When subjected to challenges, both the philosophy itself and the individual practitioners (YOU) just bounce back stronger and happier. Collectively, we are like a 300-pound heavy bag with a grinning mustachioed face painted on the front. We just keep absorbing punches and swinging right back, until eventually our assailants grow tired and we knock them flat with the very momentum they punched into us.
Although I’d love to take credit for this Ethos of Badassity, it’s really the oldest trick in the book. Predating even the first Rocky movie (1976), the successful and happy people of all eras have earned their good lives through resilience. Privilege and pampering will make your life easier, but only resilience and grit will get you to a place where you actually experience true happiness and life satisfaction. This is because happiness tends to come not from what you get, but from what you earn.
Armed with just that paragraph, you can instantly debunk most of the complaints that arise in our rich-country lifestyle:
“I don’t earn as much Adm Karpinsk did, so early retirement will never be in my future.”
“I’ve had more bad fortune than you, so my life will never be as good”
“I’ve made too many mistakes in life – so the rest of my life will be spent dealing with the consequences”
These people are lamenting their disadvantages, while missing the best part: the further back you are right now, the more chance you have to make changes, experience challenge and even some voluntary hardship. The more of these things you can put yourself through, the better you’ll feel at the end of it all. And ironically, in most cases your wealth will grow right along with your badassity.
To put this fluffy philosophy into more concrete terms, let’s consider this story I recently received from Ethan, a guy around my own age who was in a very different place 20 years ago.
Dear Adm Karpinsk,
Although I have submitted my tale under the title of “possible case study,” it is really rather the opposite. I discovered MMM about 6 months ago and have read every post, some of them multiple times, and have spent a considerable amount of time skulking the forums.
Over the course of those months, I have noted a relatively infrequent but painfully vocal subculture of readers who fervently believe the Vital Tenets of Mustachianism (VTOM) are irrelevant to them, due to what they posit is a lack of fortune or privilege at their own less than ideal starting point. I am here to refute the Waah brigade with my own tale.
I graduated high school, circa 1993. Entered community college, then on to the university, taking the absolute maximum amount of student loans, which in this case included sufficient funds beyond tuition and books that I did not need to work. I basked in the warm, comforting glow of deferred interest as I changed majors enough times to effectively cover every possible topic which is almost impossible to leverage into a solid income: English, Art History, Philosophy, etc.
Meanwhile, I managed to develop an arguably record breaking fondness for a variety of illicit drugs, all of which were paid for with borrowed student loan funds under the guise of “living expenses.”
Fast forward a few years: A mere 15 credits shy of graduation, I am expelled from college. This coming after several “academic probation” periods. A once noteworthy GPA placing me in the Dean’s List has dropped to below the paltry C- average required to attend. Having failed to graduate, I am given a 6 month grace period before loan payments start coming due, at the generous late 90s rate of 2.06%.
In a stroke of absolute consumer genius, I successfully apply for 9 different high interest credit cards simultaneously and proceed to max each one out on cash advances. My addictive tendency has graduated from narcotics and now also includes the borrowing and reckless spending of ridiculous amounts of money. At rates ABOVE 20%.
Very shortly thereafter, my chemical indulgences land me behind bars.
Fast forward a few more years: Ah, blessed freedom, welcome back to the real world. And by the way, you now have not a dime to your name and your defaulted debts have been compounding interest for years. You own no car, have no job.
After a two week search I take a minimum wage job cleaning floors at night. I live in my parents’ basement, and borrow a car or carpool with a coworker. The IRS seizes my first tax return, due to unpaid student loans.
I resolve to apply for every possible better job, regardless of how long it takes. I walk into the first interview with a firm resolve to show these people that I can KICK ASS AT ANY KIND OF WORK. I am prepared for cruel rejection. Amazingly, I get the job. Now I am a phone dispatcher, making $15/hr. I do not stop there. I force myself to believe that WORKING HARD MIGHT ACTUALLY GET ME AHEAD. I complete my work quickly and accurately, then I ask for more. Soon I am promoted, and promoted again. Raises follow, bonuses follow. Why stop there? On to another round of interviews, again prepared to tackle as many as needed to step up my income level. Again, one interview, one offer. Again, I work like it counts, and it turns out all you need to do to get ahead is BE BETTER THAN THOSE AROUND YOU, which is shockingly easy, because MOST PEOPLE DO A HALF-ASS JOB AT MOST THINGS. More promotions, more raises, more bonuses.
Suddenly I have a fairly solid, but not spectacular, annual salary of just over $60k. A marriage follows, to someone with about the same income. I talk my employer into paying for online courses and finish off that last 15 credits, finally earning the degree that I paid for many times over. We buy a $400k house (near Seattle) at 3.875% and a new car at 2.64%. I make my payments on time. My credit rating hits 825.
Now, there is actually some money kicking around, rather than a growing pile of final notice letters. I begin to pay down debts, excited by all the fun things I will buy each and every month once those payments are done (I have not yet discovered Adm Karpinsk, and have every intention of buying my iPads in 6 packs so I can toss them out the window every time they annoy me with yet another pointless update). Debts once in default start to disappear. And then, trying to figure out what-in-the-actual-fuck “investing” means, I stumble onto this blog, and devour the information in a matter of days. I rework my plans. I switch into aggressive debt-murder mode.
