As many of you readers are probably already aware, I don’t write articles just to put content out into the world. I write primarily to inspire through action. I share the intimate details of my finances (and parts of the rest of my life) to inspire others into action by way of showing the results of my own actions, which, hopefully, shows what’s possible when a regular, middle-class guy harnesses the power of consistency, persistence, and good habits.
I’m also painfully aware, through personal experience, that others will only change if and when they want to change. So I’ve decided to be the change I wish to see by changing myself for the better.
And change I have. I’ve gone from being worth less than a baby that can’t walk or talk to a guy who controls a portfolio nearing $200,000 that should spit out $7,200 in passive dividend income this year.
I guess, in a way, I’m using my situation as an experiment of epic proportions. Can a guy in his late 20s who doesn’t make a lot of money, is deep in debt, knows nothing about finances, and works in a field that couldn’t be further from money management actually turn his life around and achieve financial independence by 40 years old?
The jury’s still out, but I’m well on my way.
As aforementioned, most of my content is designed to be as inspirational as possible. However, I’m going to take a slightly different approach today, even perhaps bordering on anti-inspirational. But there’s a good reason for this, which I’ll discuss below.
No Longer Keeping Up With The Joneses
I used to be guilty of trying to “keep up with the Joneses”, which is an idiom that refers to one comparing themselves to their neighbors, co-workers, or other peers in a way that uses these other people as a benchmark for success in life.
This is what led me to being in debt, unhappy, and working far too many hours in the first place. It was only after realizing that this benchmark only existed in my head that I was able to free myself of unreasonable, unrealistic, and irrelevant demands I was placing on myself – demands that led to more stuff, but less time to enjoy life. Nobody cares what kind of car I drive. Nobody cares what kind of apartment I live in. Nobody cares what size my TV is. And guess what? When I say nobody, I’m including me.
Fortunately, I was able to free myself from the need to impress people, including myself. For some strange reason I can’t really place right now, I worked for years at a job I didn’t desire to buy a bunch of stuff I didn’t need to impress people I didn’t care about. But no more. I now chase freedom rather than stuff; independence rather than bragging rights; happiness rather than a facade of happiness; time rather than money. However, it’s because money buys time that I’ve been such an aggressive saver and investor over the last five years.
But I have noticed as the community has grown that a new benchmark has potentially appeared.
Are We Chasing A Different Neighbor?
I’m incredibly grateful that Dividend Mantra has grown along with my own progress toward financial independence. And I say that because I’m now able to reach a greater audience than ever before. It’s not every day that someone is in a position to change the world for the better, even in a very small way. But with that greater reach comes greater responsibility. And I take that seriously.
On that note, I’ve received numerous emails and comments over the years that, jokingly or not, refer to individuals’ lack of personal financial success relative to my own. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people that are decades older than me with half the assets. While that’s not a fantastic situation to be in, it’s also not all that uncommon based on the research.
But this is something I’ve been meaning to address for years now and just haven’t had the chance: My portfolio, dividend income, or position in life shouldn’t be anyone else’s benchmark. And this goes the same for everyone else. Just because Blogger X or Friend Y has $ABC in their brokerage account doesn’t mean you should as well. Don’t replace your neighbor with me – or anyone else. Furthermore, don’t replace the desire for stuff for the desire to have a larger portfolio balance and/or more dividend income. Chasing after more money rather than more stuff isn’t necessarily more healthy.
The journey to financial independence isn’t about accumulating the most money. It’s about attaining happiness. It just so happens that a good chunk of cash goes a long way towards that end because you can’t just pay bills with a smile.
You Should Be Your Own Benchmark
The only benchmark you should use for measuring your own success in life is you. Look, we’re not all the same age. We don’t make the same amount of money. We don’t live in the same city or state. Some of us have children, some don’t. Furthermore, not all of us have the same goals or vision of what financial independence is.
I can tell you that I’m aiming for $18,000 in dividend income as my long-term goal. I feel that I can be reasonably independent on that kind of passive income. For some people, that’s way too much money. For others, it wouldn’t even cover the mortgage.
Now, while I’ve always espoused the benefits of frugality, even the word “frugal” means something different to everyone.
As such, comparing your situation to my own – or anyone else’s – probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, it may even be harmful to do so, as one may feel inadequate for really no good reason at all.
Much like I don’t compare my portfolio to the S&P 500 index, I don’t compare my portfolio to anyone else’s. I don’t compare my dividend income to anyone else’s. Instead, I set realistic short-term and long-term goals. I know that there’s a me in the future that’s already financially independent, so I simply set annual goals to keep me on track for that eventuality.
Now, I like to call financial independence an eventuality because I believe in myself 100%. I have no doubt about my ability to do what’s necessary to succeed in life. However, I don’t base that belief on where I am relative to others. I base that belief on knowing myself and comparing what I’ve accomplished to what I know I’m capable of accomplishing. I’m pleased with my success thus far because not only am I more than on track for my long-term passive dividend income goal, but I also know that I’m giving everything I’ve got. I’ll never get upset with giving my all to something and failing. I’d only be upset with myself when I know I could have done more.
Thus, I think your benchmark should be based on where you are relative to where you want to be and what you know you’re capable of. Giving something your all and getting as far as you possibly can could never be thought of as a failure, no matter what others may or may not have relative to you. Your situation should only be relative and compared to the situation that the best version of you could produce. That’s it.
Financial Independence Isn’t A Race
Moreover, we’re not on a clock here. We all probably wish we could have started earlier. I know with a fair amount of certainty that had I never blown an inheritance I received at 21 years old, I’d already be financially independent. But I don’t dwell on past mistakes. I learn as much as I can from them so as not to repeat them, but every mistake I’ve ever made has made me into the me I am today. Such is life. Moreover, it was having a degree of money and freedom – and seeing it vanish – that further motivated me to get to where I am today. And you can bet I won’t make the same mistake twice.
But just like life is a journey, so is financial independence. It shouldn’t be thought of as something you look to conquer and get through as fast as possible. I’ve largely enjoyed the journey all the way through, and I continue to enjoy it to this day. To think that you have to get somewhere as fast as possible means you might end up fast-forwarding right through your life.
Maybe you have less than I do. Or maybe you have more. It doesn’t really matter. Set realistic and reasonable goals for financial independence based on your means and needs, and then aim to be as happy and successful every single day. Don’t sacrifice enjoyment today for what you think will be enjoyment down the road. You’re still you, regardless of whether you’re financially independent or not.
I’ve been meaning to write this article for a long time now, but there’s always been a different idea that has come up first. I just fear that some might supplant their desire to keep up with the Joneses and their income, lifestyle, and stuff with trying to keep up with the Joneses and their portfolio value, dividend income, and degree of financial independence. Neither is really healthy, as you’re trying to reach for some ideal or benchmark that might not be relevant to who you are and what you want out of life.
Be you. Set goals based on you and what you really want out of life. Your best should be your benchmark. If you’re giving it your all, your results will very likely reflect that. Those results may or may not exceed others, but that doesn’t really matter.
Don’t let the journey to financial independence consume you. Enjoy the ride, which will help prepare you for enjoying the rewards as well.
Finally, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be aggressive. I try to inspire everyone out there to give the journey to financial independence – and everything in life – their all. But your all is really all you can give. If someone has more means than you do, that’s great. But don’t let that bum you out. Give this 100% every single day and I can assure you that you’ll go further than you ever thought you could.
What do you think? Are you still trying to keep up with the Joneses?
Thanks for reading.
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