You’ll have to excuse the term ‘retire early’ in the title. What I really mean is “do you have the financial grit to reach financial independence”, but I just didn’t like the sound of double financial in the title.
The term financial independence can give the false impression that it is all about finance. This can’t be further from the truth. It’s so much more.
The numbers are the easy part. For me, what’s essential to achieving financial independence is something called ‘grit’.
I first heard of the term after my police mentor suggested I read a certain book: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
So what is this thing called ‘grit’?
“Grit is the perseverance and passion for long-term goals – a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.” – Prof. Angela Duckworth
The power of grit
Why do I believe this is the ultimate secret weapon to FI? Grit is the fuel needed to reach financial independence. Money is only the pit stops along the way. Without grit, I wouldn’t last long on this journey. Heck, you might not even make it past the first milestone.
Grit is a skill that can be developed with time with practice. What has helped me develop my grit was first understanding why FI is so important to me. Secondly, understanding myself so that I have a compass to guide me back onto the path when I lose my way. Finally, have a clear idea of what I want to do beyond FI.
The why looks at the present and the past.
The Stone of Life internal reflection ensures that you are clear on your priorities for when temptations and bumps occur along the path.
The what I want to do looks to the future.
How is grit different to determination?
Determination or resilience is having the perseverance and willingness to accomplish something. However, until you know clearly what that ‘something’; you risk wasting a lot of time and effort.
Having direction means being clear on a specific goal.
When determination is combined with direction, you will have grit.
How much grit do you have?
There is a very simple test called the Grit Scale developed by Prof. Angela Duckworth. Head over there and give it a try. Whilst there, you can also read further into grit.
This was my score:
It’s a simple test used to give you a very vague idea. As a result, you can game it to get the score you want. But what’s the point in that? Be honest with yourself.
Proper tests can take hours and consist of hundreds of questions to reduce the chance of gaming the test.
My guess is that many on the path towards financial independence will score highly on the grit scale.
Grit Score Poll
Complete the poll below to see the grit score of others.
How to develop grit?
The following are tips I’ve gathered whilst reading about the subject. References for further reading are at the end.
Define what grit or mental toughness means for you.
This is the all important why.
Build grit with small wins.
Grit has been argued is like a muscle and can be developed. Always push yourself; adopt a growth mindset. Become stronger slowly with small wins.
Build strong habits and stop depending on motivation.
This is about being consistent. It takes practice.
It is more likely than not that you will encounter failure during your journey. Expect this, but be hopeful that you will learn from it and become even better equipped to continue your journey. You will be ready for next failure, but with each one, you’re one step closer to your goal. Believe in yourself. Have faith that you can change and grow.
Remember that grit is about long-term goals. It will take time to accomplish. There are no short-cuts. Be patient. Accept the growth and learning that you will experience along the way. Don’t give up just because it is taking too long.
Surround yourself with gritty people
They say: “you are the average of the five people you hang around with”. I’m not saying ditch your loyal friends just because they are not ‘gritty’ enough. However, there is some truth in surrounding yourself with people who are passionate and gritty because it can strengthen your own mind-set. For example; if after a set-back you go running to a friend who has a habit of giving up easily; what do you think that friend will recommend you do?
So what made me write about this now?
I’ve got an interview coming up next week for a job I’ve always wanted since joining the Police. I’m working hard to prepare for it, but at the same time mentally preparing myself for the disappointment if I don’t succeed.
It made me think about the times I’ve given up after a small set-back.
I can think of two key ones:
No 1. Pilot dream
When I was a kid; I dreamt of being a pilot ever since the first time I got on a plane at around 10 years old.
When I returned home, I built a massive lego plane. It even had first and economy class seating. I looked up drawings of the Boeing Jumbo Jet to try and get the layout correct.
I would role play the checkin and boarding process with the lego people. Do the taxi-ing, take off, flight around the
world house, pretend there was turbulence, go through the dis-embarkment, refuel and maintenance (sometimes an engine would fall off mid-flight because I clipped a door-frame; ooops!).
I then joined my local Air Cadets, read a lot about planes and how they work. I even joined PPRuNE, which is a professional pilot’s network for current pilots and those who want to be pilots.
However, when I found out about the eye-sight rules (I wear glasses to read), I just gave up on my dreams instead of figuring out another way.
To this day, every year, I still get the annual automated “happy birthday” email from PPRunE. I haven’t unsubscribed because it provides me with fond flashbacks of my childhood dreams and reminds me not to give up too easily.
Related to this, one of my goals once FI is to get my private pilot’s licence. Once I have that piece of paper in my hand, it would feel like I’ve come full circle; something tangible to confirm it’s never too late to give up on my dreams.
No 2. Stock broker dream
I mentioned previously that during university I decided a career in finance wasn’t for me. Although it was no longer a dream; I still needed a job to support myself until I joined the police.
