“See how I went from homeless to millionaire in six months.”
“Look at how this couple makes millions while traveling around the world.”
“How you can retire at 27 if you start at 26.”
Do any of these sound familiar? Social media is filled with ridiculous financial success stories. I want you to stop paying attention to them right now.
I know that it’s fun to read motivational stories and to feel inspired for the following minutes. The problem is that you end up feeling bad about yourself. Then you do nothing. You go back to whatever you were doing (probably a combination of scrolling and looking for a new show on Netflix).
You don’t have to look far to find a sponsored post on social media about some guru who went from living on the streets to a mansion. You see people quitting their job in six months to travel the world in five-star resorts.
How’s any of this even possible? How can these people be so successful while you’re struggling to pay for brunch? You can’t even think about planning a weekend getaway because you have no money.
It’s not that possible.
The passive income myth is really annoying. You don’t have to go from homeless to millionaire. You don’t have to sell all of your stuff to be a success. You don’t need any of these wild success stories to make you question your life.
Here’s why you need to stop stressing about “epic” stories and what you should focus on instead…
Why should you stop worrying about these wildly successful case studies?
I’ll ignore the obvious fact: the stories may not be true or they could be exaggerated for marketing purposes. I’m assuming that you’re smart enough to figure out that it’s not easy to go from living on the streets to a Manhattan condo in five months. I also hope that you don’t think that you can make $10k/monthly with no skills or effort.
The case studies gave up on everything.
I once spoke to a dude who had a pretty cool story. His story was featured in a few outlets I won’t get into the details so that you guys don’t figure it out. I ended up chatting with him. I was surprised when I found out what he sacrificed to reach his financial goals. Long story short: this young man had never dated before.
Are you willing to give up everything up? Do you want to go all in on this one thing?
The case studies that are truthful usually come with sacrifice, effort, and lots of struggle. Nobody really gets rich quick unless they win the lottery. Most of us don’t have it in us to go all in on one goal and that’s okay.
Change is difficult and takes time.
“The reality: Change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair amount of self-sacrifice, and a lot of patience. The fantasy: A sudden transformation will bring a total change in one’s fortunes, bypassing work, luck, and self-sacrifice, and time in one fantastic stroke.” — Robert Greene
Most people spend the first month or year just reading articles when they get into personal finance or entrepreneurship.
Do you want to know why? Change is gradual and painful. Nobody wakes up a new person. It’s difficult to actually change who you are. It’s fun to read stories without doing anything.
I’m not here to lecture you on hard work. There’s enough weirdos doing that all over social media. I only want to remind you that change takes time and effort. I don’t want you to panic when you haven’t paid off your debt in the first year or if your side hustle hasn’t made you any money yet.
Timelines set unrealistic expectations.
I never got rich quick. I didn’t make six figures until I was 25 and I sold my first property. Then life got better from there.
I hate to speak in terms of specific timelines because I don’t want to give you unrealistic expectations. We all start at different points in time. You could be reading this article as a bored student in her teens. You could be 35 and annoyed at work. I don’t want you to think that it’s too early or too late. I don’t want you to stress over the time. All that matters most of the time is that you start right away.
Your story might be different.
Do you really want to sell all of your stuff to live on a boat?
I mean it sounds fun, but is this something that you even care about?
We all have different goals ranging from trying to pay off debt to looking into starting a new business. I don’t want you to get caught up in some wacky idea that you don’t even care about.
For example: In 2011 I thought that I wanted to travel the world full-time after reading all of these lifestyle design blogs. After going on a three-week trip to Europe, I quickly realized that I was fine with going on the occasional trip because I really enjoyed my life back home. I also got home sick. I like to explore the world but I don’t like to be away for long periods of time.
You can’t look at the extreme anomalies.
I’m all for friendly competition but you don’t want to compare yourself to the best in the game. You also don’t have to look at the most extreme examples.
Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t think about the extremes:
- You’re not homeless.
- You may just need to pay off $5k of debt to get ahead of the game.
- You don’t have to give up on everything that you love.
