One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that when you start telling people to do things differently, a lot of people start coming out of the woodwork to tell you why whatever it is you’re telling people to do can’t be done. The reasoning varies slightly, but the end result always seems to be the same – give up or don’t try because you can’t do it. It’s maybe not that blunt, but that’s sort of the gist of it.
On the one hand, I get it. As much as I believe in all of the things I write about, not everyone will be able to achieve the same results. We all have different backgrounds, skills, and abilities that will impact what we can do and achieve. And while I firmly believe that everyone should follow their dreams and passions, I admit that there’s some practicality aspect that has to come into play – there are bills to pay and obligations that have to be met. And to be fair, there is some value in slowing things down and thinking a bit before we do anything. There is, after all, a fine line between belief and delusion.
On the other hand though, when anyone says that something can’t be done, it really bothers me. Limiting beliefs are the reason why a lot of us get stuck where we are, never taking that first step to change things or achieve our goals. The way to do anything in life is to just get started. And when someone says that something you’re doing or talking about can’t be done, it doesn’t make sense to me. What purpose does it serve to tell someone they can’t do something?
I was reminded about the whole “you can’t” mentality when I wrote a post a while back about how someone could potentially pay off $500,000 worth of student loans in just a few years if they lived life a little differently. The point of the post wasn’t to give a step-by-step roadmap as to how to do it. It was more an exercise about how a potentially hopeless-seeming situation could be addressed by changing things up drastically. Basically, a motivator to take some action in your own life.
This post has gone pretty unnoticed, but every once in a while, I get comments basically telling me how stupid I am and that what I’m talking about isn’t really possible or realistic. Calling me stupid is fair, but telling me or anyone else that something can’t be done has always bothered me.
Ultimately, there are two ways to think about the world. You can go into the world thinking about all the ways you can’t do something and listen to all of the people who say you can’t do it too. And then ultimately, you’ll do nothing.
Or you can do the opposite, ignore all of those doubters, and ask yourself an important question. Why can’t you?
Don’t Ask Why You Can’t. Ask Why Can’t You?
The most important thing with accomplishing anything is to just get started and to keep doing it for a while. I wholeheartedly believe that the people who achieve anything or become really good at something aren’t just there because of natural talent. Rather, it comes from consistent action over a long period of time.
But to do anything consistently requires actually getting started first. That’s made really hard when you doubt yourself or give yourself limiting beliefs because of what others told you that you can and can’t do. And the doubters will always have reasons why you and others can’t do something – people’s circumstances are too different, or others can do it because of their privilege which I don’t have, or slippery slope arguments about how things would never work if everyone did that thing too, so don’t bother trying.
These might be legitimate things to think about – but on an individual level, they shouldn’t impact you or your goals. And perhaps really importantly, they are no reason for anyone to go around telling others that they can’t do whatever they are trying to do.
It’s not about what we can’t do. That shouldn’t enter our vocabulary. The thing we should really be asking ourselves is why can’t we do it? That’s the only way you’ll get started and the only way you’ll keep pushing forward.
The Main Takeaway: Believe In Yourself
The weird thing about how we work is that we put a lot of belief in others before we put them in ourselves. We put our belief in companies, in our employers, in other people. But for whatever reason, we never believe that we can do these things ourselves. I’ve been guilty of this too, although I’m working really hard to change that.
Believing in yourself is hard. You have to keep pushing yourself forward for a while, even when it seems like nothing is happening. And if you don’t succeed, you can’t blame anyone else – instead, you have to blame yourself. That’s a scary thing to do.
Everyone out there is always looking for a roadmap for how to do everything in life. The fact is, there is no roadmap. Life doesn’t move in a straight line, and in the end, you have to figure out what works best for you. What you can’t do is lose belief in yourself. Don’t give yourself limits, because you never know what you might be able to achieve.
So remember, before you look at why you can’t, ask yourself the more important question. Why can’t you? Then get started.
I think the underlying problem with “can’t” is that the majority of people don’t want to do anything that takes a long period of actual work to stop being bad at it.
