“Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” – Art of War, Sun Tzu.
This was the infamous line said by Gordon Gekko in the popular 1987 film Wall Street. Derived from Sun Tzu's Art of War, a 2400-year-old Chinese text on military strategy, the teachings of this tactical mastermind have proven useful in various aspects of present-day life besides warfare.
Although Sun Tzu's Art of War is studied most religiously by military commanders, political leaders, and corporate executives, the concepts are scalable to conflicts as minuscule as your struggle with debt. Like in war, where the objective is to overcome the enemy resistance, it is everyone's goal to conquer their personal debt.
Debt is the bad guy. We are the good guys. The road to financial independence is a righteous path where we'll have multiple encounters with debt – a merciless obstacle that seeks to consume us. Luckily, an old man from many many years ago jotted down some powerful advice that may serve the purpose of securing a victory against debt.
Universal Debt Teachings From The Art Of War
Debt is, without a doubt, a dangerous adversary. A vast majority of the American population acknowledges the risks of carrying debt, yet we peacefully welcome it into our lives. The failure to understand the depth of the matter is a major reason that so many of us become victims of debt.
We must remain cognizant of the responsibilities of debt:
It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected. [Laying Plans: #2]
Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril. [Waging War: #20]
- Personal debt is influential in more than just our financial lives – it can alter lifestyles, sway career decisions, destroy relationships, and disrupt any sense of stability and comfort. Take it seriously because it truly could be a matter of life or death to not only yourself but also everyone around you.
The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success. [Tactical Dispositions: #16]
- In any attempt to maintain a firm grasp on our goals, consistency and persistence nurtures the attitude to make them realities. Financial independence asks of the same – a relentless drive when faced with an enemy such as debt.
Declaration of War Against Debt
So, you've resolved that debt should no longer be a part of your life. It has presented you with a hostile environment that warrants forceful attention. Waging war against debt requires an aggressive demeanor and steadfast composure.
If you are preparing for battle against debt, heed Sun Tzu's advice:
There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. [Waging War: #6]
In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns. [Waging War: #19]
- Time is a friend of the enemy. Debt's stranglehold will only get stronger the longer you take to deal with it. Consequently, interest accumulates – the power of compounding begins working against you. So, the cutthroat approach is ideal.
Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards. [Waging War: #16]
- You know the benefits of being debt-free: fewer worries, less stress, and restful nights. To obtain these rewards, get angry at the very existence of debt. If you are keeping debt around, you don't hate it enough.
Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive. [Tactical Dispositions: #5]
Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength. [Tactical Dispositions: #6]
- Progress is essential to the removal of debt. Minimum payments can only keep you afloat for so long. A defensive stance merely keeps debt from overwhelming you, which it will eventually do. Instead, tread forward. With every extra payment you make, you are taking back another inch of your life.
Holding Your Ground Against Debt
Cheers to you if you've managed to defeat debt – but you are not in the clear just yet. We all know how easy it is to go on a reckless spending spree. The next thing you want is to have to repeat your hard-fought endeavors due to preventable mistakes.
On future engagements with debt:
The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. [Variation in Tactics: #11]
- Keep your guard up because debt remains a lingering opportunistic foe. You'll never know when an emergency brings debt back into your life. For most of us, it is inevitable that debt will crawl in and out of our lives. But in the end, with the right preparations, it will always leave.
We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country – its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. [Maneuvering: #13]
… If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. [Attack By Stratagem: #18]
Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory. [Tactical Dispositions: #15]
- Know what you are getting yourself into. Know your financial habits. Know how evil debt can be. Take on consumer debt knowing that you have absolute confidence in your ability to kill it.
If you are thoroughly amazed at how a military text can be of such insightful relevance to your battle with debt, then you'd probably be interested in the entire text. The versatility of Sun Tzu's Art of War can be extended to the other areas of our personal finances and the daily undertakings of our eventful lives.
A free download (PDF) of Sun Tzu's Art of War is available here.
With an open mind and some creative thinking, you'll find even more precious wisdom that will be advantageous in your war with debt – including more lessons applicable to many other situations.
Sun Tzu wishes you triumph and glory on the battlefield!
The following is a guest post by Simon Zhen who is a big Art Of War Fan.
Recommendation To Conquer Debt
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(photo credit: Pedronet)