Never mind looking back at the past year and wondering what went wrong, how about a whole period of your life? Have you ever wondered what you were thinking when you spent all your money in your twenties instead of saving and retiring at 30 like Mr Money Moustache? Or not buying a house before the boom? Or using credit cards for things you couldn’t afford?
In my mid-twenties I quit my job and decided to freelance. It didn’t really turn out as well as I had hoped and probably set us back financially. Even though I try to live by the ‘don’t look back’ philosophy, I’ve often wondered ‘what was I thinking!?’ Why didn’t I just keep working? Yeah I was very unhappy, but could it have been that bad?
I got my answer the other day when an old, seemingly unused notebook resurfaced. Right in the middle pages was a journal entry from that time. I quit because I felt stuck. Not stuck at work, but boxed in on all sides by career, family, finances, work, everything; myself included. I didn’t know how to get out, so I lived out my escape fantasy through freelancing.
Was it a bad decision? I’ll never really know because even though the freelancing didn’t turn out, I’ve been able to move forward and that’s the key.
Look forward to go forward
Things have a habit of popping up right when you need them. Just when I found the answer to why I left my job, Ramit Sethi posted an excerpt from Tim Ferriss’ new book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers for Growth Lab readers.
The Four Hour Work Week was one of the books that fuelled my freelance escape fantasy, but I’ve never been too sure of Tim Ferriss. Maybe I have a more cautious personality. Maybe I’m more skeptical or maybe I just never had the confidence in myself to succeed like Tim, so I approached this new book with suspicion.
In 10 Keys to a Successful Business Tim interviews Marc Andreessen the co-founder of Netscape, gleaning his wisdom on succeeding in business. In Lesson #5 he hits on the issue I’ve been pondering for years. Here’s the exchange:
TIM: “What advice would you give to Marc, the 20-something, at Netscape?”
MARC: “I’ve never for a moment even thought about that. I don’t do replays well. The question I’ll never answer is, ‘What would you have done differently had you known X?’ I never, ever play that game because you didn’t know X.
TIM: “So that’s how you feel?”
MARC: “Forward, like: We don’t stop. We don’t slow down. We don’t revisit past decisions. We don’t second guess. So, honestly, that question, I have no idea how to answer.”
It says it all. Always look forward.
It’s so easy to second guess decisions you’ve made especially when you were young. You beat yourself up over stalled years and mistakes and vow to move forward. The only trouble is, that it’s very hard to move forward while dwelling on the past. Wondering why you didn’t do things differently. If only you’d known X.
The only way to move forward is to live in the present moment, with what you know now; where you are currently at.
Marc’s view struck a chord because dwelling on past decisions has caused me to doubt my ability to make the right decisions in the present. And as I found out, when viewed through the eyes of the present, the past looks very different now to how it appeared when you were living it.
Personal finances are like a ship that you steer throughout the course of your life. You’re in it for the long haul. You set out in early adulthood in a direction that’s influenced by your childhood and situation. You sail onwards until something comes along to change your course, be it experience, wisdom or the internet. When your course changes, you are where you are. Not 100 nautical miles back, but right in the patch of ocean you’ve sailed to. The only set of circumstances that matter are the ones you’re facing right now. The key is to set a course in the direction that will send you forward from here. Where will that be for you?
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