I only applied to one finance job; didn’t even get an interview and just gave up. I then started to apply for jobs in retail and hospitality. I should have had more grit and got a job in finance until I joined the police. I would have earned more money and it would have given me a more secure financial foundation.
The last proper job interview I had was about 7 years ago. I’m not naturally good at them so the interview next week has gotten me quite nervous. I think this is mainly due to knowing how much I want this particular job and also suffering from a degree imposter syndrome.
Earlier on in my policing career, I was put forward by my police Force to be nationally assessed for what used to be called the Higher Potential Development Scheme. This was basically a scheme for successful candidates to potentially fast-track their way to senior management (at least Superintendent ranks).
I scored highly in all areas apart from one – self confidence. It was a multi-day assessment centre and in the interview element of it, the chair of the panel said: “has a lot of potential but does’t see it himself. He needs to believe he will be a Superintendent”, or words to that effect.
I didn’t pass the assessment.
Self-confidence is something I have carried with me since a child.
It took one whole month before I was no longer hysterical and allowed my parents to leave me at nursery. Schools expect this, but I was so anxious and upset, they had to call my parents in and gave my dad a seat at the back of the classroom for a month.
My school reports all the way during primary and secondary always made mention of my lack of confidence.
Despite this, I’ve done okay for myself. I believe this is largely due to my grit. I’ve made it to Inspector without the fast-track scheme; admittedly, not particularly fast.
But just like financial independence, this is not a race. Proceed at a pace which suits you; one that you’re comfortable with.
With a bit of luck and grit, I might reach Chief Inspector; perhaps even Superintendent by the time I’m FI.
Why bother some might ask? No one joins the Police for money. My aspirations to be a senior officer has nothing to do with money. I’ll be FI by 40 with, or without further promotion. I just want to prove to myself I can do it. I want to make a lasting positive impact on Policing and the community before the time comes for me to find a new vocation in life.
Having said that, the time might never come and I may end up remaining in Policing until my 60s; who knows what the future brings.
With the constant talk of a global recession, are you mentally prepared for the downturn? There is so much written about how to practically financially prepare, but I believe financial grit is just as important.
FIRE might be spreading and becoming more mainstream, but this journey is not for everyone. Most don’t have the knowledge or understand it. Some who do, lack the resources to do it. Those who manage to overcome the income hurdle just don’t have the grit to reach the finish line.
However, the tiny percentage who have been on the journey for a while or have reached financial independence will tell you that it’s totally worth it. Read about their stories in my Humans of FI project.
It needn’t be living a life of misery now and penny pinching it all they way for some sort of financial nirvana in the future. It’s about balance.
Financial independence is not the final destination. It’s only the beginning. It will open up opportunities in life you never thought were possible. Grit is what you need to get there. It’s up to you to develop it.
What was your grit score?
Duckworth, A. L., Milkman, K. L., & Laibson, D. (2019). Beyond willpower: Strategies for reducing failures of self-control. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(3), 102-129
Duckworth, A.L., & Gross, J.J. (2014). Self-control and grit: Related but separable determinants of success. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(5), 319-325
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101
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9 thoughts on “Do you have the Financial Grit to Retire Early?”
Grit is indeed something to be developed and is lacking in a lot of people today.
I have had problems with self confidence as well. It’s tough for me to “fake it till you make it”. The solution in most cases was to make a solid plan.
But that option is not always available especially when breaking new ground. And that’s where surrounding myself with awesome people (like the FI community has) helps a lot.
Yeah, I agree it’s lacking. I wonder if it’s also a generational thing? Anecdotally, it feels like the generation of our grandparents had more grit than us.
The FI community is great and we’re good at keeping each other motivated.
Yeah the difference is glaring with the generations. I think it depends a lot on how easy or hard “regular” life is growing up.
Another facet is culture. But I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole haha.
Great post! I scored terribly on the grit score 2.7
I think its because I keep changing goals…..
The test only provides a rough indication. My view is just because some have low grit scores doesn’t mean they can’t succeed. Likewise, those with high grit score aren’t automatically guaranteed success. However, controlling for all variables, given two people of same opportunities; the person with a higher grit score is more likely to succeed. Also, grit is far more valuable than talent. At least that’s what I took from the research.
4.4 so quite gritty! 🙂
Hello from a new reader!
My grit score is an unspeakably low 3.3 🙂 I’m at the beginning in my FIRE road and I agree with you that a key quality here is patience… I will have to learn it.
I can also relate a lot on the subject of self-confidence (or perhaps in my case it was more “shyness”, but it had the same effect). Theatre changed my life here.
3.3 isn’t all that bad to be fair. I used to be really shy – my job helped a lot to break down that barrier for me.
Theatre sounds fun!
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