like the way your accomplishment makes them feel about themselves. And that diminished feeling winds up with blame, and eventual dislike.

    “If you spend a lot of time comparing yourself to others, you’ll likely wind up feeling constantly unhappy due to feelings of inferiority.” This snip from your blog post reminds me of this quote, “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” – Teddy Roosevelt

    Seen a few recommendations for ‘Subtle Art’, and if I may add another practical book on mindset to those keeping a list, “Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower” by Ed Latimore. I’m also going to dip into ‘Disliked’ author Ichiro Kishimi’s follow-on book, “The Courage To Be Happy.” Let’s all be brave, fellow FI enthusiasts!;-)

  6. Great post! I struggle with my children making one stupid financial decision after another. They are young and not causing permanent damage, but all the conversations seem circular and frustrating. My wife and I have started to let them fail, and not bail them out which can be painful at times, but crucial for them to learn. Your post reminds me that until they are ready to learn, and ask for help. I am wasting my time.

  7. Ah yes, I LOVE this topic! Personal finance is just that, personal. We each create our own reality and I also tried assisting my parents, but they do not like talking about their finances.

    I leave them alone, but understand that my goal of financial independence, savings and having options later in life is not as
    important to everyone else.

    Some friends wonder why I still drive my 2007 Saturn, and I tell them it’s because I’m financially independent. A multi-millionaire once told me “looks can be deceiving and usually they are.”

    This is so true! She has $30mm + and you seriously would have no idea.

    Sometimes she drives around fancy “fun” car, but most of the time she’s driving her 2010 Honda.

  8. This sounds like a good book. It’s on my list now.
    Fortunately, I already learned most of those lessons you listed above. You can’t change other people. All you can do is try to help while keeping a little distance. They have to figure things out for themselves.

  9. Reverse The Crush

    Although I haven’t read this book yet, I really enjoyed this post, Sam. I like that point about each individual has his/her own reality. Sometimes I forget that. And I also agree with the point on separation of tasks. I struggle with it because I overthink, but it is something I am working on. Looks like I need to read this book.

    Seeing how this post is about courage, I wanted to ask why you would consider going back to work after so long when you are seemingly in such a great financial situation. Isn’t this blog your business and a job now? I know you mentioned that you want to maintain the lifestyle you built, but is it really so expensive that this blog and your investments cannot cover it? Because if that’s the case, the expensive lifestyle is leaving you in a position that isn’t much different than the average person that lives payday to payday, in my humble opinion. I guess you are really not doing this for financial independence, time and freedom, but more for high net worth and level of wealth? Thanks for your feedback if you have time to share.

    1. Two reasons I reckon,
      First Sam underestimated how quickly Fed can destroy the purchasing value of your savings, second, I will quote approximately Pascal: all problems of humanity stem from the inability of man to sit alone in a room without getting bored.

  10. I just finished reading something similar. It’s called The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F!@#. It’s pretty good and talks about the separation of tasks section you mentioned. The author calls is a counterintuitive approach to living a good life.

    1. I was about to mention The Subtle Art book. It’s a good read from a different perspective on similar topics.

  11. Those are some pretty powerful concepts. I like the separation of tasks one especially. I tried to help others such as my colleagues with financial tips but felt like it was falling on deaf ears. Now I just discuss finance with those that seek me out for advice on the subject because I know they are motivated to make change.

    1. I’d be careful to assume that those who seek you out are motivated to change. Although I have a passion for sharing financial education simply because it’s so rarely taught in schools, many times people will come to you for help without the willingness to actually change anything.

      When you start killing the sacred cows (get rid of the boat, expensive 2nd car you rarely drive, cable TV, subscriptions in general, etc.), they just shut down or complain that they can’t give up “their lifestyle.” It’s like they want to lose weight without watching what they eat or going on a diet. When you point out that “their lifestyle” got them into this mess, the rationalizations begin. If we all live in separate perceptual spaces (there’s only ONE reality, after all – the water is 60 degrees even if no one’s there to feel it), then too many of those spaces are very dark and scary.

      1. +1

        My own experience is that these people who ‘seek me out’ just want permission to not change. They want a magic FI pill, and claim not to understand that it all boils down to “save more and spend less.”

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