When I was in business school the professors there believed in making the majority of my assignments team based in order to better simulate real life. I would get frustrated at having to carry a disproportionate part of the workload due to the inevitable group dynamics where one or two group members generate most of the grade. At first I almost always thought that members with lower contribution levels were just loafing, letting me or a small component of us do all of the work. I told one of my mentors, a successful business owner twice my age, the situation and he told me “You can’t turn shit into champagne”. What he meant was that some people are inherently so incompetent, simple or bad that nothing you do will be able to help them. The correct behaviour in these cases is to learn to identify this type of situation and set up support structures for the weak people so they can achieve some success or if necessary avoid these people entirely. He was totally right and I had a much easier time from then on because I was much less frustrated with the situation knowing that the “shit” was out of my control. You might think I’m being arrogant by implying that I was “champagne”. I should note that I graduated on the deans and presidents lists and was on a partial scholarship. At the same time I started a business (which was unsuccessful) and had a part time job to pay the rent and put food on the table. I still found time to socialize, have a girlfriend, read, goof off and generally have a good time.
Life has definitely allocated me my fair share of “shit”. For example when it comes to maintaining proper diet I am almost entirely incompetent. People, usually skinny people, often tell me things like “Don’t eat carbs!” or “just eat smaller servings and walk more”. I understand this intellectually, it’s easy to understand, but it’s not really helpful in the heat of the moment. I still haven’t found a way to control my eating but I keep on trying different things in the hope that I’ll find something that works for me. However if I was suddenly thrust into a massive physical team effort like competitive sports or the military I’d probably end up getting benched or thrown out.
Up until recently I thought that I was going to be able to help people who are inherently bad with money. I was idealistic in thinking maybe these folks just haven’t heard about how learning to be happy with less so you can get your freedom is the ultimate goal.
I am constantly running into the people who simply won’t follow any reasonable financial advice. They don’t save their money. They have little curiosity about investing and don’t really care about the glories of FIRE. Around 95-99% of all people are probably like this. They can’t delay financial gratification very well, they often spend their entire paycheque and then go ahead and borrow money so they can spend future paycheques too. They probably only think FIRE is a great idea when they’re 50 years old and their employer let’s them go and they can’t find comparable work because nobody wants to hire someone that old who might retire in 5-10 years and could have trouble adapting.
I am interested in the group who would listen to my advice. The interesting thing about that group is that they probably already know and practice a lot of what I would recommend. A lot of them are better at it then me, maybe most of them. We’re all personal finance champagne, some of us are just better champagne. The quality differences amongst champagnes are obviously much narrower then the difference between the worst champagne and the best shit (not that I am a shit connoisseur).
So don’t short change yourself, if you’re reading this blog you’re likely personal finance champagne (or at least sparkling wine), work on becoming Dom Pérignon! Also stop worrying so much about the shit, there’s not a lot you can do to get people with shit behaviour to your level. You can try to support these people in a way that works for them or you can just avoid their shit behaviour altogether.