We all want to look like the picture of confidence. We want to kick life’s butt and take names while doing it. The perfect spouse, the perfect home, the perfect group of equally badass friends (but you know, no one too noticeably more badass than us). When you wake up in the morning, a ray of sunshine should hit your perfectly shining white teeth and reflect against your spouse’s equally perfect set as you both jump out of bed and soar through your day.
But maybe on your path you find you do less soaring and more crawling towards the coffee machine, grumbling about the day ahead of you. For even the most successful and productive of us, the question “am I doing okay?” is a frequent refrain, especially when we find ourselves mingling with others who seem to have accomplished far more on their journey.
This is important to address, because crippling worry can take up valuable brain space that you could be investing towards actively improving your financial picture. So here are three simple steps to defuse this question and enable you to move onto more important things.
Use The Right Comparison
We often have these anxious thoughts after meeting with or hearing the story of some insanely badass-sounding person.
As avid students of financial improvement, we are sure to come across success stories of folks who are doing better than us. That’s as it should be! If we’re trying to actively improve, we should be running in circles with people doing as well or better than us so we can learn from each other.
The important thing to remember is that the people around you are not a comprehensive data set. Since you are trying to improve your situation, you are constantly going to place yourself among people who are doing as well or better than you. Don’t confuse proximity with prevalence.
If you want to know if you are doing okay, you should really be using benchmarks that are more representative of the larger group. For example, you could compare yourself on this income percentile data against the entire US or this net worth by age chart. In fact, there is an entire benchmarks section dedicated to giving you exactly the data you need to make informed decisions.
Ask A Better Question
“Am I Doing Okay?” is a common question but it’s actually not the best question to ask. Even if a million people were doing better than you, it doesn’t help or hinder your own progress on your financial journey. A friend who has $2 million more than you doesn’t change what house you can buy, how many sandwiches you can afford, and whether or not you can retire, too.
The best comparisons to make are ones against yourself. The better version of this question to ask is “Am I improving? And how fast?”
Ronald Reagan asked this question of the nation in even more elegant words. Up against Jimmy Carter in the election, he posed the following: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Hot damn. Drop the mic, that’s about as succinct as it gets.
Change the time frame and ask yourself the same question. Are you better off than you were a year ago, or two years ago?
If the answer is no, ask yourself if there were exogenous circumstances that caused the delay, things that should not present obstacles going forward. If your answer here is negative, then perhaps you do need to confront the truth that a turnaround is in order.
Realize It’s Insecurity About the Future
When you’re filled with envy about your friend’s story, it’s not really about the friend and what they achieved. Say they just bought a gorgeous 1,500 square foot house and you’re still renting a run-down apartment with a leaky faucet. It’s not that you don’t want them to live in a 1,500 square foot gorgeous house, it’s that you want to know that one day in the reasonable future you, too, will get to live in a 1,500 square foot house, if you want to.
Or say you meet someone who retired at 26 with $5 million and seven brand name cars, one for each day of the week. It makes you wonder how long it will take you, and if it will really happen, and what it will look like when it does. Often you just want to know that it will happen for you, too, in the reasonable near term. You’d hardly be filled with jealousy knowing your friend got Newfangled Thing X if it turned out you were also going to be gifted Newfangled Thing X the very next day.
Realizing it’s impatience about the outcome and insecurity about how the future will play out lets you move past your fixation on the friend and onto the root cause.
For most of us diligently working on our financial picture, what we really need to do is just shake the insecurity off and keep on trucking.
Use these three tools to banish the bad juju and get back to work building your path to financial independence. There’s plenty of room for everyone.