When we think of personal finance, we often think of efficiency or optimization. After all, you’re not going to read this blog if your goal is to get out there and be average at making the most out of your one life to live.
I’m no sports fan. Sure, I played football in high school, and walked on for a year in college, but somehow once I hung up my cleats I had next to no interest in watching other people play. Needless to say, this disinterest has freed up plenty of time for other pursuits, like playing board games and obsessing about my budget.
I don’t often watch athletes ply their trade, but doggone it I respect them for what they are able to do with a human body. When it comes down to it, they are just doing in a very public and noticeable way what we should all be doing on our own – making the best of what they’ve got by applying hard work to the achievement of their values.
With that in mind, we’re going to do something different today. Because athletes are so good at publicly demonstrating the results of their hard work, it’s no surprise that fitness quotes, and more generally motivational quotes, often come from the mouths of athletes. So today we’re going to repurpose a handful of ideas from the athletic orbit for our own personal lives.
In terms of index fund wisdom, Michael Jordan has nothing on JL Collins. But in terms of general motivation I’ve got to go with the former. No offense, JL. And if you’re reading this, I absolutely loved “The Simple Path to Wealth”!
The Power of Failure
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." – Michael Jordan
Man, what a great perspective. I’ve heard of a strategy for the working world that leverages this concept, known as “collecting rejections.” An example would be for someone who is trying his best to get a job to keep a tally of all the employers who turn him down.
If you have a reasonable chance of success, then each rejection is just an expected part of the journey to success. If you put yourself out there enough times, you’re practically guaranteed to get a job, statistically speaking. Just let each rejection off your back and move on to the next.
What Jordan is pointing to here is the fact that life is a numbers game. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing. The sports-familiar among you will wonder why I didn’t pick Wayne Gretzky for this section. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Wayne will have his time to shine.
The proper approach to sports and to life is to live on the frontier between your zone of competence and the unknown. That’s where growth happens.
In our financial lives, this means we have to be willing to take risks. No, I’m not talking about penny stocks or meme coins. I’m talking about standing ready to bite off a little more than you can chew from a career perspective, and viewing occasional (or in Jordan’s case, chronic) failure as the price you pay for personal growth.
A Winning Perspective
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Love him or hate him, Schwarzenegger knows a thing or two about building a body. This quote is similar in theme to Jordan’s quote, but I love the simplicity of this formulation in the context of Schwarzenegger’s original claim to fame – bodybuilding.
Consider how one builds a body (and leave aside for a moment the performance-enhancing drugs). The essence of bodybuilding comes down to strength training. Strength training at its core is really just resistance training.
Every single rep in the gym is an example of what Schwarzenegger is talking about here. After all, weight-lifting really is just an artificial struggle.
In our work lives, this fitness quote reminds us that what is comfortable and familiar is not always our friend. It may seem like the responsible thing to do is to hew to your strengths and respect the occupational bird-in-the-hand. But we owe it to ourselves to step outside our comfort zones and explore the other things we may be able to do.
I can tell you from experience, starting a skill from scratch in your late 20s and developing it into a force to be reckoned with is thrilling, and makes you feel a full decade younger.
The Full Context
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” – Wayne Gretzky
There he is, hello Wayne. For completeness, Gretzky is leaving out the bad hockey players who are going where the puck has just been. Apparently, he doesn’t have much experience with economic policymakers. Zing!
The implications in hockey are obvious, but where does this fit into our own lives?
If you’re like me, this one makes you a little uncomfortable. Between past, present, and future tenses, the present is far and away my favorite. It seems like Gretzky is saying the future is where it’s at. I’ve spent so much of my time planning for the future (to the exclusion of the glory of the present) that this line of thought begs for a rebuttal.
But upon further consideration, there’s more in play here. Once you extract the lessons from the past, it is of no further use to us. Except for those adorable videos of our kids from a year ago that make you realize how valuable the present moment with them really is.
But the reason we should be willing to jettison most of the past is that we can’t affect it. The future is a different story. A responsible input into the equation determining your best location right now is where you want to be in the future. We need to keep the full context in mind.
Two weeks ago, this took the form of appreciating your job if it is a legitimate part of the ideal course of your career plans. Last week, this took the form of investing time today in improving future you’s chances of achieving your goals in a long-term sustainable fashion.
The important point is that you should think about the future enough to inform your ideal course of action for the present. Just don’t take it too far. Set the course, but then show up and be present.
Victory is Sweet
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” – Henry Russell “Red” Sanders
At first glance, this one doesn’t look like it belongs. In the context of thinking about personal finance, the knee-jerk reaction here is something along the lines of “wait, but I thought you said sprinting to the finish line is not the right answer?”
This trepidation fades away when you dive into what “winning” means in the context of personal finance. Somehow society has drilled into us the idea that victory in personal finance takes the form of “he who dies with the most toys wins.”
Not so. Winning in personal finance means having enough to live your ideal life, and then actually living it. This number is different for everyone, but just for the sake of argument let’s pick an egregiously high number. Say $50 million.
If you have this much in the bank – free and clear – and you don’t love your job, there’s a very good chance that you’re doing it wrong. This doesn’t mean people who have more than that are evil. It just means that either they love what they’re doing or should consider a change of course in the near future.
My mistake very early on in my career was to plan on sprinting to a giant pile of money and then living off the interest. I know – pretty noble, right?
Then I realized that speed didn’t matter. All that mattered was that at the end of the game (my life), I’d made enough to support making the best use of my time, all things considered. Getting there fast doesn’t matter.
To hew toward Red’s sport of choice, if the ending score is 7-0, it doesn’t matter if the touchdown was scored in the first quarter. Make it happen eventually, and enjoy the journey.
Just Keep Running
“I don’t run to add days to my life, I run to add life to my days.” – Ronald Rook
What a beautiful sentiment. I hate running and this makes me want to head out for a jog.Almost.
For those of you who’ve been following what I’m up to over here at ChroniFI, it will come as no surprise that I love this quote. It immediately abstracts itself into the context of the working world.
In my mind, it sits somewhere at the intersection between the live-to-work yin and work-to-live yang. It is both. And neither.
When we spend our time the right way, we double dip. Not only do we produce the best long-term results, but if we can pry our focus away from the product for a moment to focus on the process, we’ll often find that following the right process is its own reward. The product is just the cherry on top.
There is sublime joy in knowing that what you’re doing now is the right use of your time. Savor it.
I’ve always found it silly when people do things like recording their team playing a playoff game while they are at work and then shutting off their phones so nobody spoils the result before they have a chance to watch it. It already happened – there’s no point in watching the play-by-play.
And yet, when I watched “The Last Dance” (a chronicle of Michael Jordan’s career with the Bulls), I was engrossed. This happened decades ago, and yet I was caught up in a hero narrative set in a sport about which I just don’t care.
There is something about watching other people push the limits of the human body’s (and organization’s) capabilities that makes fitness quotes and their athletic progenitors inherently worthy of our attention.
We just need to remember that the implications of the wisdom gained on the field, on the court, on the rink, or in the gym don’t stop at the doors of the athletic venue. So when you hear an inspiring quote, ask yourself, how does this apply to my own life? How can I leverage this wisdom to become a better version of myself?
Don’t let yourself off the hook. You get to define what excellence means to you. Then let the wisdom of others propel you as you pin your ears back and seek your version of success.
Founder of ChroniFI
Share This Post:
Subscribe to the Blog
No spam. Just an update when there's something new (typically 1-2x/week).
The foregoing are the opinions of the author and are for educational purposes only. They do not represent professional financial or investment advice. For financial advice, please consult a licensed financial professional.