Here’s a mystery for you.
I got an email from a reader volunteering a guest post. I was intrigued because her story looked different from normal.
One of the things I’m trying to encourage around here is the idea that someone from any background can get rich. Or at least get enough of a safety net to have real choices and a shot at financial freedom.
So I don’t just want to preach to the FI choir. I don’t want to only reach a narrow middle-class audience of people lucky enough to have privileged life circumstances. And so I was pleased to get this email from a nurse and single mother back in August 2017.
I am a blogger at Working Mother Life, and I like to talk about my career as a nurse and my life as a single parent. It can be tough working a lot, but my goal is to build a better life for my daughter. I started my blog as a way to tell my story and connect with like-minded people.
I was wondering if you would let me contribute a piece to your blog? I don’t really care about a link, promotion, etc., I am really just trying to get my name out there. Over the long run I am trying to become a thought leader for young professional mothers.
I would be happy to accept a contributed piece at my blog Working Mother Life, as well, if that is something you would be interested in. This is all just something I came up with…so if you have any other ideas, please let me know.
* I respect the privacy of people that write to me so I’ve changed the name here
During my career in finance, I learnt to respond immediately to new opportunities. When you operate in a highly competitive field, you either respond quickly to new opportunities or you get fired. Fired as in sacked…not FIREd as in financially independent and retired early.
I’ve written before about Derek Sivers concept of responding either Hell Yeah! or no when a new opportunity comes up. This was definitely a “Hell Yeah!” so I responded quickly. Here’s my email back to Penny:
I get a lot of requests for guest posts and I turn down >95% of them. But your situation and your blog are interesting.
One common criticism of financial independence is that its only for high income people with no children. Your situation could provide an inspiring counter-point. As a working nurse and mother, you would have an interesting perspective….and a story that I think a lot of people might find emotionally compelling and which they could really connect with.
I have long thought that frugality and being smart with money is a good idea for everyone…but for people in tougher situations its essential.
I’ve had a few guest posts / reader case studies on my site and the ones that resonate with the audience are those that are very honest and talk about how tough things can feel and show real vulnerability. Please read this and this as examples.
What I’m interested in are the universal themes of working and saving hard, dealing with hard times, frugality, being a role model for children, ambition and generally not being a consumerist fuckwit.
If you have read my articles, you will have a good sense for where I am coming from. And one of my more subtle sub-themes is encouraging women to work and take control of their finances.
So if you wanted to submit a 1,500 word draft about how you cope, your frugality & money saving strategies and most of all about your past story and your ambitions and future goals, I promise to read it very carefully, give you honest feedback and, if it’s compelling and fits with the ethos of my site, publish it with a link back to your site.
What do you think?
I got the following reply:
I read those articles and I love them!
I definitely understand what you mean about the honesty and vulnerability and I’d love to incorporate that into my article.
I’ll get started on something and shoot it over for your review once I’m done!
Thanks so much,
I replied saying yes and waited. And waited.
And then…nothing. I followed up with another email and then another. Nothing but tumbleweed on the high plains. Not only did Penny stop responding to my emails but her blog has since disappeared from the internet.
Perhaps she got ill? Perhaps she got depressed….when people get run down they often cut themselves off from other people and slowly lose contact with the world. There are also many happier possibilities…perhaps she got promoted and is just busy? Perhaps she inherited some money? Perhaps she won the lottery?
Who knows? The Escape Artist likes a bit of melodramatic guesswork as much as the next person… but what probably happened is far more mundane and common. I suspect that Penny was a victim of The Dip.
What is The Dip? The Dip is a phrase coined by Seth Godin to describe the part of the process of mastering a new skill where people often give up.
In blogging, The Dip is the boring part after the initial excitement of publishing your first few posts. Maybe an early post gets some attention….but then the excitement and the traffic fades because you haven’t yet built a big enough following.
In Seth’s own words:
Almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip.
It looks like this:
At the beginning, when you start something, it’s fun. You could be taking up golf or acupuncture or piloting a plane or doing chemistry – it doesn’t matter; its interesting and you get plenty of good feedback from the people around you.
Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning you experience keeps you going. Whatever your new thing is, it’s easy to stay engaged in it.
And then the Dip happens.
The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.
The Dip is the combination of bureaucracy and busywork you must deal with in order to get certified in scuba diving. The Dip is the difference between the easy “beginner” technique and the more useful “expert ” approach in skiing or fashion design.
The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.
The Dip is the set of artificial screens set up to keep people like you out.
Can you see how this applies to financial independence? Did you experience that exhilarating rush when you first stumble over the concept of financial independence? Maybe you’ve just discovered Mr Money Mustache…what’s this? retiring at 31??…the sheer possibilities! The simplicity of the maths! The clarity of the face punch!
The Dip comes later when you are a couple of months into tracking your spending, and perhaps putting off that uncomfortable conversation with your significant other, or when you’re bogged down in paperwork trying to understand what the fuck is going on with your pension or ISA. This is where many fall by the wayside.
It’s also where the highly motivated push on through. In The Intelligent Investor Ben Graham calls this ability to stick to your plan “constancy to purpose”. In other words, its your ability to keep to The Path. Even when life feels tough…even when its boring.
In the Marines its the ability to “chew through a fucking wall” to achieve the mission.
In the military, they need to select people that have grit (weeding out those that don’t) and then develop it. To do this, they invented boot camp.
The Escape Artist is a nice middle class accountant with soft hands and an aversion to manual labour. But my brother graduated from Sandhurst, the British Army’s boot camp for infantry officers. It was weird to see my little brother after a few months there….he looked like Rambo on steroids.
I asked what he’d been doing. He told me about breaking the ice on the lake before swimming across. He told me how in pairs they’d had to dig a 6ft deep, 12 ft long infantry trench with nothing but a spade. Before you can finish, you have to camouflage it, pass inspection and then fill the hole back in.
And, by the way, you’re not allowed to sleep until you’ve finished. It took him 27 hours.
Boot camp comes in many different forms. If you’re an athlete training hard to make the team, that’s boot camp. If you are a lawyer or accountant studying to pass your professional exams, that’s boot camp. If you are a sleep-deprived new parent, that’s boot camp.
Remember…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So a bit of grit is going to come in handy on the path to financial independence. I’m not saying that you should never, ever quit anything. The Principles of Lifehacking tell us to experiment and not worry too much about failure…being able to flex, adapt and pivot.
But most people are too quick to give up when they encounter The Dip. That email correspondence with Penny was not particularly unusual in one sense. Every day I get emails, messages and texts from people that show me how people find it hard to follow through on stuff that would massively improve their life over time.
Many people also give up too easily at work. Some of the most powerful career advice is also the most simple. As my gift to you, here it is:
Do what you say you’re going to do.
Doing what you say you are going to do is one of the most under-rated traits in the workplace. A huge part of success is showing up and doing the work, day after day, even when its a grind…even when you are tired or distracted.
Doing what you say you’re going to do is a superpower. Done consistently, its also very rare. So if you do it, you will automatically stand out. This is a big part of how you get promoted at work.
What happened to Penny remains a mystery. I hope she sees this. Please remember this is not criticism. This is just The Escape Artist making educational lemonade from a lemon of a situation. My offer still stands, so please get back in touch and maybe we can have a happy ending? 🙂