And since this is Mr. Money Mustache and not a standard financial publication, you’re willing to think about the bigger picture:
Not necessarily “Maximum money at all costs so I can have a nice, spendy retirement!”
More like “A good, fun amount of money so I can walk outta this cubicle with confidence and never look back.”
Making that mental leap is a huge one. It takes you from a life of permanent pursuit of the unattainable, to one where you get to the “Enough” stage pretty quickly. This alone will change the course of your life for the better.
But what if there were an even bigger mental leap that we were leaving out? One that starts with the hard-nosed math of living off of your investments, but then puts it on a more flexible scale that allows you take shortcuts and attain the freedom you want, much sooner?
Well, there is such a shortcut of course, and there is even a story right from my own life that illustrates it.
The Unnecessary Fears of Teenager MMM
Since I was a kid, I’ve always had confidence issues. I was afraid to attend the birthday parties of other kids, if there were too many strangers around. I was afraid to try new foods or join any teams. It took me a long time to become outgoing enough to start meeting girls in high school.
I compensated for these things by trying to be really good at everything, in an attempt to alleviate feelings of worry. Insisting on A+ grades even on the most pointless of assignments, just because I felt that “winning” was a safe defense against bullshit workloads.
I engaged in slightly compulsive weight training with a gang of close friends (and probably fellow misfits) until we were all well-dressed two hundred pound muscleheads, safe from the risk of bullying and gleefully (but needily) soaking up the status rewards of having fancier outer appearances. We would have all claimed it was for fun reasons or health reasons, but there was plenty of teenage insecurity driving up those barbell plates at 5:30am as well.
Even as a young adult, my desire to build up a massive financial surplus was probably at least partly driven by a desire to protect myself from things that could go wrong – like unemployment or being stuck in a job that I no longer enjoyed.
I’m not ashamed to admit all of this, because you need to see your opponent clearly in order to beat it. I went through this journey of insecurity and came out in a good place – in the safety of a well-designed life with lots of advantages. But since then, as I have spent the subsequent thirteen years learning more about that life, and meeting new people with entirely different successful lives, I have come to realize something I wish I could have known earlier:
I had nothing to worry about in the first place.
It turns out I didn’t need all that money, because my needs and wants will never be more than I earn from my natural desire to do useful work. You don’t need to be a musclehead in order to have friends or meet attractive people or deter bullies – normal fitness is just fine and being friendly and open is much more attractive – whether your goal is finding love or running a powerful enterprise.
You don’t have to OVERACHIEVE at everything you do – you can be strategically great at things you truly enjoy, carve the rest of the unnecessary crap out of your life, and spend your days in a much healthier balance of work and play.
Many of us are focusing our energy on building up the wall of protective money and insurance policies around us to ever-greater heights, working one last year and funding one last insurance policy against an obscure risk, when really our deficit is not in money. It’s in confidence.
And thus, it turns out that Money and Confidence are Interchangeable.
Think about it: It took me seventeen years of school and ten years of work to become an expert software engineer, making a growing six-figure salary and collect about a million dollars* of investments by about age thirty.
But then, years after retirement I started a carpentry business just for fun, and within just a few weeks of spreading the word, I had enough business to easily pay the bills with very part time work. And most notably, I still do some paid carpentry, just because it’s an incredibly fun and satisfying way to spend a few hours with friends, fixing up a house on a sunny day.
So, would a sufficiently confident carpenter really need to do the engineering career and save that million, in order to live a satisfying life?
In 2011, I started this website to write about money. Even without the lottery-like success it has lucked into, I would have still ended up with a writing career in a popular subject that was loads of fun and could again have easily paid the bills through things like consulting, advising, speaking, or connecting with new friends for business opportunities. And I’ve enjoyed writing since I was ten years old – with enough confidence, I could have started writing about money decades earlier.
So maybe a confident younger money writer with lots of drive is also already set for a great life, even if he or she isn’t sitting on a lifetime of investments?
In 2017, I bought a small commercial building alongside some friends and converted half of it into a coworking space, and it easily filled up with members. Despite charging only a third of standard rates, the income from this business could also be plenty to fund a happy family’s lifestyle if we managed it well.