You probably know dozens of people who go around saying “I can’t draw” when they only tried once or twice and didn’t make any real effort to get better at it. Contrary to popular belief, people who are good at drawing aren’t born with talent, they spent several years DOING WORK to become good. Work that the guy who says “I can’t draw ever because I’m bad at it now” refuses to do.
About 3/4 of the people who go to flight school quit within the first 3 months and pick a different career because they didn’t realize there would be such a steep learning curve.
In my experience, “I can’t ___” typically means “I don’t feel like doing the work,” and “you can’t” typically means “I wouldn’t do this, and I want to keep you down at my level.”
The exception being legitimate income limitations vs a goal that has a disproportionately high price tag. For example, paying off $500k in 3 years breaks down to $166,667 per year, or $13,889 per month. The average salary for an average college grad in their 20s who doesn’t have a law degree is $25-35k. 14k is more than half a year’s net salary, not a month’s discretionary income. They are already living frugally and may be working a second job out of necessity to begin with. They can’t afford a big enough place to rent a room on airbnb like you do. So where, oh where is this extra 14k per month supposed to come from?
All you’re doing with the 500k in 3 years thing is advertising that you’re both extremely privileged, and extremely ignorant of life for the people on the other end of this country’s worsening income inequality problem. That’s not an opinion, it’s basic math. While I enjoy your blog and you give a lot of solid advice, it’s kinda gross for a high income guy who never had to choose between buying groceries and paying a bill to claim that privilege isn’t a valid counter-argument. The only people who don’t think privilege is a factor ARE PRIVILEGED. It would benefit you to show some sensitivity for the lower income people that make up most of the US population rather than getting on a soapbox and denying our everyday reality just because you never experienced it yourself.
Financial Panther says
Whoa, whoa. I liked what you said in the first part, but then I feel like you totally misunderstood what I was getting at.
I know I’m privileged – although to be fair, I’m less privileged than a lot of people, maybe even you (I’m a first generation Asian-American that went to an inner-city public school that a lot of more privileged people would deem a “bad school,” first in my family to go to college, only person in my family to go to advanced schooling, 2 immigrant parents that didn’t go to college). My dad was a dishwasher, then worked as a waiter before he saved enough money to open his own restaurant, working 14-16 hours every single day. I never said that privilege isn’t a real thing to think about – I said that on an individual level, you shouldn’t let that impact you. Just because someone is more privileged than you doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to do something. It’s all about one step at a time.
The 500k of student loans thing can only happen to someone who went to dental school, med school, etc. Did you read that post? It was about someone who took out half-a-mil for dental school and my thought process on how they could handle it. It wasn’t talking shit about a low-income person, nor do I ever talk shit about someone making low-income. The point of that post isn’t to say privilege doesn’t matter. I was in there saying they need to cut back drastically and maybe buy a practice. Other people were going in there saying they couldn’t do it or that what I was saying wasn’t realistic and not everyone could go buy a practice and make the income to pay off the debt. I was saying, instead of telling someone what they can’t do, why not tell them what they can do.
You’re gonna have to take care of your own issues at some point – so take it a step at a time. I hope to god that there aren’t people with 500k of student loans making 25k a year…honestly, I don’t think that’s possible unless you basically end up disabled, but in that situation, you still have to take care of yourself. But if you are in that position, I’m not going to say you can’t do anything. I’ll be there to tell you what you can do, because I believe that everyone with drive can make something of themselves.
I believe I even said that privilege is legitimate – but it shouldn’t impact anyone individually or be the reason why you or anyone else says someone “can’t” do something. Privilege is absolutely real, but it doesn’t impact my thought that no one should tell themselves they can’t or tell anyone else they can’t. If you’re in a shit situation, you can either tell yourself you can’t do anything about it, or you can say fuck all those people who say I can’t and figure out something to improve. One step at a time.
I’ve written about privilege in the past about my ability to bike to work. Please perhaps read that before you attack me for dismissing privilege? The Privilege of Biking to Work.
