This morning, I sat at the keyboard in our basement, practicing a certain part of a song on the piano that I’d been working on for a while. I had attempted to play it during my last piano lesson, but my attempt at it had completely fallen flat and I was disappointed in myself. So, there I was, working on a few of the rough points in the song.
What I realized while I was practicing is that the real key to getting better wasn’t that I was practicing. That choice to practice was just the outcome of the real reason why I’m (slowly) improving as a piano player.
What’s the real reason? I realize that when I put out a poor performance, I’m the one to blame. It’s my own fault for not doing whatever it would take to maximize the chances of a good performance.
Every time we mess up, it is very easy to blame someone else. The lender was acting in a predatory fashion. The lawyer didn’t explain the contract very well. The boss didn’t understand how much work it would be. My friend didn’t show up in time to get me to work. My professors assigned too much homework for me to complete it all. The grocery store charged outrageous prices for the ingredients.
The truth is that in virtually every case, we as individuals could have done things to improve our performance – and our outcome. I could have asked for help in understanding the loan or the contract from another source. I could have managed my time better. I could have articulated the challenge to my supervisors. I could have created a backup plan. I could have shopped around. I could have planned for alternate ingredients.
When I apply the same filter to my own financial and professional mistakes, I see the same relationship between my blame and my own actions.
I could blame my old coworkers for creating a wedge in my family – or I could look at myself for not articulating this problem very well.
I could blame marketers and advertising for convincing me to spend money on stuff I didn’t need – or I could look at myself for not having willpower.
I could blame my parents and my school for not providing strong personal finance education – or I could look at myself for signing up for things and spending money on credit without understanding what I was doing and without educating myself.
Hand in hand with realizing that I’m the one to blame for poor performance comes the idea that realization pushes me to take whatever steps I need to ensure that I don’t have a poor performance in the future.
When I finally took charge of my career situation, I realized it was up to me to put myself in a position that I was happy with with regards to the balance of career and family. I put my nose to the grindstone and built The Simple Dollar (and some other opportunities) so that, above all, I would have the flexibility I needed to not miss any more of those big family moments. It was up to me – not my coworkers, not my boss, not society at large – to fix the problem.
When I finally took charge of my spending, I realized it was up to me to start making better choices. Yes, I might often be tempted by friends and family and by advertisements to spend money on things I didn’t need, but that choice was really up to me. I can only build a better financial future if I make choices every day that help me to build that future.
When I finally took charge of my own personal finance education, I buried myself in reading and putting things into practice because I recognized that I was very poorly educated when it came to money. I didn’t have all the answers, but I certainly knew that with work and focus, I could learn a lot of the answers I needed.
Right now, I face the same challenges in many other areas of my life. I’d like to be in better shape. Whose fault is it that I’m not? I’d like to be a better piano player. Whose fault is it that I’m not?
Whenever something in your life doesn’t work the way you want it to, don’t waste a second of energy blaming others. Don’t blame your boss. Don’t blame the government. Don’t blame Mother Nature. Don’t blame your friends. Instead, look at the problem you’re facing and focus entirely on what you can do differently to make that situation better.
The biggest thing holding you back is you.