I’m reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, and there was a section where he talked about reading an article 10 years ago and having it change certain things about his business.
Involuntarily, I thought “I wish I would have read that article 10 years ago. Maybe I’d be further along financially or business-wise than I am now. Maybe we’d have our house and be able to work for ourselves from home. Maybe I would have taken a different road.”
And all of a sudden, I realized it wouldn’t have mattered if I had read that article 10 years ago.
10 years ago, I was 25 living in Virginia, just starting a Master’s program for teaching, making plans with Ryan (and starting a year of long-distance), and having fun with some of the best people I will ever know. I don’t know if reading that article at that time in my life would have had any impact on me at all.
Looking back can be a very valuable exercise. It can help you see past mistakes so you don’t repeat them. It can help you see where you’ve come from. It can help you see where you’re going.
But it can also be very dangerous. I wasn’t the same person 10 years ago that I am now. I had wildly different ambitions and plans. I wanted to be a teacher. Kids were a far-off and very abstract idea. Writing for a living wasn’t on my radar.
Another question that Tim Ferriss asks the people he interviews in Tools of Titans is what advice they would give their 20 or 30 year old self. This question, and their answers, stood out to me.
First of all, the question implies that these incredibly successful people are, by and large, quite a bit older than 30. And that doesn’t mean that they weren’t successful at 30, though some make it clear that they weren’t. It means that they still look back on their 30s as a time they were learning.
Being in my 30s, I took encouragement from that. That someday, I might look back at my 30-something year-old self from a place that is much more successful.
The second thing I took away came from the answers. For the most part, the answers were some variation of “I wouldn’t tell my 30 year-old self anything.” They realized that everything they did in their 30s-mistakes, missteps, blunders, good decisions, bad decisions, everything-got them to the place they are.
That’s something that I’ve thought a lot about. The fact that everything we do today make us who we are tomorrow. If we change something today, we could become someone different tomorrow. If we went back and told our 20 year-old self something, it might have put us in a very different place today-for better or for worse.
The last thing these parts of the book highlighted is that we’re all at different places in very different journeys. Duh, right?
But no matter how many times I hear it, I still find myself comparing where I am to where others are-not in a way that’s detrimental, but it’s something that crosses my mind.
But where they are has no effect on where I am.
Let’s bring this around to finance, shall we?
Sometimes, I wish that my husband and I had found Dave Ramsey sooner, or I would have come into the marriage without debt (Ryan didn’t have any). Or we would have started investing for retirement earlier. Or we would have started budgeting earlier. If you’ve had those thoughts, or some variation, it’s easy to get sucked into wishing you had started it earlier.
But here’s the thing:
Ryan and I first started listening to Dave Ramsey on a few different long car rides through Idaho. It started a conversation for us that ensured we were on the same page financially before we got married.
We actually took Financial Peace right after getting married, which allowed us to start our marriage communicating about money and working to get out of debt together, solidifying our ability to work as a team when it came to finances.
Sure, it would have been nice for me to not have $60,000 in debt after graduate school. It would have been great to start investing earlier. It would have made sense to set up a budget instead of just spending money all willy nilly.
But had we done those things earlier, we maybe wouldn’t have appreciated how important they are. Who knows if our financial relationship would have been as strong as it is now, having worked our way out of debt together.
One thing I’ve always been incredibly thankful for is that Ryan never referred to the debt as mine (even though it very much was). He never made me feel bad about the fact that we started our marriage $60,000 in the hole (even though I definitely felt bad at times). That really solidified that fact that we were a team. It wasn’t my debt. It was our debt.
So like I said earlier, looking back can be a valuable exercise, but it’s even more important to realize that the things you did in the past made you who you are in the present. Doing something different could have meant a very different path, and not necessarily a better one.
If you find yourself looking back and thinking “I wish I would have ______ 10 years ago”, try re-evaluating it and seeing how the choices you made-good or bad-had a positive impact on your life today.