How to Succeed at Anything

FIRECracker
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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
FIRECracker
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8643887401_ba5b859940_o
Photo credit: Ed Escueta @ Flickr

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

–Steve Jobs

The other day a reporter from CNBC contacted me asking whether I’d like to have my article syndicated on international news.

Long story short, I am now an internationally syndicated author.

Let’s back up for a second. When we first started this blog back in May, I never thought we’d get this far. I never thought we’d be picked up by BNN, CBC, Yahoo Finance, and Business Insider. I never thought we’d grow to 650,000 total page views and 150,000 views per month in less than 6 months. This means we’re expected to grow to 1 Million views in 2.3 months, tracking to Mr. Money Mustache’s progress of 1 Million views in his first 9 months.  From an outsider’s point of view, it might’ve looked like we’re either geniuses or really lucky.

But let me just set the record straight:

Luck or genius-ness has NOTHING to do with success.

Back in 2013, we were crawling through the writing trenches, and wallowing in misery after 75 rejections and 2 failed novels. There seemed to be no end to our crushing failures. Even though we’d been writing for 5 years, we hadn’t been paid a dime and we had little hope we would accomplish our dreams.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were actually just 1 week away from landing a publishing offer. That offer would lead to 4 literary agent offers, which would lead to an offer from the biggest children’s publisher in the world—Scholastic.

But we were so discouraged from all the rejections, we were ready to give up.

Like most people, we naively believed success looked like this:

success-linear
Photo credit: David G. Allan, BBC

This is why most people quit way too early. They are expecting to see immediate returns for their hard work. When it doesn’t happen, they tell themselves “what’s the point? I’m not cut out for this. I should be doing something else.” Then they give up and move on to the next shiny thing.

That could’ve been us. We were that close to giving up.

We didn’t realize, at the time, that success actually looks like this:

success-exponential
Photo credit: David G. Allan, BBC

In the beginning, you have to put in a metric shit-ton (yes, exactly one METRIC SHIT-TON) of hard work with little or no reward. You have to do this consistently for a LONG time. I’ll admit, this part is PAINFUL. And feels like it goes on forever. But from experience, I can tell you that it doesn’t. When that part finally ends, you will hit “the curve of glory”. And at this point, your reward grows exponentially with little effort.

And this happens on the path to financial independence too. In the beginning, when you’re building your portfolio, it’s small so you’re not really seeing massive returns yet. You get discouraged and wonder whether you’ll ever get there. But over time, as your salary grows, your budgeting skills improve, and your investment compounds, your portfolio grows exponentially and then one day you wake up and you realize you never have to worry about bills every again.

The reason why most people never get to this point, is because they stop way too early. They’re not feeling immediate gratification.

Like my friend, Andy, for example. A serial entrepreneur who bootstraps tech startups as often as Donald Trump spews garbage out of his mouth.

Every time Andy tries to start another business, he runs out of money and has to go back to work. And after trying and failing for 10 years, he still has nothing to show for it.

What Andy doesn’t realize is that every time he quits, he loses ALL his gains and has to start over from scratch. Each time he starts a new business, he’s unknowingly throwing away all the progress he made from the previous one.

I know what you’re thinking.  “oh c’mon. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again, when you don’t even know if you’re moving towards the goal. How do you know if you’re on the right track?”

And that is a fair point. BUT…constantly giving up and starting new things won’t get you anywhere. What will get you to your goal is MASTERY.

What do I mean by “MASTERY”? Let me give you an example. There were at least 3 times in my life that I had to master something.

First, coding. Second, writing. And most recently, financial independence.

When I learned how to code, I had to master 3 skills:

1) Architecture – What pieces should I build that will later fit together to solve the problem?
2) Implementation – How do I actually build each piece?
3) Debugging – How do I figure out what’s wrong when something doesn’t work right?

When I tried to master all 3 at the same time, I failed miserably. Trying to learn all of them at the same time was like trying to climb mount Everest wearing rollerblades.  So instead, I mastered one skill at a time. It was PAINFUL and sometimes it felt like I wasn’t making any progress, but just like that graph predicted, one day I could suddenly do all 3. It took more than five years, but I did end up succeeding and finding a job.

When I learned how to write fiction, same thing. I had to master:

1) Plot – Does my story even make sense?
2) Pacing – How do I keep the reader turning the page?
3) Voice/Characterization – How do I make the characters sound unique?

This took another five years. For the first novel, I had the pacing right, but the characters were flat and the plot was a mess. The second novel had a stronger character, but the plot was still a mess. Finally, I sat down, plotted out the entire story, gave it to brutally honest writers to tear the whole thing apart, and re-wrote the entire plot. And guess what? It worked! By the time I finished the 3rd novel, the one Scholastic published, I had all 3 right.

And finally, Financial Independence. In order to become Canada’s youngest retiree, I had to master:

1) Earning – How do I make enough money?
2) Budgeting – How do I control our costs so all the money I make isn’t lost?
3) Investing – How do I turn that money into a perpetual firehose that never runs out?

In order to push our salaries higher, I worked as much overtime as I could, shoving everything into our tax-sheltered accounts.

In order to master budgeting, I sat down, created detailed spreadsheets and tracked the ever loving crap out of EVERYTHING. I also minimized vacation costs by travel hacking and food costs by cooking.

To master investing, we learned how to survive 2008 by using the indexing strategy and rebalancing.

Each of these skills by themselves do not push you closer to the “curve of glory”. But combined, they turn into a rocket ship, propelling you up the curve and compounding your returns.

