I’ve mentioned recently in an article about my role in your finances that I have a few family members who haven’t quite made the best decisions in their lives.
On a phone call this week, I was talking with another family member about why this must be, because one side of the family has college degrees and stable jobs, while the other side has barely been scraping by for decades, and now their kids are pregnant teens or high school dropouts (with a child). What the heck happened to this other half of my family?
Well, what we agreed upon was that throughout their lives, these relatives have been dreamers. They’ve only ever looked at the future, not concerning themselves with the messes they were making in the present. While we can’t see into the thoughts of any of these individuals, we know what the outcome of those thoughts were, visibly, emotionally and mentally. It’s not a home you would want to grow up in, but it could always have been worse.
So, what’s wrong with dreaming? Well, it gives you hope and hope is a good thing. It gives you ideas for the future, and that’s a good thing. But how does dreaming help you now?
That’s when I rambled off something I thought was relatively insightful:
You can DREAM, but you need AMBITIONS to make your dreams a reality
For example, I dream of being in the auto industry in some way, whether selling cars, reviewing cars or driving cars, but no matter what, it has to directly involve the vehicles, not piles of paper ABOUT vehicles. I lay awake at night driving at full speed through imaginary curves on an imaginary race track, but have I ever done anything about it?
That’s where you need ambitions. An ambition is defined as “an eager or strong desire to achieve something” (reference). You can dream of helping the poor in Africa, winning the lotto, being a race car driver, or being a world traveler, but you need the motivation and drive to make that dream a reality.
Thinking of my extended family, they dream of a utopian lifestyle decades in the future when their kids (who they adopted by choice) are gone and they get to do whatever they want. They’re complainers about everything in their life and think everything will be relieved when all the nuisances are gone…but we know that’s not a reality.
I know one of the kids dreamed of being a baseball player and even had the ambition to do so, but without the next step of the formula, thus ruining other chances he had to succeed. The daughter, well, perhaps she did have dreams of being a mother, given the abandonment issues adopted children often face. She wanted someone to love her unconditionally, and she had the ambition to do so. But again, she didn’t think ahead and at age 16, she got pregnant and the father has no dreams, ambitions or even a jobby job.
You can have AMBITIONS, but they don’t become reality without GOALS
Years before I started CleverDude.com, I was in so much debt I couldn’t see daylight. I dreamed and dreamed of how to get rid of my debt, all while getting into more debt. When I got married, my wife, who is quite frugal and slow to act, helped me to get revved up about getting out of debt. We didn’t have a plan, but we both had the ambition to be debt free, or at least not live paycheck to paycheck.
We needed GOALS. A goal is defined as “The purpose toward which an endeavor is directed; an objective” (reference). Our goal was to get out of debt, but with a new home, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, we were over $500,000 in debt! For a young couple in their mid-20s, that’s one heck of a debt load when you’re only make a small fraction of that total.
But we had to refine our goal, or else it would just remain a dream or an ambition. Our immediate goal was to get rid of the consumer debt, mainly because the mortgage was such a huge chunk and at least we had our home as collateral against it.
But what about my relatives? I mentioned the boy had the dream and ambition to be a baseball player. He ignored his schoolwork and job (the short few that he held) and focused only on getting to practice. But then he didn’t apply himself, and he also realized too late that those who were succeeding weren’t just decent athletes but also well-rounded, intelligent guys who applied themselves in school and everywhere else in their lives. You don’t get to be a star like A-Rod, Jordan, Tiger or Nadal just by swinging a bat hard, dribbling well, smacking the heck out of a golf ball or looking good in little white tennis shorts.
You become a good promoter and business person; you learn how to network, to branch out into other related endeavors, and most of all, to learn how to be better and accept criticism and learn from it. My relative couldn’t take criticism and got discouraged far too early. By that time, his schoolwork, home life and job had all crumbled down around him and he had no idea how to pick up the pieces. And it didn’t help that the same thing was happening to his mom, dad and sister.
You can have GOALS, but you need a PLAN to finally make it a reality
Ok, so you have a dream. You get pumped up about it through ambition. You then start developing goals to translate your dreams into reality, but how do you make your goals actionable and achievable?
You need a PLAN.
While I’ll admit that our plan to get out of debt changed monthly and sometimes weekly, at least we had a plan. We tracked our income and expenses, saw where we could cut down, and made job moves that helped increase our income (including, however accidentally, this website). Over the course of a little over 4 years, we went from $500,000 in debt to $300,000 in debt (only 1 mortgage). If we had just started throwing money at loans, while still buying stuff needlessly on credit, we would probably have missed some payments, overdrawn accounts and just kept digging ourselves into a hole. Instead, we had a plan we both (mostly) agreed upon, however painful it was for me (no new cars? AWWWW DANGIT!), and now we’re living month-to-month (if that even), not day-to-day when it comes to income.
After talking for a few hours with my male relative (the baseball kid) who is now 21, no high school diploma or GED, a job being paid less than minimum wage (don’t ask) and in the process of being evicted from home by his mother, it was clear he knows he screwed up, but he has no ambition, goals or plans. He just dreams of getting away from his mother. Everything in that call was “my mom”, and nothing that indicated he is thinking like an independent, responsible and accountable adult.
He has a dream, but nothing else, but now he is getting help, after swallowing his pride and anger, from other members of our family, but we’re all being cautious as he has let us down in the past when he’s had an opportunity to get his degree, GED or into an excellent education and job placement program. We all now want to know that he has the ambition to change…the proper goal(s) in sight…and the beginnings of a plan to accomplish that dream and make it a reality. Then we’ll put more of ourselves on the line to help him get on his feet and do something with his life.
I recognize the difficulty he’s had in his life, from the day he was born and given to different parents, through being put down every day by his mother, to the decisions he’s made in his late teens to drop out, but I expect more from people. I don’t want people to give me excuses; I want a plan. I want reality, not fluff. I don’t want to hear you blaming someone else for your problems. Accept responsibility and accountability for your own life and move on.
Now, how will I achieve my automotive dreams? I think it’s time to buy a Porsche. Don’t you? (evil grin).