Financial Failure Only Happens When You Don’t Get Back Up

I cheated death this past weekend and learned something valuable in the process.

My kids were invited to a birthday party at a local roller-skating rink and I needed to go to help with wrangling kids. Little did I know that the dad of the birthday girl would be in skates. The instant my kids saw this super-dad they slowly turned around to look at me with looks vaguely reminiscent of Judge Smails in Caddyshack that said, “Well? We’re waiting.” I didn’t have a choice, you see? They were adamant that I fetch a pair of skates and join them on the wooden rink of death (or severe injury, at least).

Not wanting to fail to meet my kid’s expectations in yet one more area, I paid my money and got some skates. After taking a picture of my skate-adorned feet and sending it to my boss asking if we had an Accidental Death and Dismemberment kicker on our life insurance policy at work, I rolled myself to the edge of the rink.

What followed was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had to date with my kids. Not because we were all expert roller-skaters, far from it. Rather, I watched my kids fall again and again. Sometimes they fell in ways that would have put a 41-year-old man in a recliner with ice packs littered across his body. While the wipeouts were something to remember, that’s not what I’ll take away and remind them of 10 and 20 years from now. Not at least without focusing on the rest of the story.

They kept getting back up.

Over and over. Every time they found themselves on the ground, they popped back up. Sometimes it took longer than others, but the result was the same. They found their footing, as unsteady as it may have been, and they made their way as best they could. Sometimes they asked for help and other times they wanted to do it themselves. From the time we arrived until we left the party, they improved in ways that can only be accomplished through repeated failure. That’s right, I’m confident that 2 hours of concentrated failing is what made them better skaters, and people, both then and in the future.  

As adults, it’s not as acceptable to fail, let alone publicly for two straight hours. If I’d been out flopping around and bouncing off the rink as many times as my kids, I’m sure I’d have gotten more than one person shaking their head at me and encouraging management to evaluate me for a concussion protocol. Our embarrassment with failure and the often accompanying guilt and shame only compound our problems, especially when we consider other aspects of our lives.

Finances, for example.

Everyone reading this piece right now, advisors included, has made financial mistakes. You have failed. If we can manage it, we hide our mistakes so others won’t know about them. Any of them. I’m no different. If we recognize our action (or inaction) as a mistake, we certainly don’t talk about it. And, in order to avoid even more failure and potential further disclosure of our shortcomings, we stop trying.

We give up.

We don’t keep a budget, we refuse to address the bad mortgage we can’t afford or car loan, we don’t have an emergency fund, we aren’t saving enough for retirement or our kids’ education. Maybe we have tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt or looming bankruptcy. Any of these failures can have disastrous consequences and we think ignoring them is often our best or only course of action.

It’s not. You can do it. It will take effort and patience and those qualities reside in every one of us. That includes you. Sure, we may not exercise them frequently, but they’re there waiting to be deployed.

Failure can be overcome, with the exception of one type. The worst failure is the one when you refuse to pick yourself up and start again. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it. Life is too short to be held hostage by failure and the emotions and stigmas that go with it. Problems can be solved. Perspectives can be changed. Support can be provided. Own the issue you’re confronting and don’t be afraid to fail ever again.

If you don’t feel like you have a person or group that can support and encourage you as you take control of your financial life, I humbly suggest you check out our group on Facebook, The RePeters. We’re a small but growing group that shares questions and encourages others to be their best. We laugh a little along the way, too.

This past weekend, my kids showed me that they have guts by getting up off the floor again and again.

I believe you have guts, too.

It’s time to get up.

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