I Dream of FIRE

In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Don’t compare your middle to someone else’s beginning

I often see the quote “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle,” encouraging people to have perspective when comparing where they are on their own journey to those aspirational figures ahead of them.

It’s a reminder to us that we can improve, and over time we can achieve as much as or more than those whom we see today as being at the next level or where we want to be. And that’s good advice. You won’t get better if you start off too discouraged to even try.

I’ve been thinking about that quote lately, and I wonder: Why do we never see it reversed?

Shouldn’t the same maxim that offers perspective and inspiration for those coming up also serve as a reminder to those who have already reached the summit that it wasn’t long ago that they were climbing themselves? Shouldn’t the same quote remind us as we achieve new heights that those below are looking to us for guidance and that our response should be to reach out and offer a hand?

Don’t compare your middle to someone else’s beginning.

It’s been several years since I had my financial epiphany. I realized there was a whole world out there I knew very little about and that needed to change. I started learning, reading what I could understand and relate to first, then moving on to new topics as they made more sense or became more relevant to my situation. As my knowledge grew, my eyes were opened. I couldn’t believe how foolish I had been.

I started cutting expenses, keeping lifestyle inflation in check, investing wisely, eradicating debt, and tracking my money in ways I never thought to do before.

I have learned so much in that time, and yet then I listen to Todd Tressider on the Choose FI podcast and know that on the spectrum of knowledge I’ve moved but a few feet on a miles-long course. But then I talk to friends, co-workers, or strangers at a party and I’m amazed at how little they know or understand compared with what I now know.

It’s as though I’m a fourth-grader looking at the first-graders and wondering why they don’t know how to do basic multiplication.

And I have to remind myself that I was in their shoes not long ago. I didn’t understand the basics of investing, when to choose a Roth vs. a traditional IRA, how you could reduce taxes with a little planning, or that retirement is a function of savings rate and positive cashflow rather than age. The me of today having a conversation with the me of the past would be amazed at how clueless I was.

I remember that in 2010 someone suggested I increase the amount I was investing in my 401(k). I had just turned 30, and there was definitely room to improve my savings. The words that came out of my mouth: “I don’t know, the market isn’t doing too well right now.” (I feel stupid even typing those words.)

Knowing what I know now, that was the exact time I should have been putting in more money. But I didn’t understand it at the time, and that lack of understanding made me afraid. Just like many of the people I talk with now don’t understand it and are afraid to make a mistake.

It would be easy for me to dismiss them, to marvel at their naivety and shake my head at how terrible their financial future is going to be.

But it does no one any good for me to compare my middle to their beginning.

They may not have had their financial epiphany yet. Maybe they never truly will, or maybe that conversation we are having that very moment is the spark that sets their world ablaze.

The right thing for me to do is to put out my hand, to remember what it was like to be in that position, and to try to be the inspiration that pulls them up the mountain. All the while, I must look ahead, searching for the next path to follow on my own journey. With any luck, there will be another hand outstretched.

16 Comments

  1. I love your attitude. I try, myself, to reach out a hand to those I see whose knowledge of all things finance is extremely limited. Or who have fear.

    Within the FI community I think Mr. G and I have lit a fire under a few others terribly fearful of investing. We’ve cheered them on, and they’ve taken the leap. But outside of the FI community I don’t find many who want to improve their financial knowledge at the precise time I reach out. When, and how, the epiphany occurs is extremely specific to the individual. And like you said, for some it never happens.

    • So true. I’ve had several conversations with people about even just DOING something with their finances to be on better future footing. Several have taken some action, but many more just aren’t ready for it. I hope by being open with the information that it at least plants a seed, and maybe when that seed sprouts they know they can ask me again how to find out more.

  2. You have a good approach. Never mentor anyone from a place of superiority. It is much better to walk along side someone in this process. People seem to appreciate when you share what it was like, what caused you to change, and how things are now. Don’t give unsolicited advice. If someone asks for suggestions, give them suggestions from a place of humility.

