This past weekend, as I was (slowly) running six miles to train for an upcoming half marathon, I found myself thinking about how getting started running – or getting healthier in general – was just like getting started being better with money. Then I started thinking about how those same concepts could be used to improve your career. As the miles ticked by, I realized you could use them to make any kind of change in your life.
You might think because I’m out there running a good number of miles on a Sunday that I must be one of those avid exercise and health people. I can assure you that is far from my truth. I much prefer sitting at home reading, or talking to my kids, to going outside with the bugs to put one foot in front of the other for a very long time. But I’ve been working for the past eighteen months on improving my overall health, and through a lot of trial and error found having a goal like a half marathon keeps me motivated. Something different might motivate you.
And that’s what these concepts are all about. Crafting your own personal vision to a journey of improvement, rather than listening to other people telling you what you should or shouldn’t do.
I shared them yesterday on Twitter, but I’m sharing them here too. And expanding on them in a way you just can’t with Twitter’s character limitations. I hope you find them helpful.
Start Where You Are
There is no point in wishing you could start in a different place. Beating yourself up for not having made diffeeent choices in the past. Dreaming of a different life where you took a different path. Where you listened to that person who told you to save for retirement in your 20’s; where you took better care of your health instead of eating all that junk and walking to the kitchen was your exercise; where you took that job that was a stretch; where you carved out time every day for your dreams.
Dwelling on where you were and wishing you could start in a different place will hold you back from changing your life today. Wherever it is you are today, that’s where you need to start from.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on improving from your own start
Your neighbor with that fancy house. Your friend with the skyrocketing career. Don’t forget about that blogger who is half your age and has 20 times your net worth. Or that woman in an article who started her “health journey” six months ago and can now run a half marathon in 90 minutes.
The world is large and diverse. Other people will always be doing “better” than you. Better at money, a better career, better health, more creative, more successful-you name it.
The success of others is only relevant to you if you find it inspiring and uplifting. If you find it drags you down into a world of jealousy and beating yourself up, or finding a million justifications for why they could do it and you can’t-you need to stop focusing on others and focus on yourself.
Yes, others have more advantages than you. They may have it easier than you do. It could be they have privileges you do not, skills you don’t possess, lucky breaks that you didn’t. They may have started before you, been more consistent than you, found it easier than you do.
But guess what? Someone else on this diverse earth would look at you, your life, and where you are in the exact same way.
You can only improve on yourself.
Personal improvement is personal
I get so annoyed when so-called “gurus” dictate that you absolutely must, no exceptions, do X and Y and Z or else. And I get it. People love absolutes, and rules, and sometimes it’s frankly easier when you’re told what to do. No one can realistically give ultra-personal advice tailored to your situation in a mass communication. Following the rules takes the thinking out of it. You’re part of a club now, and people who don’t follow the rules aren’t. And if you fail-well others followed the rules and succeeded so the failure must be your fault.
Generic rules from gurus are designed for everyone, which means they are designed for no one. They don’t recognize that in your situation X might not be possible right now, Y is, but Z doesn’t apply. Instead maybe you can take one tiny step towards X today, and achieve it in a year or two.
Too often when people find themselves unable to do X or only able to do Y less often but not stop altogether, they feel like a failure. Sometimes they’re even told by a guru or a doctor, parent or friend that it makes them a failure. Sure you lost fifty pounds and aren’t obese anymore, but you’re still overweight. Yeah you saved for an emergency but not “enough”. You ran a half marathon but so slowly the internet says you can’t call yourself a runner. Or you tell a parent about a recent success only to have them tell you how it doesn’t matter.
In the money world we often say “personal finance is personal”. I would expand that to “personal improvement is personal”. Focusing on where you are now; where you want to go; and whether ~today~ you have done something to take you closer to your personal destination is what matters.
You will fail. You will go backwards. The successful try again and again and again
Lets take my journey to better health. When Covid first hit, I had already not been in the best shape. Various stresses and situations, being a busy working mom, traveling for work, etc. all put me in a less than ideal state of health.
Then Covid hit. Now I was working from home, juggling caring for three kids out of school (including a four year old), with a husband whose fun job entertaining residents of a local nursing Home turned into a nightmare of more than full time work cleaning a place where dozens died of Covid, well before vaccines. This was back when we were all washing our groceries for fear of the virus, by the way.
I put on a lot of weight, hitting a high point I hadn’t been since the final days of pregnancy with my youngest (now seven).
If I had something to sell you, this is where I would weave a tale of my brave battle back from poor health. Today, I would declare, I’m in an ideal space and YOU CAN BE TOO if you buy my course/shakes/skinny tea; sponsored by Nord VPN
What I wouldn’t tell you is how many times I started and stopped in between. How I started in June 2020, continued for six consistent weeks, then quit. Started up again in September, kept it up through Thanksgiving, went totally off the rails in the pandemic winter. How I started again April 2021-not coincidently in the days right before I was vaccinated – but have been up and down and up again so many times. And how today I’m still no where near anyones vision of ideal.
