One criticism of financial independence I sometimes see is that we FIers don’t realise how lucky we are and how privileged our upbringing has been.
This may sometimes be true…but often not in the way that the commenter meant.
For example, I never inherited any money, never went to an elite private school, never got a job because I was mates with Nathaniel “Squiffy” Rothschild.
The Escape Artist does not own a top hat or a monocle. Nor shiny black tap shoes to wear when dancing on the graves of poor people. That would be wrong.
But it IS true that I had a privileged upbringing.
I was born healthy, during peacetime in a wealthy country (if provincial Britain in the 1970s counts). I lived in the countryside and was allowed to roam
feral free making dams in streams, climbing haystacks and building fires in the woods.
Yes, I was lucky. I didn’t suffer from racism or sexism. I never worked down a pit or up a chimney. I never had it as tough as Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen.
But my biggest privilege was probably to be born to parents who worked hard, stayed together and tried their best to give me and my brother a good start in life.
The Escape Artist was not featherbedded. Independence was encouraged so my parents didn’t chauffeur me by limo to clarinet lessons etc…no, I cycled several miles on my own in the dark to boy scouts on winter evenings….stuff that these days would probably be thought of as dangerous neglect.
An important part of my parent’s approach was not sheltering us from the realities of life. Even when those realities were uncomfortable. Even when they violated The Young Escape Artist’s highly developed sense of
For example, on special occasions when we had a bottle of Coke to share, me and my brother spent ages arguing about who had been short-changed. Nothing seemed more unfair than your brother getting more Coke than you.
Tantrums ensued because, like everyone, I’d come into this world believing that life should be fair. And when I say fair, I obviously mean fair to me. This went beyond Coke distribution. There were disputes over what TV channel to watch, what toys we could play with and on and on. Appeals would be made to our Mum with a wail of “WAAAAHH!….ITS NOT FAIR!!!!”
If you have children of your own, you’ll know kids love to use the “fairness” argument to get whatever their siblings already got. Most parents probably cave in and try to balance things right away. Soon the kid learns to roll out the fairness argument at every opportunity.
But my Mum was made of sterner stuff. The response was always the same. She would just say:
Life isn’t fair!
That was it…end of argument.
I can’t tell you how many times that mini-drama played out in my childhood years…but it was A LOT. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I got conditioned over the years to expect that the world would often be unfair. The message got repeated until I absorbed it. It came to form part of my Money Blueprint, the way that I saw the world.
My mother was (is) politically left-leaning. She believed (and still believes) in feminism, fighting for social justice and trying to achieve greater fairness in society, through her job as a teacher in a state school. But she was never naive enough to let her political views interfere with equipping children for the real world.
The truth is that the World has never been fair. Not even close. The world is governed by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology and those laws of science don’t give a shit about our feelings nor our quaint ideas of what is and isn’t fair.
Learning to invest helped me understand this. Thinking about the stockmarket in terms of fairness or unfairness is like thinking about The Ocean. The Ocean is not out to drown you nor save you…it’s vast, powerful and indifferent to you.
Yes, fairness is a thing. But its a concept invented by humans and one that we’ve mostly ignored for the past 100,000 years or so.
Get some historical perspective. The Escape Artist’s peasant ancestors in East Anglia in the Middle Ages did not expect life to be fair. They expected life to be nasty, brutish and short. They knew their place. They worked for The Man (the Lord of The Manor) ploughing fields (without a tractor) up to their knees in shit.
Why am I telling you this?
It’s not because I want to rain on anyone’s barbeque. But I do want you to keep going when you come up against roadblocks on The Path to getting wealthy. And that’s why you need to hear this.
Forewarned is forearmed. One of the techniques of stoicism is thinking ahead about all the stuff that could go wrong and what you could usefully do in response.
The world is random and unfair. Bad things will happen. If you understand this, you’ll be more resilient. You’ll be more ready for the hard times when they come (and they will). Then better able to bounce back. These are The Inestimable Advantages of Hardening The Fuck Up.
If you believe that the world is fair, you’re cruising for a bruising. Your expectations will get dashed on the rocks of reality (perhaps at your next pay / promotion review?). Its the element of surprise that triggers the emotional reaction of panic, shock, anger, anguish, denial etc.
Imagine you’re driving a car. If you believe the road conditions will always be good, then you’re gonna be shocked when you hit an ice patch and the car starts to skid.
Once the car is sliding you have a problem. What happens next depends on your response. An experienced driver stays calm and steers into the slide to regain control. But a learner driver panics. If you panic, you now have 2 problems. You still have the sliding car problem…but now you’ve panicked and are unable to think straight and correct the skid. Welcome to the ditch.
Yes, we should keep looking for ways to make the world fairer. My contribution is to put the best free personal finance content that I can out into the world. This gives people from modest backgrounds a chance to learn what the 1% have always known.
True fairness comes from equality of opportunity (not equality of outcome). We should aim for equality of opportunity…but without any silly illusions about it being easy. The easy wins have already been had. These days the causes of inequality are more subtle. For example, intelligent people, tall people and good looking people earn more on average. Should we force good looking people to have cosmetic surgery to make them uglier?
Where do our misunderstandings about fairness come from? Well, maybe your parents forgot to tell you that life isn’t fair? Or maybe you’ve been influenced by the media, whose coverage of inequality of outcomes is mostly bullshit designed to trigger an emotional reaction in you. Fear, anger and envy are the sales tools of newspapers and TV news, hungry for ratings and advertising.
Life has got a zillion times fairer in the last 500 years. But we seem to have lost perspective. One of the reasons, I find media debate on the gender pay gap so strange is that a ~9% difference in earnings between sexes (who have different priorities and make different choices) in a developed country is hardly the greatest source of unfairness in the world today.
What about the difference in life chances between a child born in the Congo versus one born in Switzerland? The difference in child mortality? The difference in income? I’m guessing its more than 9%. Is that fair???
Of course not. That’s because life is fundamentally unfair.
Is it fair that Jennifer Aniston won’t return my phone calls? No, of course not. Screw her, her lawyers and their stupid restraining orders.
Inside every one of us is a toddler. The toddler thinks that life should be fair. The toddler stamps their foot and wails everytime the unfairness of the world reveals itself. The toddler spits out their dummy and heads over to their keyboard to leave an angry comment on the internet.
It takes conscious choice to cultivate gratitude for all the things go right every day. Each time you turn on the tap and clean, running hot or cold water comes into your home. Its a fucking miracle.
You are allowed to have your own views about fairness. You might even be right. But obsessing about fairness is a massive distraction from becoming wealthy.
And if your money blueprint has left you with any lingering guilt about wealth accumulation, you won’t succeed. That would be a shame because everyone can get richer. There is no fixed stock of money…wealth grows when people co-operate and trade. If I make a spade and sell it to you for £10, we’ll both be better off (assuming you actually needed a spade and we’re both acting rationally with free choice).
Remember: no one can make the world fair. You can only control what you can control. Pretending otherwise is vanity, ego and virtue signalling (i.e. showing off).
Accepting (not celebrating) the essential unfairness of the world helped me keep my shit together through some difficult times. It helped me get to financial independence. I want the same for you.
And if your difficult times are more difficult than mine, then you’ll need this understanding even more. I wish you all the best.