What if financial success, in the traditional sense, isn’t in the cards?

You may or may not believe this, but I’m a reformed slacker. Throughout school, I put in the absolute minimum amount of effort to get the job adequately done. The job that needed to be adequately done? I just needed a B. Not C’s. A’s were great, but I needed B’s to avoid parental interference. Therefore I didn’t really try. I could get B’s without trying. I have come to realize that I was an absolute failure as a student. I’ve learned that real success can never come with half-assed effort. Intelligence and talent are often relied upon in lieu of effort. But I don’t think a person can truly be satisfied unless they learn what it is to try.

To take it further, students that tried their hardest yet received lesser grades than I did, were actually more successful students. Living your potential is admirable. Doing the least amount necessary to get by, is not.

Some of us are considered financially successful based on our incomes. Some of us are considered failures based on our incomes. But I think that’s the wrong measure. For instance, take a look at a recent email exchange I had with a 60 Days To Change participant. (Shared with permission)

“Well I have come to the conclusion sadly to say that since I have to provide and take care of my elderly mom there isn’t any budget cutting, etc that is going to work. Yes and it’s not something that I dwell on. I have used the tools in the book as I have gone thru and it’s just life. I know there are others in my situation and as much as we would like to become debt free some circumstances just get in the way. I don’t know if you would have any comments regarding this but no one wants to have a parent die just to free them financially. She has no reserve or never has had any financial means so I just take care of her as she took care of me when I was little.”

I don’t know how you look at this email, but I look at it and say “this woman is a success.”

Here is my response to her:

“I really appreciate you taking the time to share such a personal story with us. I know that sometimes money feels very mechanical and cold. I know that programs like 60 Days to Change seem to focus on “the bottom line”, but the reality is that money is really about people.”

Your goal, in regards to your financial life, is pretty simple in nature, but challenging in practice: Do the best you can in the situation in which you are in. Per your email, you are in a very tough situation that seems like it doesn’t have a great opportunity for “success” within 60 Days to Change…if you are looking at “success” in the traditional way. But what you need to know is that the financial success is entirely based on your use of resources. How do you best use your money? How do you best use your time? Those are the measures that matter. If you have cut all of your expenses to the bone, and if you are working to earn a living, then that is success. You are doing the best that you can. I can tell that you don’t dwell on being in debt. I can tell that it doesn’t define you.

If there was ever a sign of success, it was in the last line of your email, “I just take care of her as she took care of me when I was little.” Your financial situation will eventually shift. You are doing a great job.

So by the definition of success that I have come to over the last 10 years, this woman is more successful than most of us. She does the best she can with the resources she has. I know that I don’t. The slacker in me isn’t completely gone.

Are you a success?

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