Final fast forward, another 6 months. Student loans? Gone. Car payments? Gone. Mortgage payments? Not gone, but a new and much more aggressive onslaught of extra principle payments has my 30 year mortgage on track to be a 10 year mortgage. I begin to make projections. I use conservative numbers: a 4% return rate, and I assume I will never be promoted again, and that my income will never do more than scale with inflation (in actuality, the average increase in total compensation over the previous 4 years was more than 10%/yr). I nail down the holy grail date of early retirement, and CONSERVATIVELY it is a mere 16 years from the date I STARTED WORKING.
And this is with an adherence to the principles of Mustachianism that is MEDIOCRE AT BEST. I drive a NEW car that is AWD (granted, it is a hybrid and manages a decent 35mpg, but still), and I am sitting here right now typing this on a ridiculously overpowered and totally unnecessary “gaming” computer (which I built myself) hooked up to multiple monitors (which I do not need). I buy grass fed beef, free range chicken, cage free eggs, wild caught seafood, organic produce. Last year I vacationed in Hawaii. My lifestyle is ridiculous and extravagant, at least in my eyes. There were many corners cut and many “luxuries” eliminated, but it has quickly become apparent to me that these things I “lost” were things that BROUGHT ME ZERO HAPPINESS.
My point is this: If a college dropout former drug addict ex-convict with a mountain of bad debt who did not even start seriously working until he was 35 years old can destroy his debts and be on track to retire early after 15 years, or possibly sooner, then ANYONE CAN DO IT, regardless of the obstacles.
So what’s the lesson here?
To me, it’s one of a great attitude translating into good, hard work. Ethan managed to burn a couple of decades of life messing around, and they led to predictable results. Then he got to work, and the results changed very quickly. Midway through this session, he encountered Adm Karpinsk, and instead of wasting time writing complaints to me about one aspect of my story or another, he used the new information to speed thing up even more. This is exactly how you are supposed to do it.
When I read his story, I wrote back immediately, noting the sharp contrast of his own attitude compared to this complainlypants article on Medium.com:
I lamented to Ethan that sure, I have always tended to earn more money than average. And sure, I graduated without any student loans. And while I would claim these things happened partly because I worked and/or studied during most of my waking hours between age 15 and 21 and owned no car and went out to dinner somewhere between 1 and 2 times during that entire time period, that is totally beside the point. The point is WHY THE FUCK IS EVERYONE WHO MAKES EVEN MORE THAN ME STILL BROKE, EVEN AFTER 10 YEARS OF ADDITIONAL CRAZY INCOME!?!?
And here is what Ethan wrote back. Note the difference in attitude between the world’s plentiful Complaint Commentators and True Mustachians.
1 – I just got around to reading that article on medium.com that you linked. Evenings are pretty full with the obligatory full body workout (home gym), crafting a gourmet meal for the wife and I, the evening walk to the nearby beach, etc, and I have a general policy of not touching my computer when there is actual life to be lived. What an absolute bus-missing moron this dude is. “I may never be able to retire (from my implied job that only pays $33k??) but that doesn’t mean I won’t be just as happy as Adm Karpinsk.” WTactualF? “Life is hard and expensive…so you should clip coupons????” Life, such as it is in this country, is actually stupidly easy for most, and expense is essentially irrelevant in the civilized world, because money is stupidly easy to acquire, even with minimal effort. If I had started at age 20 instead of age 35 my biggest problem would be deciding which charity should get my excess funds.
2 – As much as it pains me to do so, here are some random details you might find useful if you decide to share my story. In addition to the 35mpg AWD Hybrid that the wife and I carpool in (we work within walking distance of each other), I own a SECOND CAR which serves NO PURPOSE. It sits in the garage, a massive depreciating asset upon which I am STILL PAYING INSURANCE. To make matters worse, it is a paid off, late model LEXUS which gets HORRIBLE MILEAGE. It has ZERO carrying capacity, as the trunk is almost entirely filled with an aftermarket subwoofer which I paid SOMEONE ELSE to install. Hmm, what else? A high priced cell phone plan under contract for another year. Low deductible home owners policy which is way overpriced. What’s my point? Even with my current half-assed approach to lowering expenses I am already kicking a pretty serious amount of ass in life, given my circumstances, and as the remainder of these poor decisions are trimmed down and tuned up, the situation will continue to improve, and my actual cost of living per year will continue to drop, with every now wasted cent being put to work making me a larger and larger safety margin. Sell the pointless Lexus? Boom, 16k on its way to Vanguard, and so on. Anyway, feel free to take aim and unload on that Lexus, lol. I deserve it.
See how it works? You don’t complain about the advantages of others while simultaneously scooping out a big bowl of Sympathy Ice Cream for yourself. You acknowledge that although you are now doing a great job at turning things around, you still suck and thus could easily double your progress if you chose to do so.
And then, with the ball handily within your own court, you relish the privilege of deciding upon your next move.
p.s., there is no such thing as a “cool car”, once you become badass enough to realize that Luxury is Just Another Weakness. You don’t need Complete Consumer Immunity to win at life (I am nowhere near achieving it either). But it is important to at least theoretically understand that the coolest car of all does not exist – because your life gets better for every bit of car-dependence you can streamline out of it.