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.)
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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.”
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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.
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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?
Reading about struggles can be more helpful than reading about seemingly easy successes. My life is hard right now ( I basically had to start over at over 50.). Reading about people like me would be so inspiring.
I agree, Lizzy. That would be inspiring. YOU will be inspiring. Cheering you on over here!
I definitely bagree that reading about the struggles is part of what I enjoy about nlogs and blogging. We don’t just wrote about successes but also the change of plans, the loss of income, the big ticket items that show up unexpectedly and you know, life. I’m leaving my job in 2 months and the remote work is just killing me. I feel stuck in limbo but also don’t want to complain about the paychecks that are still coming in. Amazingly, I found that I need something to do beyond work that is more meaningful than a to-do list. I’ve already put in background check applications to some places and am working with people to find places to volunteer. Even if I’m technically still working it doesn’t mean I can’t start living as if I’m not. Figuring out something to do to get some meaning back in my life would be nice. ?
Its tough to only see the “we win, we are awesome why dont you just do what we are doing and you can win and be awesome RAWR” posts from people. I like your blog because its not always pretty. People are not always pretty, we make mistakes, we screw up and best laid plans go sideways hard when we least expect it. Thats just life!
I enjoy reading your and ournextlife’s column (a) cuz you don’t make everything pretty and (b) you are women and there are not always enough women out there willing to talk about money. We see things differently than men and thats not a bad thing. my 2 cents for the day!
This is a huge compliment, Jo-Anne! Thanks for giving me the motivation to keep writing.
Gwen @ Fiery Millennials
Normally I average 7-8 comments a post. On the post I wrote about my struggles after leaving work? OVER 30. We are real people with real struggles and we do no one a favor if we don’t write about the good AND the ugly. Thanks for sharing everything!
Agreed, Gwen! People seem to really enjoy the good and the bad. It makes sense, right? It’s what we love about movies, books, etc. So why would this kind of storytelling be different?
Reading about successes are important, but if you ONLY hear about successes it’s easy to feel defeated. There is a lot more of “we’re all in this together” when you hear others’ struggles. This has been especially important for me lately since our household has had some unexpected financial ups and downs this year.
Exactly! It’s not that I don’t want to read about successes. That’s the exact opposite actually. But I want to hear more than debt payoff screams. I want the little wins, but also the little obstacles. I think that also helps us keep perspective as bloggers, writers, and storytellers.
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
This is so very true for us. I already don’t read many blogs out there that are just out there selling themselves as a brand because I learn better from stories – it gets worse when you winnow it down to blogs that are authentic because they share the good and the bad.
I suppose there’s a natural tendency to want to only show the best of yourself online for some folks but that’s not my crowd. It can’t be, MOST of my posts over time were about my mistakes! 🙂 But that’s how we learn. If we’re willing, we should be learning from our own mistakes, and others’ as well. How can that happen if only some of us share the truth?
I really like the “peek behind the curtain” stuff, too! It’s not that I never want to read about big wins. I do, I do! I just think it is so important for the people who read AND the people who write to be mindful of the bigger picture. Or else we are all going to be that SUV driver!
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
I agree that the journey is as important as the destination, and I want to hear all the struggles as well. They are critical to the understanding of the journey, and often to relating to one another. Without the struggles, the story just doesn’t sound “human”.
Yessssss this for sure. There are some PF blogs written by people who have made all the “right” choices in life/money (along with a good dose of good fortune/privilege with their family situation) and their goal is to “educate” people about what they do. They have always rubbed me the wrong way.
Look, I too never had student loans so I don’t think it’s my place to lecture people who took them on how to pay them off. I don’t have them despite making lots of not-great choices, thanks to ridiculously generous parents who made the wrong choice for themselves (they basically ignored their retirement for 8 years while their kids were in college) (I don’t think they’ll be destitute or anything in retirement for lots of reasons but they could have been better prepared).
The I’ve always been perfect (or near to it) (and I’ve also had really good luck) blogs are pretty boring and often come off so preachy; I don’t read them.
Your comment made me wonder something, Jess. If I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if people who feel like they haven’t made major mistakes feel like they don’t have a right to share their struggles. Hmmm.
You may have just given me another post idea!
For what it’s worth, I didn’t have loans either. I had scholarships, work study, and really generous parents who helped a bit! I *still* tell that story because it’s important, too. But like you, I don’t have student loan advice.
So I am totally for people sharing their own story & their own struggles & even the good decisions they made! Even if their struggles are comparatively small.
What bugs me a bit is when the people with no personal experience with x try be preachy by “educating” people who do have personal experience with it. Not in a, I have no loans from undergrad and I’m thinking about going back to grad school so I’m trying to figure things out kind of a way (again, that’s personal experience–which is great!) But more in a “I made great decisions and got lucky and have no student loan debt but I’m going to tell you what to do with yours anyway” way.