If I had the confidence earlier in life, I could have shortcut the intervening work and achieved almost exactly my current lifestyle decades ago: no war chest of investments required.
More important than these examples from my life, are examples from yours.
Every day, I get emails from people describing their plentiful savings and unpleasant jobs, and then a description of the golden handcuffs or fearful assumptions that keep them working in their jobs.
They wonder when, if ever, they’ll be able to quit. When really, the problem is not the money, it’s the confidence. With confidence, they could quit right now.
Confidence allows you to change your current life entirely and instantly, without the need to change anything – because you’re just rearranging the feelings in your mind.
Imagine for a moment that you’re Jill CTO or Joe Attorney, locked into a prestigious firm and a two point six million dollar Washington DC dream townhouse. You’ve got an entire department reporting to you, your ex-spouse to manage, two kids in private schools, a standardized and rigorous vacation plan to address both sets of inlaws, and a comfortable, safe brand new Lexus Hybrid SUV that you use several times per day because although you agree with Mr. Money Mustache that more people should be riding bikes, it just doesn’t work with your lifestyle right now.
You’re a high achiever, no doubt about it. But what is all this achievement buying you in life happiness today? Are you selling off your current years of youth to The Firm, and putting off your happiness because in just another decade or so, once the kids are grown and things settle out, then you’ll give yourself permission to be happy?
If so, you may have confidence issues, just like the rest of us.
What if we could take all that complexity and ass-covering and self-protection in your current life, set it aside, and consider the following ideas.
In fact, let’s repeat all of this together in the first person so it sinks in for real:
A Recipe For Badass Confidence
- I will always be able to get a job if I need one.
- Billions of people are living far less expensive lives than mine, and yet many millions of these people are surely happier than me. What is their secret?
- While I don’t control the entire world, I am in control of my response to everything I experience. And my response is the part that determines my happiness.
- I am in control of my cost of living. Everything I do is a decision, and it’s made by me, not the world around me.
- I can always learn new things. With proper dedication, I can gain any skill that I want or need. This means when I depend on other people, it’s just a positive choice we are both making. When others depend on me, they are acknowledging my strength and I will choose to pass some of it on to them.
- My kids will be just fine. Just by giving them my love and support and being honest with them. They don’t need prestige and they don’t need the support of multimillionaire parents to prosper in life. Nobody does.
- Exotic Travel (just like any other luxury) is not a necessity for a happy life. At a moment’s notice, I could choose to spend the rest of my life within driving distance of this spot, and still lead a completely blissful existence forever.
- But on the other side of that same coin, I can always move. My current location is a mixture of chance and choice, but people move all the time and their lives are usually better for it.
- I can always make friends. No matter where you drop me in the world, I could build up a loving support network of warm and caring relationships. Because people are the same everywhere – we all just want to be valued and given some warm attention.
- I know that my real goal in life is happiness, and I will always have the right tools available to me to maximize my happiness. They’re everywhere, and they are free.
- Millions of others have achieved this before me, with fewer advantages and in harder times. I have more than enough personal power to get this shit done, in spades.
That collection of points above, is my personal version of what Confidence means. But you’re welcome to use it, adapt it, even turn it into a t-shirt or tattoo for yourself. Confidence is the opposite of fear, and fear is the enemy that stands between most people and greater happiness.
And because it’s interchangeable with the need for money, that dozen or so bullet points can easily be worth millions of dollars.
The biggest bonus about this multimillion dollar recipe? If you haven’t followed it before, your initial results will come strikingly fast and fuel your desire to get yourself even more of it. Confidence is addictive, joyful, and self-reinforcing.
What To Do With This Amazing Power
You now have two complementary tools in your belt: Money, and Confidence. Both of them are useful. But it would be foolish to develop one exclusively, while completely ignoring the other.
Most people work too much on the money and use it to compensate for a lack of confidence. To get to the next stage in life, you will need to stop doing that.
The Freedom to live happily is your goal. Confidence is part of the price of admission.
*based on 2005 retirement date inflation adjusted to present-day dollars