I totally agree with everything you’ve written here, Kevin. I in no way see you as the guy the previous commenter seems to view you as—a privileged high-income earner talking down to others from on high. That was a totally unfair and unwarranted attack.
I’ve read your entire blog (including the referenced article about paying off $500k in student loans). You’re a thoughtful, relatable person who’s just trying to help others see things a little differently. In my view, your take on the world is more optimistic, creative, and actionable than that of most people.
This article is yet another gem (I wish I could articulate my unique view of the world as clearly as you). I always have Aha! moments when I read your content. You’ve shifted my worldview on many different things—for the better.
So boo to YesICan up top. If they want to twist your message into something it’s not, that’s their choice. I see the good that you’re communicating in this article. I think more people should smash through their limiting beliefs and take the action they can to make a better life for themselves.
Bravo to you for putting yourself out there. You should feel good about this article. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
(And I really don’t think it’s ‘fair’ to call you or anyone else stupid! That’s just unbelievably rude!)
Financial Panther says
Thank you for the support Chrissy. I’ve got no beef with the previous poster – they make a fair point. On another reread of my post, I guess my one passing reference to privilege could have been taken poorly, especially since if you hadn’t read my 500k post, you wouldn’t really know what I was talking about other than saying anyone could pay off 500k in a few years, which obviously isn’t true.
My real point of this post was just to motivate people. I know there are structural and societal issues that make things easier and harder for others, and while we can work to fix those too, we can also work on our own mindset of what we personally can accomplish.
Was just rereading that last section on a roadmap for yourself and thinking how applicable that is to me. I’m FI but haven’t pulled the RE trigger yet. Going back and forth on it. One more year of 401k contributions, employer match, bonus/RSUs vs getting on with my life? Have I decided the right time to move on, the right place to relocate to, will I be bored, will I have some health crisis? So many unknowns. But knowing many people that have died or become disabled due to some health concerns really makes you have to evaluate if its all worth it. I’m leaning towards pulling the trigger on this and am getting my house ready for sale. Thats a big anchor and once thats behind me, there is less holding me back. I figured it I get bored after a year or two, ill head back to work. For now, my roadmap is telling me to move on and live my life.
And thats why I read your blog. To get more perspectives. Thanks for writing. Its not all going out into the ether.
Financial Panther says
Thanks for reading dn. That’s what I love about the whole FI movement, and really anything where we go out and chase our dreams or try to do things our way. Worst case scenario, you just go back to work.
“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”
Edward Kennedy (paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw) while eulogizing his brother Robert
Is there a dollar amount that you cannot imagine being paid back in a certain time period? You wrote “I wrote a post a while back about how someone could potentially pay off $500,000 worth of student loans in just a few years if they lived life a little differently.” Could you write that post for $1,000,000? How about $2,000,000? At some point, wouldn’t it get to the point where it was impossible for you to imagine paying off a given dollar amount in a “few years?” At some point, wouldn’t it get to the point where it was impossible for you to imagine paying off a given dollar amount in a lifetime? Now imagine reading a blog where the title of the post is “How to pay off $X in a few years” where X is the amount you consider impossible.
It is just a matter of perspective. When you propose something is possible, some will find your claim preposterous.
Financial Panther says
Yeah, I mean, I guess at some point things are impossible to do the normal way. But then at some point, you just have to switch things up and try other things – what use does giving up do, is what I think.
Mr. Groovy says
“Of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”
The worst kind of failure is the failure of not trying because someone told you trying is futile. You may indeed fail if you try, but you’ll be the author of your failure, not someone else. Great post, my friend.
Financial Panther says
Thank you Mr. Groovy!
Katie Camel says
This post reminds me of Robert Kiyosaki’s question in “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” where he states there’s a difference between “I can’t afford that” and “How can I afford that?” I don’t care what anyone thinks of Kiyosaki in general, but that’s a great question. It’s what got my brother into a lucrative real estate career. Had he not read that book, he would still be working as a mechanic and trudging slowly toward his retirement date at 65. You’re right that it is mindset to a great extent.