- You’re doing fine. You just need more time to increase your savings.
- You’re not a robot.
That’s why you need to stop worrying about extremely successful case studies.
What should you do instead of reading financial success stories?
Pick one goal.
Success becomes such a broad topic. Your mind wanders when you start thinking about how you want to quit your job as you pay down your debt and start a business that allows you to travel the world full-time.
I want you to decide on ONE goal when you first get into personal finance.
What do you exactly want to do?
Here are some options:
- Pay off your student loans.
- Save enough money to quit your job.
- Start a business that makes $1,000/month.
- Save $10k in six months.
- Sell your stuff to live in an RV.
- Travel the world with your vacation time at work.
Find your one thing and work on it within your limits. You don’t have to quit your job to try to build that app as you stress about paying the rent.
When I highlight success stories on here, I ensure that we focus on one goal. Jacquelyn paid off $48k worth of debt, Matt quit his job to make tables, and Theo started his own tutoring company. None of these people did all three things at once.
Find someone who has been successful with something similar to learn from.
You don’t have to find the most mind-blowing case study. You don’t have to read these annoying Instagram posts about living your best life (whatever that means). You should instead try to find someone in real life or within your social circle that has done what you want to do. Then you can try to study them.
If you can’t find anyone in your social circle, then you can always study someone through their online work (social media/blog/podcast/YouTube series). The goal is to find one person to study. See what they did to get to where they are. Study their moves. Apply their tips as best as you can.
I know that it’s exciting to watch motivational videos about how you can take over the world. It’s also important to be completely realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to become a millionaire by next month. Don’t get your hopes up.
I try to set bold goals with realistic timelines.
When I was a teenager I wanted to start investing money. I knew that I wasn’t rich and that I didn’t have any special skills. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to work multiple jobs while I saved up. I was eventually able to afford to purchase a pre-construction condo. I had a payment plan that allowed me to save up. I eventually had my own property in my early-20s.
You don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that some stranger on social media claims to have made millions in only six months. Focus on your own financial goals so that you can live the life that you want to live.
7 thoughts on “Why You Need to Stop Paying Attention to Ridiculous Success Stories”
That is really solid advice. When I got started at my first job I just had one financial goal, to run that company by the time I was forty. And one personal goal, to make my marriage work. And not being in a huge hurry helped, I did run that company until I got enough of it and I retired a little early. And my patient wife is still happy with me so life is very good. But it took time, a lot longer than most of the overnight success stories you mentioned. But that was not a problem, the journey was a lot of fun!
That’s a pretty impressive story. That’s awesome to hear that you’re still married and where you want to be career wise. Thanks for sharing.
That is awesome that you were able to figure out what mattered most to you. I am in a similar situation as you, except I’m not trying to own the company I work for (but good for you in accomplishing that!). For me on the financial side and the marriage side, a huge wake-up call was when my wife told me she was thinking about leaving me. I didn’t realize how distant we had become, and I did not show her how much I loved her. I was able to win her heart back and two years later we are closer than we have ever been after 14 years of marriage.
I love how you emphasize that “change is slow”. We want everything to be quick and easy. What we forget is that the process of changing our behavior, if done right, can be just as rewarding and educational as making the change itself. I didn’t rack up huge amounts of debt because I loved credit card debt. Something deeper was going on there.
I just found your blog and enjoy your writing. I’ve become a follower. People like you motivate me to continue to make smart financial decisions.
Thanks for the comment Chris. It’s so true. Change takes a long time. This is why most of us aren’t able to make significant changes.
Another well-written and honest article Martin. That’s what I like most about your posts: the lack of hype and BS.
The inspirational stories you mention are illusory and that’s down to irresponsible marketing. I’ve no doubt these techniques drive sales. The sad fact is, most people can’t get rich quick working from their armchair for a couple of hours a day, slurping on tequila throughout and making a few calls.
In the world where financial success is easy, people are lining up in the streets and freely handing out cash… some of them might even be burning it just because they can.
I enjoyed reading this… will share.
Thanks so much for sharing. I’m fed up with the irresponsible marketing.