But if that same person wants to write a different story about dealing with unemployment or planning for something big or surviving endless baby showers without going broke because they have actually lived those stories, that sounds great! Or even, writing about here’s how I graduated with no loans and possible ways you can apply it to your life (if you’re still in hs or college) (as long as it’s written without judgement of people who did take out loans).
Maybe it’s just that the kinds of blogs that write what they don’t know (personally) don’t interest me at all and they make me roll my eyes a bit. It’s a similar feeling that I have when super high-income people write about saving money. Extreme frugality to save tons of money is a different experience from extreme frugality because of crushing debt and/or a low income, for example. You can opt-out of the former anytime you want/need to, not so much for the latter. It’s ok to express empathy for those whose experiences you don’t share (in fact, it’s desirable) but when it comes to advice, I wish people (not you! or most of the truly personal pf bloggers) would own their experiences and stay in their own lanes when it comes to giving advice.
**Note that my parents didn’t pay for school 100% out of pocket–I also had a substantial merit scholarship from the school. But I didn’t do anything to get it except apply and have a good hs record/high SAT scores so I don’t feel like I earned it per se. I was just lucky.
(I think you are being a bit too dismissive of yourself, friend! That high school record and SAT score didn’t create themselves!)
Your comment is exactly why I really struggle when people ask me who my avatar is or who I am helping. ME! I write for me and I’m helping me. I certainly hope others come along for the ride, but jeepers I do NOT have this money thing or this living thing figured out!
Young FIRE Knight
It’s fascinating how the mind works. I read once that we don’t actually remember an actual event happening in our lives, we just remember the last time we thought about it. Which is a huge reason why memories can get warped, or like you said, you just remember A to B, not A to Z.
Great post! I too sat on a pile of cash for a while when I really shouldn’t have so we have that in common 🙂
Honestly, if I could find a way to just read neuroscience and psychology all day, I would. It is fascinating!
And I’m glad I’m not the only person who sat on money too long. UGH.
So true Penny – I try to write about our failures as well as our successes. Not just with money but with life- and honestly, some of those moments that are frustrating as they happen are hilarious after the fact – like, that mom is SO aggravated right now, but 5 years from now she’ll probably (maybe?) look back at her past self and laugh at the time she was the crazy lady in the middle of the crosswalk fighting with a dog and a toddler. I know some of my most frustrating moments are funny in retrospect…
Reading about money struggles is more intriguing to read because you get to read how others were not always positive about their money situation. It’s reading someone’s money journey from the bottom and climbing their way up.
I wrote a few posts last year about my financial mistakes and I had many of them especially in my 20s when I was coming out of college. But I wouldn’t take those decisions back because it helped me learn that I should take my finances more seriously.
That Frugal Pharmacist
Funny, I’d never think to only write about my good things. That’s boring. And I was taught not to gloat. I feel more comfortable talking about my problems than my successes.
Maybe that boils down to a personal problem on my end. I think I’m still not totally comfortable in my successes. I’m probably the most successful in my family and in my long time friends. Readily sharing my failures keeps me relatable and humble.
And I agree, if all someone does is talk about the good.. i start to tune it out.
And I think my successes (however modest they might be in comparison) are built on failures, semi-failures, rerouting, and learning! I want to see the mess. I need to see the mess. I don’t just want the perfect version of the right answer, you know? It’s like in school when you can see the answer key but have no idea how they got there!
Scott @ Costa Rica FIRE
You are so right! It is much more interesting and useful to hear about how people struggled and overcame those struggles, or to read about a deep dive into a mistake made.
I find myself skipping over all the monthly recap posts that start out how this was the best month ever!
I think there’s value in those best-month posts…but I want to know how they got there, you know? That’s what’s exciting and interesting for me!
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
The biggest, most memorable struggle in my life thus far was the first few months with a kid. I haven’t forgotten, but I haven’t written about it yet either. Perhaps I should – it definitely kicked off two years of spending that really got me nowhere.
I would love to read it, Angela!
“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.” 100% yes. I don’t need to read about how easy it has been for you to achieve your goals. That’s not helpful. And I also suspect, in most cases, it’s also not true. We owe it to ourselves and to those who read us to share the long windy version of our journey.
And honestly, I am mortified for that SUV driver. It’s the perfect metaphor for how I never want to treat anyone who is just getting started with money.
I hope people like reading about struggles, because I feel like that’s all my blog is about! Personally, they are the stories that I want to read (which is why I over-share). But they seem to be harder and harder to find. Too many people only share the successes – even if they fake or exaggerated.
I will be the first person to send a virtual high five if someone is celebrating, but I want to know HOW. Maybe I am just nosey. But there is nothing like really being able to root someone on who is persevering, I think!
I’m a huge advocate of sharing all the nasty bumps and reversals along the way. I think it keeps readers from feeling like they’re missing some magical step that everyone else but them knows. In other words, I think it saves my readers’ sanity. I know I feel better when I find out other bloggers aren’t doing things perfectly.
Honestly, your blog is one of my favorites because you are such a good storyteller. I feel like I know you like I know my IRL friends! (I hope this isn’t creepy!)