We were all at the park the other day, and Aspen quickly slid down the slide that had given her fear months ago. Then she looked over at the pole. It was the type you’d see in an old firehouse – a straight vertical pole of hand-width diameter, extending from an arc off the top floor of the play structure down into the wood chips on the ground.
“What’s this for?” she said. It’s for sliding down. Here, like this, with your legs wrapped around.
“I can’t,” she said, while feebly pointing her foot at the air between the play structure platform and the pole. Yes, you can. You can!
Hesitation. Whimpering. Ok, let’s try it step by step with help. First we’ll hold you while you grab over and wrap your legs around the pole… Good!
A small smile. Ok, now you grab the pole first and then we’ll hold you while you wrap your legs around the pole… Good work!
A bigger smile. Ok, now we’ll just spot you and you do the whole thing. Awesome! You’re doing it!
“Again! Mama, Daddy, go sit down now.” And there it was… That look, that smile we all get when we do something we didn’t think we could do. The face of accomplishment, of satisfaction.
There’s a real, palpable feeling that comes when you progress and make strides in a task that you first thought was impossible. We’ve felt this through rock climbing for years, in addition to when we both received our professional licensing after what seemed like a marathon of studying and exams and training.
Yet it’s never over. As humans, we’re always learning, always improving. And as the Physician Philosopher recently wrote, our social nature leads to an automatic setup for comparison to others in our social spheres. We’re built to recognize hierarchies in our tribes, both chosen and not chosen. But the one thing to remember is we’re all on different paths. Comparison of yours to others is a good way to burn out on your path to reaching your goals.
This applies to financial or professional goals, too. You may have the same endpoint as others (such as FIRE, or a particular net worth) in mind, but it might take you longer to get there than someone else. There might be more variables, more plates to spin in the air for you vs. others. We started our early adult lives with very little student because we happen to both have full scholarships to our state university, in contrast to many others who took out student loans starting at age 18. Another example is differences in living expenses. Geo-arbitrage is a great thing, but not everyone can live in a low cost of living area due to various reasons (family, career choice, etc.). Savings rates will vary in this case.
It’s so much more satisfying (and less stressful) to focus on comparing yourself to your former self. How have YOU improved over the years? What baby steps have you taken on your journey to slide down that pole? Maybe you were recently able to increase your savings rate by a few percent. Maybe you added an additional source of passive income for greater savings this year. Or maybe you were able to cut out a couple of superfluous expenses that didn’t align with your current values.
What do you think? Do you get inspired by your own baby steps, or do you find competition with others more useful in reaching your FI goals? Let us know by leaving a comment below!