Financial Independence is a method to get rich slowly but surely over a long period of time. Any true follower of the FIRE movement will know that it's going to take a good number of years before they start to see any results, and at least a couple more before they reach their ultimate goal. It's the same with winning a competition or even Olympic gold; one cannot simply show up one day and take the podium in a major event. It takes years of preparation on and off the field. So what then, are the similarities between winning and achieving financial independence?
When it comes to winning or reaching financial independence most people only focus on the end result. But in reality, it takes a huge amount of effort that often spans across a number of years. Winning or being successful doesn't simply come randomly and requires a lot of purposeful actions. Attaining financial independence is no different. Without proper commitment, and an overarching purpose, you'll likely lose motivation along the way and never reach the goal you desired.
We only take notice of the end result
There are many great sportspeople who have brought joy and excitement to our lives over the years.
Serena Williams in tennis. Usain Bolt in sprinting. Lindsey Vonn in skiing. Michael Phelps in swimming. Babe Didrikson Zaharias in track and field, basketball, baseball and golf.
But while we watch their matches and races with great interest, they only last a relatively short amount of time. A Wimbledon tennis match final lasts around 2 hours, the men's 100m butterfly gold medal race about a minute, the men's 100m sprint gold medal race about 10 seconds.
Why is this noteworthy?
Because we're only seeing the absolute final moments of everything that led to their victory.
It's a bit like seeing someone with a lot of money or has financial independence.
Perhaps a successful entrepreneur who's got a growing business, or the owner of a large property portfolio bringing in lots of rent, or a personal finance content creator talking about how they recently hit a certain monetary milestone in their net worth.
Seemingly their status just happens to be that way, with everything they put in that led up to it being ignored or pushed to the background.
We may even make remarks or comments on how their success comes down to "talent" or "luck" or "simply having better opportunities".
But the reality is this - while the final winning moment is what we're all focused on, and even if there was a slice of good fortune, there was a whole lot of work done in the background or in the time leading up to that moment which made it possible.
It takes years of effort
In the words of Usain Bolt:
"I trained 4 years to run 9 seconds, and people give up when they don't see results in 2 months."
I once watched a motivational video where the late Kobe Bryant was being interviewed about the secrets to his success in the NBA. His response to the question was basically "put in the work".
He'd be up really early in the morning to train. Early enough where he'd have already done 3 to 4 hours work by the time training "officially started". He did this for 20 years, and it's what enabled him to become one of the all time greats.
It isn't just in sport, you hear similar accounts of successful people "putting in the work".
It took J. K. Rowling 6 years to write the first Harry Potter book. But before she did so there were many years of writing that led to her being able to come up with such an awesome story.
Financial independence also takes years, maybe even decades, to achieve.
With a 40% savings rate it will take you around 20 years. 17 years if you up the savings rate to 50%.
When we first start out we're full of energy and motivation, much like with anything else. Just think of starting the gym as a new year's resolution, or taking up a new hobby, or giving up smoking.
But as time wears on and we hit certain rough patches it becomes very tempting to throw in the towel.
We see our friends and acquaintances buying a bigger house, or a new car, or joining some private members club. And it's hard not to compare, especially when other people are comparing you also.
The steps to financial independence are simple, but that doesn't make them easy to carry out.
Especially when you have to do it for years.
You need to be deliberate
The 10,000 hour rule - popularised by Malcolm Gladwell - claims that someone can become an expert in a field by putting in this amount of time in the correct way.
The key being the correct way.
You can tap on the keys of a piano for an entire year yet make no progress on your ability, because you're not being structured with how you're practicing. You need to break down what you're doing and be deliberate with what you're practicing in order to improve.
Judit Polgár is generally considered to be the strongest female chess player of all time and is the only woman to have defeated a reigning number one player, Magnus Carlsen.
For her to reach such levels she employed deliberate practice by studying her losses in order to find out what she did wrong, and used that knowledge in order to improve her game bit by bit.
