Sour Grapes

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Aesop once told a story about a fox who desired grapes that were just out of his reach. He made many attempts to capture the grapes, but they stayed just a bit too far away for the fox to gobble them up. As he gave up and ran away, the fox declared, “Oh, they were likely sour anyway.”

It is very easy to develop a case of “sour grapes” when it comes to financial independence.

The prized reward of financial success often lies just out of reach. We spend years working at that goal, paying off debts and carefully living within our means, yet the dream of being financially independent somehow doesn’t quite materialize.

In that situation, it’s really easy to just say, “Well, the people who have achieved it have had a lot of help” or “That goal is simply impossible” or something similar to that. Since the goal is a difficult one to achieve, it can be very tempting to insult and “bring down” the goal so that it feels like the right decision to no longer bother to try to achieve it.

That type of negative response is a form of cognitive dissonance. You’re trying to hold two ideas in your head at once – that you’ve worked hard and thus deserve the reward and that you don’t have the reward.

From those two ideas, you can draw two completely separate conclusions. Either you haven’t worked hard enough to achieve the goal or the reward really isn’t worth continued effort (or there are enough obstacles in the way that you’ll never achieve it).

Quite often, that sense of not having the reward you feel you deserve leads straight to financially destructive behavior. You’ll go spend a big wad of cash on something you don’t need and find that a lot of the effort you’ve made has been completely undone. Very similar phenomena can happen with almost any personal goal – does a diet-breaking binge sound familiar to anyone?

“Sour grapes” is all about deciding that the reward really isn’t worth continued effort. You sacrifice the effort you’ve already made and attempt to bring down a laudable goal so that you don’t feel bad for not achieving it.

A much healthier approach – and one that’s likely to bear much more positive results – is to recognize that you haven’t yet done what you need to do to achieve that laudable goal.

If you feel a case of “sour grapes” coming on when it comes to not yet achieving one of your financial goals, stop.

First of all, the goal you have in front of you is most likely an achievable one. When you set this goal for yourself, you chose one that was reachable if you gave it sincere effort over an extended period of time. Have you given it that effort over that period of time? If you haven’t, how can you expect to have achieved your goal?

Second, you may have faced setbacks along the way, but that’s to be expected. There is no significant goal that’s reached as the result of one long uninterrupted journey. There will be setbacks with every goal that you achieve. Those setbacks do not change whether the goal is worthwhile. Usually, they do not change whether the goal is achievable, though setbacks may add to the timeline.

Third, abandoning your goal just sticks you right back in the tough place where you started – particularly if you have a “rebound binge.” You don’t need that in your life.

The best way to handle an oncoming case of “sour grapes” (at least for me) is to take a serious look at the progress you’ve made toward your goal. Compare your net worth (or your weight or whatever measurement you can use) to what the situation was like when you started your journey.

It’s likely that you’ve made some progress. It’s very possible you’ve made a lot of progress. You may not have achieved your goal yet, but you are moving toward that goal. Positive progress matters more than anything else.

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