Had we not crawled through the writing trenches of HELL for five long years, this blog would never had gotten this far in less than 6 months.

So on your path to Financial Independence, remember, if you’re not getting immediate gratification for your hard work, don’t freak out and quit. Once you master these 3 key skills: Earning, Budgeting, and Investing, you will have built a rocket ship, giving you the freedom to never have to worry about bills again.

As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. I never knew the truth of those words until I experienced it myself.

As it turns out, MASTERY is the key, and only when you’ve actually mastered something can you look back and say “so THAT’s what all the hard work was for. WORTH IT!”

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22 thoughts on “How to Succeed at Anything”

  1. Great positive message FireCracker!

    You guys definitely hit the blogging rocketship!

    But you’re right. Some people never hit that exponential growth curve. Maybe it’s bad luck, maybe they just never develop the skills necessary.

    Whatever the reason, you’re totally right…giving up in discouragement won’t accomplish anything. Building mastery takes *time* and a lot of effort.

    Luck or not, holding on to success won’t happen unless the dues have been paid.

    1. Yup. And that’s the hard part. Not just sticking to it, but fixing your mistakes as you go, so that you improve overtime. We were spinning for so long with writing, because we had NO IDEA that our plot made no sense what-so-ever. It wasn’t until we got other writers to give us brutally honest feedback that we knew what was wrong.

      This is why mastery takes a long time and requires a ton of effort.

  2. This is exactly right Firecracker. I think a lot of us just assume things move up linearly, but really, its exponential. That bit about savings is right. I see a lot of people who talk about percentage returns here and there when they are just starting out, when really, what matters early on is just to keep doing it as much as possible. You don’t see the big stuff until down the line. You really just got to get past that cliff!

    1. Yup. Getting past the cliff is really hard, but once you do, the returns just keep coming without you having to do much. Ah, power of compounding. So awesome!

  3. Very inspiring post! And you can really use the message for anything. I’m recently noticing the same kind of development on my baby girl. In the first few months she didn’t do much but eating, sleeping and crying. Now she’s still only 9months old but I notice she’s learning something new almost every day. Kids are developing so fast. You might say: exponentially 🙂

    1. That’s a good point! My friends who’ve just had kids are realizing this as well. In the beginning you aren’t seem a lot of reward for all the hard work and sleep deprivation. But once you see how faster your kid is developing, the rewards are endless.

  4. Yup, unfortunately there is no short cut to financial success without wealthy parents or a lottery win. Hard work is absolutely necessary. The concept of delayed gratification is important and it’s been studied extensively by social scientists. Being able to sacrifice now for a bigger bang later is fundamental to long term goal achievement.

    Perhaps the trick is to try to find some satisfaction in knowing that your future self will thank your current self for working so hard and smart (i.e. being systematic in approach, setting realistic goals, training for a skill that can generate decent income, creating some of your own luck by making good choices).

    1. “Perhaps the trick is to try to find some satisfaction in knowing that your future self will thank your current self for working so hard and smart.”

      Well put. If my past-self could see how far my future-self got with all that hard work she put in, she wouldn’t have felt so discouraged from all those rejections and wanted to quit writing.

  5. Great post FIREcracker and congrats on CNBC syndication. Mastery is absolutely the key. That’s why Mastery is the first hurdle to cross in Logos, Ethos and Pathos that I explain in my article on How to Earn Like a Boss. The problem is most of the world is hardwired for instant gratification so very few endure and persist till they taste success. Congratulations!

    1. Thanks! And yes, you are right that most people are hardwired for instant gratification. That’s why it helps to know that your hard work will pay off in the long run, instead of thinking you’re not cut out for that task. Our brains need to be re-trained into not derailing our progress.

  6. Really spot on. Like they say ‘its darkest just before the dawn’.

    Everyone, especially people just starting out like myself always benefit from words of wisdom like this. Reassurance of the faith.

    1. ‘its darkest just before the dawn’.

      Exactly. Keep doing all the good work you’re doing, Colby, and one day you’ll find that it all pays off.

  7. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. The media would like us to believe that people go from nothing to everything in 1 step, but that’s not the case. It makes Neil Armstrong’s words all the more relevant, eh? One small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.

    Congrats on your recent one small step.

    1. Thanks! And yes, so many success stories portray “overnight successes”, but in reality it took YEARS to get there. I guess it’s much sexier to portray it as an “instant success”.

  8. I don’t know anything about what determines success but you have the talent to entertain and educate at the same time, it’s a rare ability. Reading this blog is like reading my favorite harry potter fanfiction and the WSJ in one. You guys’ success is well deserved! Congrats!

    1. Wow, HP + WSJ? What a strange and wonderful mashup. I’m not sure we can live up to those standards but appreciate the vote of confidence 🙂

  9. Raw and powerful. Encouraging in my quest to write. I am starting out with this blogging thing and I feel lost sometimes because there’s SO much I am trying to figure out at once too.

    Now, excuse me while I emotion eat awaiting for election results.

    1. Yeah, yesterday was an insane. I ate a single fry for the whole day and could barely keep it down. Fucking election.

  10. Awesome news! There’s a lot of hard work put into this blog and as a reader, it’s very evident for me to see the commitment and dedication involved. I love how timely your posts are and how you respond to the comments. A lot of bloggers give up early because writing interesting and helpful material is hard work and so they never see that exponential gain. You guys deserve it.

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