Reaching financial independence also takes some form of deliberate practice.
How many people do you know who "save money", yet will never be able to have a comfortable retirement?
Analysing your spending and creating a budget. Clearing down your debt. Investing your money into the index instead of just saving it in a bank account that earns no interest. Building multiple income sources.
These are all deliberate acts that you take in order to increase your chances of reaching the goal of becoming financially independent.
And when you've done the basics mentioned above, you continue to improve by taking one area and breaking it down even further in order to figure out where some adjustments can be made to increase your chances of winning.
You need a greater purpose
You can name any successful person and every one of them lives for their vocation or cause. It goes beyond years of practice and being deliberate about it. Everything significant that they do is committed to their purpose.
Marie Curie committed her life to science.
Bruce Lee was committed to bringing martial arts to the rest of the world.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was committed to justice and rights for women and minorities.
To them, the cause they worked towards or tried to further was simply a part of them, something they believed in. It was not something they did just for a living.
Winning or being successful in their fields was simply a by-product of that commitment to their purpose. And more importantly there wasn't any particular "end point" that they were expecting to reach.
And that's what kept them going.
On the flip side we can look at people who "won" but didn't have a greater purpose.
One example that comes to mind is Tyson Fury who first became the boxing heavyweight champion and also the lineal heavyweight champion in 2015. This is basically the highest honour in the professional boxing world for a heavyweight.
Yet with no overarching purpose at the time he quickly lost any motivation to keep going. He was at a loss for what to do since he had no longer had a goal he found meaningful.
This caused his life to spiral downward and out of control, and it took a huge effort, plus years, for him to make it back to the top.
So what do these examples have in relation to financial independence?
Imagine you reached financial independence tomorrow... what would you do with your life?
"Whatever I want!" is, unsurprisingly, the most obvious answer.
Yet how many people end up being bored or unhappy with their lives, even going so far as to go back to work, eventually, just to stave off those feelings?
Having a greater purpose to your life is what keeps you going beyond the moment you reach financial independence. There's a life beyond this point that you need to think about and arriving at an answer may not be as easy as you assume.
You want to take the same mindset as Bruce Lee, rather than Tyson Fury before his recovery.
You want financial independence to be a by-product of your life's purpose, and not your life's purpose itself.
It doesn't have to be a zero sum game
A competitive match often has a victor. A company needs to get customers to buy their products instead of another's. A scientist who makes a new discovery before another will get the credit.
While these are instances where someone wins and another loses, the game itself doesn't need to be zero sum.
A great competitive match can still raise the profile of both competitors or teams despite one of them losing.
A company developing great products can lead to another company finding alternative ways to innovate and therefore earn a slice of the market for themselves.
A discovery in science furthers the advancement of human knowledge, which can lead to further discoveries and technologies.
The game of financial independence can be looked at in the exact same way.
While other people out there might reach a certain financial figure before you, or achieve a higher savings rate, or have more income sources, it doesn't mean you can't still reach your goal and "win".
There is no finish line, or number of points, or goals, or certain amount of time where everyone collectively agrees that the game is finally over.
The only person you need to compete against, and be better than, is your past self.
Keep doing that and you'll almost certainly become the winner you wish to be one day.
I wanted to write this article because I feel that there's a lot of content out there claiming how "easy" it is to become financially independent.
And I'm not sure I fully agree.
I think the steps required and the methods are simple, but not necessarily easy.
If you want to be able to bench press more weight you simply add 1kg every week to the barbell.
If you want to learn a new language you simply learn 5 new words every day.
If you want to become a big-time influencer you simply need to gain 10 new followers every day.
The steps are simple, but they're not always easy.
By comparing some of the elements of achieving financial independence to successful people in their fields I figured that it might shine a bit more light on what it really takes, and how anyone looking to start this journey shouldn't do so half-heartedly.
To become a winner you need to adopt the right mindset and maintain it for years. Achieving financial independence is no different.