In a past life, I wouldn’t even participate. Creating a pile of shit just wasn’t an option. I’d sit it out unless I was sure that I’d create the best. The very best there was. Like, there might as well not be a competition because I was going to win.
The problem quickly presented itself in those opportunities where I did actually participate. “I got this”, I said. Those chumps might as well just go home now because when I enter a competition, I enter to win.
The truth of the matter turned into something devastatingly different: I’d almost always “not win”. I might not come in last, but I’d rarely come in first. And in those times I did come in first, I’d give myself the reassurance that my way of life was the right one.
After all, I won. I entered only because I knew that I’d win.
But here’s the thing: I entered all those other competitions because I thought that I’d win, too. But, I didn’t. In fact, I probably only won about 20% of them.
In other words, I lost more than I won.
But, I ignored the losses and focused in on the winning. I let each victory overshadow the truth of the matter that, well – a lot of the time, I just sucked. Nothing to write home about. I was mediocre, at best.
More times than not, my experience, knowledge or focus was just inferior.
It is okay to create a pile of shit
Through all that heartache and amid all those lies, I inadvertently taught myself a lesson that I should have learned a heck of a long time ago – that you don’t need to win every damn competition to get something of value from it. To learn from it. To do. To practice.
The more we practice, the better we get. And as a natural result, the more we lose, the better we get at dealing with the loss.
It’s strange to think about, but dealing with adversity is a very real and natural part of life. We all do it. And the more we deal with adversity, the better we’ll get – at least in theory, in confronting, learning from and filing away those situations where, well, we just sucked.
Yup, we created a bunch of shit. A great big pile of shit.
And, that’s okay. We also used the opportunity to observe what worked and what didn’t. Okay, so maybe spelling that word as fast as I possibly could in the Spelling Bee wasn’t the best idea because I learned that I make way too many mistakes when I operate too quickly.
It wasn’t enough that I spelled the word correctly. I needed to spell it faster than anyone, too. To prove to some unnamed entity that not only did I know how to spell insanely complicated words, but I had such a badass understanding of the incomprehensible mess that is the English language that I could blaze through the spelling faster than my competitors, and probably half the audience!
Mistakes were made. Lessons were learned.
We don’t learn unless we fail
Failure is remarkably educational.
It takes our hubris and slaps it squarely in the face, setting us back into the reality in which we once lived and, hopefully, will take up residence once again.
Failures force us to reflect on the situation, as well as ourselves, to determine where we F’ed up. We retrace our steps and analyze where we stumbled off the path to righteousness. We admit to ourselves that, well, we screwed up. It happens.
And, it’s this process that teaches us about ourselves. About confidence. About picking our asses up from off the ground and trying again.
We all love successes, but we learn so much more from our failures.
Hi, I’m Steve. And, mistakes were made.
My mistakes were hilariously typical, too
I can’t say that the mistakes I made were all that “unique” or interesting. I made the same mistakes that so many other people make.
I bought a sports car
A month out of college and after securing my first real job, I bought a $25,000 sports car (a 1999 Corvette convertible). I gotta admit – that car was pretty bad ass. It was the loudest car on the road and definitely one of the fastest. I plunked down good money on upgrades like a supercharger, forged rear end, cat back, long tube headers, twin-disc clutch – you name it, I did it.
But, it was also a money pit – a pit that seemed to get deeper and deeper after each upgrade. The fact is the more upgrades I slapped onto that baby, the more expensive she got. Things would break. It needed meticulous maintenance. It just wasn’t worth it, and honestly, I had no business driving around in a car that cost half of my first year’s salary right out of college.
Oh, I also rode around on a Yamaha R1, one of the fastest sportbikes ever made – nearly killing myself on several occasions. Insurance alone was around $150 / month. But, I didn’t care. I wanted the bike. I loved riding it, and I was prepared to spend any amount of money to continue doing it.
I went out to eat a LOT
Over the first three or four years of my professional work life, I went out to eat for every meal I ate. And when I say every meal, I actually mean every meal. Every damn meal.
Let’s just say that my roommate and I had the cleanest kitchen in the entire apartment complex. We just never used the thing. It was for show. And, my roommate was part of the problem. You see, he loved going out to eat as much as I did. We both hated cooking. We were both single. We had good jobs in the IT industry, so we had money to spend.
And, we chose to spend it on food. We never ate breakfast, but had lunch and dinner out every single day of the week. $150 to $200 a week, gone.
I expected things to happen TO me
This was my most devastating failure and one that I’ve always regretted. As a young lad, I had certain expectations that if you acted a certain way, or said certain words, that certain things would happen as a result. Cause and effect.
A simple mathematical equation.
But, life doesn’t work that way. Life isn’t a set of equations. Life is organic. Sometimes, shit happens whether you expected or deserved it or not. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Math does an amazing job at balancing a checkbook, but it doesn’t magically explain life. Sometimes, 1 + 1 doesn’t equal 2.
When it comes to figuring out life, there are just too many variables in the mix to simplify things to that degree.
We need to make things happen FOR us – rather than expect things to happen TOus. I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness. I thought anyone who spoke over me was guilty of a deliberate sabotage of me personally. Everything that didn’t happen exactly as I expected them to was somehow “overcome by events” and not my fault.
The more life I lived, the more I learned that life WILL happen to us if we aren’t proactive. We have a hell of a lot more control over our lives than we care to admit. The choices we make each and every day help shape the next day. And the next. Everything adds up. The pile gets deeper.
Money means very little without purpose
Straight out of college, I made good money. It was my very first real gig, and I was enjoying the cash flow. And let’s be honest: This is natural. The first time a person makes real money, they’ll spend it.
Finally. Dependable spendable cash!
But, it’s not like I didn’t save at all. I saved a little.
I did what I thought I was supposed to do regarding that “saving” thing. I contributed just enough into my 401k so the company would match it. I put a few pennies each month into a company-sponsored Roth IRA as well. I also budgeted. Each and every paycheck, I’d fan out that money into their respective pots, then proceed about my life as if everything was fine.
Truth be told, things were fine…so long as I had no intention of retiring anytime soon. My budget was failing me (or rather, I was failing my budget).
Worse of all, I had absolutely no idea.
I robotically budgeted, but it was purely circumstantial. Beyond the pittance I saved into my 401k and my “reserve” pot from my budget, I basically considered everything else to be freely available money for spending.
Not money that COULD be spent. Money that SHOULD be spent.
And like a good little soldier, I spent it. Spent it good. Spent it on nice things, like expensive camera equipment. A miniature pool table for my already-crowded little apartment. Restaurants. Anything I wanted, I bought.
I created a great big pile of shit
I was on top of the world, but I was turning my life into a hollow existence of what I knew it should be. I didn’t have the discipline necessary to flip the switch and create positive habits. Nah, barreling down the same ol’ path was so much easier. So, I kept doing it.
In the end, I’m glad that I made those mistakes. Even though they set me back, I also got them out of my system. I learned from them and recovered the best I could.
I think the most important lesson I learned is that it’s okay to make mistakes. To bring to the table a pile of shit that you’re proud of, but quickly realize won’t stand up to your competition.
It’s seriously humbling. Mistakes keep us honest.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.