One dark February night in 1992, the skinny teenaged version of Mr. Money Mustache was sitting alone on the La-Z boy chair in his parents’ living room, staring out the window in a severely depressed funk. I had just been dumped by my first girlfriend. Lacking any past experience, I felt it was the end of the world. There was nothing to do besides shed tears of teenage angst to a soundtrack of groaning Pearl Jam songs.
I needed something to take my mind off of this incredible loss, so I started combing my parents’ bookshelf for something to read. Deep in a remote recess of the shelf, behind the dry Art History books and bizarre tomes of Jungian psychology, a much smaller and more approachable book materialized.
The title was, “The Magic of Thinking BIG, by David J. Schwartz, Ph.D”
Looking back decades later, I now feel certain that this book must have been ‘Stashed there by a future me, just as Biff traveled back in time to give a Sports Almanac to the teenaged version of himself in Back to the Future II, to ensure a drastically more successful life for himself. Because this tiny and simplistic and charmingly outdated book from the 1950s completely changed my life. And now, Junior Mustaches, I get to share it with you.
You see, with the unexpected growth of this blog’s readership, I’ve had to deal with quite a few naysayers staining the Internet with their Anti-Mustachian complaints about pretty much every idea I’ve ever shared.
“You’re not really retired!”
“Oh, you must be lying about this or that, because things like that aren’t possible in the USA”
“Oh, good luck having your kids go to college because it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to get a degree without incurring a lifetime of debt.. and then the degree will already be obsolete and then it will have been a waste anyway!”
Things don’t work like that here in Mr. Money Mustache territory. Here, it’s time for the Pessimists to shut up and learn from the Optimists. And for me, my entire adult life’s history of shockingly self-fulfilling optimism goes back to that initial late night spent reading Dr. Schwartz’s little book.
The book starts off with an intriguing premise:
There is magic in thinking big…. but much of the thinking around us is little, not big. All around you is an environment that is trying to tug you, trying to pull you down Second Class Street.
Meanwhile, First Class Avenue, USA is a short and uncrowded street. There are countless vacancies there waiting for people like you who dare to think big.”
As you read through, these quaint yet curiously memorable phrases continue in abundance. You’ll find yourself repeating Dr. Schwartz’s classic 1950s one-liners to your unsuccessful friends, only half in jest, as you try to explain your own phenomenal success after the pairing of David J. Schwartz, and his contemporary counterpart Mr. Money Mustache.
In the early chapters, your mind is described as a Thought Factory which employs two Foremen: Mr. Triumph and Mr. Defeat.
If you put Mr. Defeat in charge, he will very patiently have your factory workers present reasons you cannot achieve what you would like to achieve. You’re too old, or busy, or too overweight, or not qualified for the job.
If Mr. Triumph takes the floor, he switches the thought production completely. Now, every goal you set starts with the immediate assumption that it IS possible. Mr. Triumph already knows he will win, his job is simply to lay out the steps required to get to that goal, and to keep you excited about cranking through these steps.
Next is the chapter about Excusitis, the Failure Disease. The good Doctor describes a series of real-world people he has interviewed, some who suffer from this disease, who immediately start listing excuses in the face of any challenge.
“I’m fat because I have a slow metabolism.”
“I can’t ride a bike because I’m too busy.”
Then he contrasts these folks to a series of Big Thinkers, who never make excuses and accept challenges with curious enthusiasm. As it turns out, the Big Thinkers are always the successful ones with plenty of money and happy, balanced lives, and the Excusitis sufferers are always burdened with big and compounding problems.
Amazing, isn’t it, that these examples were all of people in the 1950s, and yet the same characteristics also define successful and unsuccessful people today?
You will find the contrast in your own friends amazing, as you are encouraged to use your real life as a laboratory, doing little thought and observation experiments on yourself and studying the behavior of actual successful and unsuccessful people you know. The observations of the book are all spot-on when applied to real people, even from our current vantage point sixty years in the future.
As the book goes on, it gets into deeply practical strategies to be an actual big thinker yourself. Things like monopolizing the listening, rather than the speaking, in every conversation. And when meeting with a more senior executive in your own company, realizing that you are not a subordinate and a boss, but two equally important people sitting down together to solve an important problem. Curing Fear with Action. Absolutely golden stuff, every page of it.
When I re-read this book in modern times (which I still do about once a year), I realize that Mr. Money Mustache has in fact become exactly like David J. Schwartz. We both start each of our golden lessons with an amusing and/or illuminating anecdote. We both write in short and punchy sentences. And we both believe that the modern world is an absolutely excellent place, a dense and flowery jungle completely packed with Mangoes of Opportunity that spray their juices in our faces every time we take another muscular step through the foliage.
But we’re not just living in denial. This confident optimism actually opens up gigantic doors for us and creates unimaginable opportunities.
The reason, of course, is not actual magic, but the effect your optimism has on the people around you. People want to hire you, or to help you, or to work for you, because big thinkers are very rare and it’s exciting to be around one. The guaranteed key to a happy (and rich) life is to have an easy time working with other people. With this confidence, you don’t have to worry about a recession, or a depression, or using gold coins as currency in a post-apocalyptic shanty town, because you’ll always be able to work with other people, build a productive community, and have some good fun with your life. As a side effect, you will accumulate much more money.
Here on this particular blog, we’re applying Big Thinking to become rich enough to retire drastically sooner than regular people. You will also use your new skills to do better in all other areas of your life, but it’s important to occasionally state the real reason we’re all here right now.
So if YOU are not already a big thinker, it’s time to start training with a visit to your library to find this book. Then maybe I won’t get so many doubters in the comments section*!
*Actually I’m joking about this last part – we still NEED to hear from people of all perspectives to really understand the current state of our society if we want to have any hope of helping people change. It is ironic that I told pessimists to shut up, right in the same article that I suggest that Big Thinkers focus on listening rather than speaking. But you know what I meant, right?