  3. So true!
    I love that saying in both directions.
    Lot’s of wisdom in there!

  4. I love this perspective. Once we have a change in mindset it’s easy for us to forget how long it took for that change to take root. Thank you for the reminder and congrats on getting Rockstarred.

  5. Good approach. I like the reminder that what’s best for the middle isn’t always the best for the beginner. I’ve had a number of talks with people about Betterment and Wealthfront, and although I recommend direct investing, they can be the tool someone else needs to get started. Different people need different things – in addition to where they are in their journey.

  6. It took us decades to get to our current position. I only wish we’d started sooner. Do it now and cut years off your indentured servitude. It seems so slow at first. The first big market correction if you invest in the stock market hurts like hell. You’ll get depressed, you’ll wonder if it was worth your hard earned dollars, you’ll wonder if it will ever come back again. It will work out. Stick to your plan, it will return. Don’t worry about being behind anyone else, where you start and where you are is the best place to be right now. Do it. Get here.

  7. This is so true! As a Financial Lifeguard, my goal is always to help and inspire, not judge. And I’m always looking for mentors who are further along the path for guidance. ?

  8. For sure. Just compare yourself to your previous self. I am nine years into blogging, coming July 2018. I always tell anybody who asks how I am able to build my side that all they have to do is post three times a week for nine years in a row without fail and they will be good to go!

    Enjoy the journey!

    Sam

  9. Yes — there needs to be a sense of empathy. Sometimes the “big names” in the FI world, who already have a lot of money and FI, don’t fully appreciate or understand the situation of those seeking their advice. There’s always the danger of turning them off (and it happens) if they aren’t careful or too harsh in their direction. Not everyone is in the same circumstances, either.

  10. It is an interesting concept. For me I just keep chugging along and talk about this stuff to anyone willing to hear. Hopefully I lead by example for my close family and friends. Even today I convinced my brother to open a Donor advised fund to get the tax benefit for donations he is already planning on making near. Your point is a good reminder. We should all be grateful for where we are.

  11. Loved this line: “The right thing for me to do is to put out my hand, to remember what it was like to be in that position, and to try to be the inspiration that pulls them up the mountain.”

    Great perspective on this, for personal finance and all other areas of life. We were all beginners at one point, if we show more compassion and understanding, everyone is better off.

  12. Empathy seems to be one of the qualities this world is so sorely missing. And having a proper perspective is so important for not just your own health, but those around you. Great post!

  13. I love your final paragraph of the article. It shows your maturity on the topic and that you have grown in your thought process about it all. You’re discussing a very frustrating topic. As you become motivated and excited about personal finance, it can be frustrating when you realize those around you either aren’t as educated or don’t care about the topic as much as you do. Or sadly, both. Remember your co-worker in 2010, they were trying to reach and help an individual who was naive about the topic and trying to tell them they should invest more in the market. I clearly don’t know the individual, their passions, etc. but you get the point. That’s why I was so excited to read the last paragraph when you talked about lending out a helping hand to those at the beginning and becoming that inspiration. One thing I want to warn you about. Don’t get frustrated if you start pulling the out the mountain and they decide to walk back down. Not everyone will become as passionate or excited about finance as you. And that’s okay. Because you will still move along with your journey and continue to grow and move up the mountain for your own personal self. Keep looking for those hands that will pull you higher! Thanks for the great read tonight!

    Bert

  14. Very thought-provoking! It’s definitely tempting to pat ourselves on the back for all the “genius” we now possess, but you’re absolutely right that we all started somewhere; we all made our mistakes; and we all should be understanding and empathetic to those who have yet to have their epiphany.

  15. I’ve had a couple of conversations just lately where I’ve encouraged people to start salary sacrificing towards retirement. It’s SUCH a win/win… I feel great when they start doing it and they feel terrific because they’re being proactive. Like you, a few years ago I wouldn’t have known enough to even start the conversation…

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