Last week, I saw a mom at a distance walking with a toddler, a dog, and a toddler push car as I drove home from work.
My heart melted. I smiled at the scene. My son has the same car. In fact, I was headed home so that I could become that mom—sans dog—in a matter of minutes.
But as I drove closer, the moment transformed from an instant of sweet recognition to something else.
I watched as the mom entered a crosswalk, and everything soured. The dog sat down and refused to budge. The toddler launched herself onto the ground. As the mom tried to scoop up the toddler, the dog’s leash became more and more taut. The dog stayed.
There was an SUV in front of me driven by a mom shuttling around a group of adolescents. We were both stopped less than one hundred feet from this scene in the crosswalk. I sat in my car, silently rooting on the mom and praying that my own walk later that day wouldn’t result in a similar scene.
Then, the SUV started to creep forward. Closer and closer it crept until its tires crossed the white line. The SUV was now in the crosswalk. The dog started to pull hard in the other direction, and the mom and toddler were caught squarely in the middle.
I could see the look of panic.
I could feel the panic.
Finally, the mom gave into the dog. She retreated, continuing their walk on the original side of the street. I am also certain that she was cursing the driver of the SUV. I know I was. That driver was a Bad Person.
The Little Things Matter
Oh my gosh, what is this woman in the SUV doing?
I sat in my car in disbelief. There’s a toddler having a meltdown, a dog sitting down, and she’s inching her way through, losing her patience.
Of course the woman with the toddler wishes life went differently. Or at least that moment went differently. She’s not happy. Her child isn’t happy. Her dog isn’t happy.
This is no one’s idea of ideal.
She’s struggling. And here’s an SUV inching forward and threatening her.
Now, I realize it’s not because she’s a bad person with a capital B; it’s because she’s driving a car full of teenagers. A decade has gone by since she was that woman in the crosswalk with the screaming toddler and the dog who wouldn’t go.
The SUV driver can’t remember.
A to B is an A to Z
Talking about struggles, writing about struggles keeps them fresh in our minds. Otherwise, human nature lets us recall the best things and the worst things with infinite ease. Everything else, though, is pushed so far back in our minds that we don’t remember. We can’t recall.
When we tell stories, we often look at our life as having moved from A to B. In reality, we’ve traveled from A to Z, but we’ve forgotten the little victories and the little hiccups along the way. We don’t celebrate the little successes, and we also don’t talk about the little struggles.
So we forget.
In my own financial life, I often talk about one of my biggest money mistakes. For years, I kept tens of thousands of dollars locked in a bank CD earning 1-2%. At its highest point, I had nearly $100,000.
Earning next to nothing.
I was losing money, in fact, if you consider the fact that inflation was outpacing what I was earning.
But I couldn’t stomach the idea of taking my life savings, money that I had been saving since I was 14 years old, and risking it all on the stock market.
At the point in my life, the stock market felt like a Roulette wheel. Put $20 on red, hoping for the best, but knowing full well that one turn of the wheel could take all of your money.
Eventually, I saw the light. More specifically, I gained an accurate understanding of how the market actually works (and realized I would never end up owing Wall Street money.)
RELATED POST: Simple Advice to Combat Investing Woes
Afterward, I used the bulk of that money to put a down payment on a house, and then I moved the rest to Vanguard. Since its inception, I’ve averaged 10% growth a year.
That is my A to B. I knew nothing about investing, so I squandered time and money that I will never get back. But I righted my mistake right into a bull market.
From this perspective, investing seems easy. Opening a Roth IRA seems simple. Once you learn how the stock market works, you act. That’s according to my A to B story.
However, if I tell the A to Z version, it helps me remember that money isn’t just about knowledge and literacy. It’s about psychology and emotion. This is what everyone forgets when they things like, “Just invest!” and “You can’t be emotional with your money.”
RELATED POST: The Opposite of Easy
Because I blog, I have the opportunity to share my smaller struggles and smaller successes often. I can recall the A to Z with ease. I remember sitting in the bank parking lot with my Vanguard paperwork, stomach churning and questioning the wisdom in leaving behind the one acronym that has always been a source of comfort: FDIC-insured.
It took one final conversation with someone who was essentially a Internet stranger at that time—albeit a very wise and funny stranger—to get me out of the car. Had Des from Half Banked not sent me one last pep talk, I might still have my money in a CD somewhere. Knowing better and being able to do better are two different things.
RELATED POST: My Biggest Money Mistake
We know how we want things to go. But those little stumbles, those little struggles can be more of a roadblock than any of us recall.
Share Your Struggles, Not Just Your Success
If the story you’re telling doesn’t include struggles, I don’t think your story is actually worth telling. I won’t read it.
I don’t need another A to B.
I don’t need another story about how simple it is to become successful.
I don’t need more proof that there are people in this world who are more successful than I am.
I can turn on any TV channel, pick up any tabloid, scroll through any six-figure success story to see that there are people who are more successful than I am, people who found their success overnight.
What I need from you is proof that you struggled, too. I need to see that the challenges that I face don’t set me apart from you. Instead, that’s what we have in common.
Then, I feel like I can emulate your story, I can share in your success.
Sharing stories that include struggles helps others on their journeys. It also stops us from inching into crosswalks as they journey past.
So Tell Me…Are reading about struggles helpful to you?