I failed. Again, and again, and again. But I kept getting back up-not tomorrow, not today, but RIGHT NOW-and trying again. Trying something different.
And I know I will “fail” again. But just like a stock loss is only real when you sell. A failure is only permanent when you give up.
Nothing changes if nothing changes
Being a certified* (no actual certification) money nerd, I’m a member of many personal finance Facebook groups. I can’t count the number of times I have seen some variation on a post like this:
“Hi! My name is Brandy. I hate my job and want to get another one, in a new career field. But I have no time to go back to school. I can’t use free resources to educate myself. I don’t want to talk to others in the field and it’s impossible for me to volunteer or do anything differently than I do right now. How can I get a new job in a new field but do nothing differently to get it?”
“Or-I have a question for all of you. I’ve always wanted to buy a home but can’t save anything for a down payment. We live in New York City and so everything is very expensive. We also eat out all the time, and need our annual family vacations to Europe. Also my job demands I be dressed up so my clothing budget is huge. We need our entertainment – because YOLO! Here’s my budget-where can I cut without changing anything at all about how my family lives?” And then every idea is dismissed with why it can’t be done
It boils down to people who want something to change about their life-something big. But they don’t actually want to change anything about their life to achieve it. Essentially they want to be handed a new life and a big achievement while everything they’re doing stays the same as it is today.
As they say, insanity is when you continue to do the same thing but expect different results.
You may only be able to do so much now. Do what you can.
You read an article recommending you set aside $50 a week for emergencies until you have an emergency fund. You can’t do that right now, so you dismiss the article as not applying to you. Maybe leaving an angry comment about “what about those of us who CANT do that???”
You watch a YouTube video where a fitness YouTuber says to set aside an hour a day to exercise. But you’re busy every hour of every day, could really only find 20 minutes most days, and some of that would be doing yoga in front of your TV while a child crawls between your legs because you’re a bridge.
It’s easy to dismiss advice and tips when they don’t apply to you. Instead of dismissing them and giving up on any change whatsoever, refocus your time, energy and attention on doing something.
Yep you can’t save $50 a month right now. But maybe you can save $5. Yes that company has a three thousand dollar minimum investment, and you don’t have that, but you can find a company with no minimum. You can do that 20 minutes of activity most days and be a bridge for now. Maybe some days you can do 25 minutes. And one day, you won’t be a bridge anymore because the child will get tired of it or will grow older. Trust me, no teenager is using moms yoga time as a time to crawl underneath her.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the better
No one who works with me will be surprised by this one. I say it all the time. Sometimes people get stuck with a specific vision of perfection that they can’t achieve right now. Sadly there’s not a magic, snap your fingers and it’s all better solution. Trouble comes when they get stuck on the perfect ideal and make no forward progress at all. Instead they want to wait until the perfect is in sight and can be achieved.
Then all will be sunshine, rainbows and perfection. World hunger will be solved, work processes will flow smoothly, you’ll be rich, your family life will be ideal, and your career will be flourishing in your dream job
If you wait for perfection to make any progress, you’ll be waiting a long time. Possibly forever. And during that time, you’ll miss out on enjoying the smaller gains that some forward progress would give you.
Dreaming is fine. Having a vision of what would be ideal, or perfect, is great so you know where you want to end up. Sharing that vision with others, getting their buy in and support, can help propel you forward in the dark days where you think you’ll never get there. But letting that dream be the enemy of any achievements will leave you stuck right where you are.
There are a lot of reasons why you can’t. There are also a lot of reasons why you can.
I remember talking with someone about a big change she wanted to make in her life. But all she could talk about was why she can’t. Some reasons were internal barriers, others practical and real, some had obviously been given to her by friends and family. After listening to this for a half hour, asking probing questions and giving ideas and suggestions shot down one after another, I finally said:
“It sounds like you’re trying to convince me this can’t be done. And that the goal isn’t worth the work and disruption it will take to achieve it”
“Oh no!” She insisted, and immediately went into all the reasons why she needed to make this change. Why it would be worth the effort. And suddenly she was brimming with ideas – not on what the obstacles would be, but on what was needed to overcome them. Several months later, she made that change.
Was it without disruption and all sunshine and rainbows, and easy sailing? Nope.
But once she reframed her thinking to focus not just on the obstacles, and issues, but on what could be done to overcome them and work on THOSE instead, she achieved something she bought was impossible only a few months ago. The achievement was so significant, and something others had made no forward progress on for years, that she was recognized for it in company town halls and by executives.
If you find yourself mired in “I can’t because…” thinking, you can reframe yourself. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, what can you do? Sure today you can’t do X-could you do Y instead? Can you do three things to get ready and then do X? Do you need to line up more support? Create some interim goals? Break down a big task into multiple smaller ones?
Turning “I can’t because…” into “I can’t right now, but I can…” let’s you see a path forward to where you want to be.
What’s a big goal of yours-maybe something you e dreamed of for a while, something you think is impossible- and what is one small thing you’re going to do TODAY towards achieving it? I would love to hear from you in the comments or on social media. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Insta, TikTok, Pinterest, and email firstname.lastname@example.org.