The following is a guest post from Elsie Brown. Elsie is a college student and phlebotomist who writes about frugality and personal finance at her blog, Gundo Money. Check it out!
If you don’t know me personally I’m a professional blood sucker. I work at a hospital and basically my job is to walk around with needles and draw blood all day. Lately at the hospital we’ve been training new phlebotomists and man do they suck. They don’t know how to order the tests correctly, they can’t figure out our computer program, and they miss like every other patient. It’s frustrating to deal with and it’s got me wondering was I ever this bad? The answer is yeah, I really was.
When I started my phlebotomy career I was 18 with all the confidence of a baby sheep. I was a good student and aced all my tests, but somehow when the job started it was a completely different world. The medical terminology didn’t make sense, none of the doctors’ writing was legible, and I just generally felt like I wasn’t doing a good job. I’d call a patient back and not be able to get their blood. Some patients were understanding but others told me I needed better training or “where’s the other lady I want her to draw my blood.” I would go in the back and cry and feel like I was no good, that I really wasn’t cut out for this job. But something happened over time. The more I failed the better I got and eventually I didn’t feel out of place. I actually liked the job.
All this has me thinking about focused effort vs. natural skill and how our beliefs about what we can and cannot achieve leak into every area of our lives including our financial situation. No one is born with the natural ability to draw blood, sure some are better than others, but it’s a skill that everyone has to practice to master. In the same way, no one is born knowing how to handle money. We all learn it the same way, one blog post or school lecture at a time. I think we can agree that there are gifted people in the world and when a gifted person works hard to develop a skill they may out-achieve a person with average abilities. However, there is no replacement for hard work. Whitney Houston didn’t just know how to sing well, Bobby Fischer didn’t just exit the womb with a chess piece in his hand–they had to practice like we all do.
Greatness Takes Small, Action-Packed Steps
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell brought into popular knowledge the idea of the 10,000 hour rule. This is the idea that becoming great at anything takes 10,000 hours and is mostly a matter of deliberate practice, over and over again. Our great musicians and thinkers had to study and practice for years before they reached the level they’re at today. When we’re seeing the finished product of well-written novel or a beautiful piano sonata we are experiencing the fruits of years of labor. When I listen to financial experts talk about stocks or when I meet someone who’s saved $500,000 I know they’ve gotten to that level through years of incremental practice.
So what I want to express here is anyone can become smart about money and live a financially free life. The catch is, it’s going to take effort. A huge piece of the “getting good at something” puzzle is effort. The people who become doctors are not the best and brightest, but the people who are willing to stick with school for eight grueling years. The people who get jobs in a tough economy are often not the best candidates but rather the people who will keep asking and stay with it until they get hired. This stick-to-itiveness, also known as grit, is the key ingredient to anyone who wants to develop a skill.
Once you have the drive, or course, comes the action. Practice is so understated these days and I feel like people give up on themselves too quickly. There’s this reasoning that if you’re not good at something right away you should go find something you are good at. I think about myself with phlebotomy. If I would’ve quit I would have sold myself short, I never would have been able to develop the skills I have today. So next time you feel down about not having an ability, try practicing it. Next time you really want to buy that new iPhone, just walk past the store.
Amazing Abilities Can Be Learned
There’s also this sense that gifted people always do well which isn’t true. I know plenty of gifted people who have destroyed their lives with drugs, gotten terrible grades, or gotten into menial jobs that never required them to develop their gifts. In the nature vs. nurture argument, I think society leans towards nature a lot more than it used to. We tend to believe that there are abilities you just can’t teach–you have to have the genetics.
One such example is perfect pitch, which is the ability to recognize a given tone without hearing it. Someone with perfect pitch can be told B flat or F sharp and then just sing that tone. Here’s Dylan to show you how it’s done. A study in 2004 revealed that people who speak tonal languages, that is languages that may use the same word but the tone of the word changes the meaning, were much more likely to have perfect pitch. Music students whose native language was Mandarin Chinese were much more likely to have perfect pitch than American music students even if though both groups began their music instruction very young. What does this suggest? Amazing abilities can be learned, no matter how difficult they may seem.
Failure Is Necessary
It seems to me that to get better at anything you have to get comfortable with failure, something I never did when I was a young kid. I can’t tell you how many things I quit growing up. Swimming, ballet, surfing, piano, horseback riding…name something I’ve probably quit it. I was naturally very talented and so I expected myself to be good at everything right away. When I found I wasn’t as good as someone else I’d get frustrated and quit. To get better you have to go out there and fail over and over and over again. In life, we often learn a lot more from failure than constant success. Likewise, the fear of failure keeps us from even attempting things that will help us grow. So when you wake up tomorrow I want you to sit up in bed and say to yourself, “I’m going to go out there and fail today!” Ok, maybe not exactly that but you get the point. Embrace your financial hardships because they will teach you the most.
I’m actually really grateful today for the failures I’ve had and learned from. About five years ago I was under a mountain of debt that I couldn’t see myself getting out of. Today, I’m debt free and I never worry about money. In truth, I can’t imagine what kind of boring, distasteful human being I’d be if everything always went great with no life obstacles. These days I know that the times I feel uncomfortable are also the times when I’m growing the most. Job difficulties, paying off credit cards, learning about budgeting, these are all things that make the journey more interesting.
So the next time you encounter someone who has the financial life you want, be it a high paying job, lots of money in savings, or even just being debt free, remember that they got there not by just being awesome. They made small decisions every day that turned their financial life around. There is no magic wand I can give you to fix your money situation but there is also no secret to financial success: you gotta get off your butt and make things happen. I could write out all kinds of little tips and tricks but they don’t mean anything if you don’t practice them. When your attitude changes about what is possible for you everything else will follow. So let me give you the permission you might not be giving yourself, you have the power right now to change anything and everything that you want to.