In a world filled with self-help gurus preaching the messages of working harder and working longer, it’s easy to think that the best strategy to getting what you want in life is to sprint after your goals with high energy for a short period of time.
For most ambitious 20-somethings, this strategy sounds like it should work. Put in 80 hour weeks until you get what you want. No breaks. Beast mode, baby.
There’s only one problem with this strategy.
It rarely works.
The young people who give themselves an unrealistically short time horizon for starting their own business, achieving success, and accumulating money are the ones most likely to burn out, become discouraged, and quit. They’re the ones who voraciously chase after a goal for three months, give up after no visible success, and pivot in a new direction to chase another goal for three months, only to repeat this never-ending process.
This is what the self-help gurus don’t tell 20-somethings: that thing you want so badly in life won’t take a few months of hard work to achieve, it will take years.
You don’t need three-month bursts of motivation to get what you want. You need multi-year endurance. It’s not about how many hours you work per day, but rather how many days in a row you work towards your goal. And the only way to work towards the same goal for hundreds and thousands of days in a row is to develop patience.
Wealth Requires Patience
Patience is particularly useful when it comes to financial goals.
If you want to become wealthy, you need patience. No financial seminar can teach you how to become a millionaire in six months. No book can show you how to make $100k in 90 days. No get-rich-quick strategy can actually help you get rich quick. The only way to acquire wealth is to consistently, patiently working towards it for many years.
Here’s a chart that shows my net worth progression during the first six months I started tracking it:
You can imagine how discouraged I felt about only saving $10,000 during six long months. If it had been my goal to become wealthy in six months or less I would have thrown in the towel and stopped tracking my net worth entirely. I would have decided it was too hard and pivoted in a different direction to pursue another goal.
The one skill that helped me push past this discouragement and continue tracking my net worth wasn’t ambition, hard work, or motivation. It was patience.
I knew that the beginning stages of wealth accumulation were the hardest. I read about how Charlie Munger said “the first $100k is a b*tch”. This helped me cultivate a long-term view. It helped me focus on the process of saving money and the habits I needed to embrace to do so. Patience is what helped me save my first $50k and will help me save $100k by age 24.
Social Media Kills Patience Among 20-somethings
The greatest obstacle that prevents most 20-somethings from developing patience is social media.
Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook all encourage a culture of attention-hoarding. The only way to remain relevant on social media is through posting Instagram photos, Snapchat stories, tweets, and Facebook status updates frequently. This inherently means all 20-somethings are in a subtle competition among their peers to prove their success on a regular basis.
Check out my new job.
Look at this fancy restaurant I’m dining at.
Just moved into my dream home.
Do you guys like my new car?
Social media encourages 20-somethings to show the world they’re leading interesting, successful lives. It encourages us to share our victories, no matter how small they may be. This creates a culture of short-term gratification. Why wait to share a real success you work towards for three years when you can share your short-term success you worked towards for three weeks?
The most dangerous aspect of social media is that it allows 20-somethings to give off the fake impression of being successful. The truth is, very few people in their 20’s have achieved anything noteworthy, but the ones who have aren’t flaunting their success on social media.
The young people posting photos of their international travels are being funded by their parents. The ones who claim they’re CEO’s of their own startup have no money in the bank. The 20-somethings buying luxury cars are taking on debt to do so.
The young people actually accumulating wealth, developing skills, and building businesses are the ones quietly sitting at Starbucks honing their craft, building their side hustle, and learning new skills.
They’re not stressing about their social media profile. They’re practicing long-term patience, resisting the urge to compete in the never-ending social media lifestyle comparison game.
The 20-somethings who learn to develop patience and see through the veil of fake social media success will be light years ahead of their peers in five years.
Who Are You Doing it For?
There’s one uncomfortable question every young person has to ask themselves about their own goals:
Who am I doing this for?
If you want to become wealthy just to brag about it on social media, that’s an extrinsic motivation. You want wealth purely to show others you have it.
On the other hand, if you want wealth because it will give you free time to spend each day doing things you want, that’s an intrinsic motivation. You want wealth because it will give you the ability to focus on what brings you happiness.
Extrinsically-motivated goals are often unsustainable. Everyone wants wealth and success as soon as possible, that’s why it’s easy to chase after for a few months. But it’s hard to maintain the motivation for years if your end goal is to flaunt your success.
Conversely, intrinsically-motivated goals are the ones you’re more likely to stick with, to pursue, to chase after for years. Even when you see no visible success, the money isn’t pouring in, and business is struggling, you’re more likely to stick it out because you’re chasing this goal for you, not for anyone else. The real reward is in the persistence and the process, not in the end result.
Inner Motivation, Humility, and Patience
I’ll leave you with a few tips:
1. Only pursue intrinsically-motivated goals. You’re more likely to achieve your goals if you’re doing it for yourself and not for anyone else.
2. Resist the urge to brag about minor short-term goals on social media. You don’t need the approval or the applause from anybody. Focus on what you truly want, on your goals, and your long-term aspirations. Attempting to climb higher than your peers on the totem pole of success will only distract your from your true goals.
3. Be patient. Success won’t arrive in the first six months. Or the first year. Make sure your time-horizon is several years long.
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
Although the bulk of his net worth is invested in index funds, his favorite place to invest in individual stocks is M1 Finance, a site that allows you to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
Full Disclosure: Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be advice, research or an invitation to buy or sell any securities, please see my Terms & Conditions page for a full disclaimer.