When you make a Big Strategic Choice, it’s not about doing something big, once. It’s about making many tough little choices, over and over.
Getting fit, for example – let’s say that’s your Big Strategic Choice. Hitting the gym for one big workout three hours straight would be a bad decision because the next day you’ll be sore all over and you will have no visible results. Instead, you have to make lots of everyday little choices in line with your Big Strategic Choice. That would mean eating an apple instead of a chocolate, and taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator. (More on that in Why the rich are rich and the fat are fat.)
How I started running
Back in 2010, when I was 24, my dad died suddenly. I was living on my own in a big city far away from home, and thanks to my recent fail at running my own business, I was having money problems as it was. Now matters only turned worse. On top of the emotional trauma, mom and I were suddenly facing funeral expenses and a huge hit in income. Mom’s household income was now left without my dad’s salary, and the dance school business they ran together (which brought the most money home) froze indefinitely. Due to the circumstances I now had to return to my home town and live with mom – that was the only way either of us would make it through this – so I quit my job in the big city and came home unemployed.
Money matters were so bad that I actually resolved to quitting smoking. (If you’ve never been a smoker, you can never understand how really, really, really hard it is to do.) I was already doing everytyhing I could to save money, but it just wasn’t enough. I had to pay back the loan I took to start my business, and even though I got a temporary break because of dad dying, eventually I still had to pay it all back. I pushed myself so hard into saving that I actually developed an obsession with saving. And it was still not enough, so I decided to take one last, drastic measure: quit smoking.
I thought I’d actually have an easier time quitting smoking if I coupled it with some exercise; plus I would avoid the dreaded “putting-weight-on” effect.
So I started running.
My routine was pretty fixed. I’d get up (7:00), walk 20 minutes to the lake (7:20), run a few laps (7:40), run home (7:50), take a shower and leave for work (8:10). I used to listen to the radio on my Nokia while I ran in the fresh early morning, and I would only turn it off around the lake. While doing laps around the lake, I preferred to only hear the birds singing and the sound of my own feet hitting the road in a pair of old, ragged trainers: thump-thump-thump-thump.
I thought it would be hard for me to stay consistent and not quit this running routine, but it turned out I loved running. Running was a great help in quitting smoking, but more importantly – it was a great help in dealing with the stress of losing my father and all the instability that followed in my life. Somehow, running made me feel like I was going somewhere (ha!), making progress, being full of energy, being in control.
Still, on some mornings I felt tired. There were plenty of sleepless nights back then, plenty of fihgts with mom and also plenty of crying with and for mom. So sometimes, when my alarm went off in the beautiful spring/summer morning, I felt like SHIT. When you’re depressed, you don’t see the beautiful weather or the sun or the cute white clouds in the sky; it all seems gray and doomed. (See this great comic on depression.)
Days like that, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I couldn’t. The lake seemed thousands of miles away. The streets felt alien. The birds didn’t matter. I felt dizzy and my stomach felt like vomiting. I just wanted to go back to sleep and just sleep, sleep, sleep and only wake up when things were somehow better. If ever.
You know what I did?
I stuck with my routine for as far as I could. I had made a choice – a Big Strategic Choice – to keep running because it somehow made my life better. Destiny had dealt me a tough hand, but I couldn’t do anything about that. I couldn’t bring my dad back. So now I had pull myself together, suck it up, and somehow find a way to keep on living. Find a way to move on, get my life back to normal. I was physically alive, but I didn’t feel alive. I felt confused and scared and angry and confused. I had no idea what I needed to do, so I decided I had to hang on and hope that some day I would have a revelation about what to do next.
So for now, I needed to keep running. I needed it for the energy it gave me. I needed my running for its ability to chace away my fear – well not chace it away but maybe make it back off a little, just for a while. Make it back off just long enough so I could push through one more day. Not two days or a week. Just ONE more day. TODAY.
When I had a tough morning, I would say to myself: I have to at least try. I’ll start my routine – washing up, getting dressed, walking out the house etc. – and go as far with it as I can. If I don’t make it past getting dressed, that’s okay, I’ll know at least I tried my best. And if I walk to the lake but don’t have the energy to run, that’s okay, I’ll know I tried.
I did it one step at a time, one day at a time.
Days and weeks and months passed and then one morning, I realized something had changed along the way. The pain had become less strong, less present. I hadn’t noticed when exactly. But it was true: somehow, I felt a little better.
And I hadn’t smoked in months.
How I started getting rich
Well, richER, at least. I was climbing out of my debt hole. I was improving my chances of getting rich.
I was using the same strategy as I did with my running and dealing with grief. If that strategy was powerful enough to pull me through the darkest, scariest period of my life, then it would definitely work with something as casual as paying off debt.
I couldn’t explain it at the time – couldn’t word it – but somehow I felt that this, again, was about making a Big Strategic Choice. Getting out of debt was a Big Strategic Choice that had to be supported – verified, if you will – by lots of little everyday choices. (See also: Top 3 biggest financial mistakes to avoid)
Yeah, it was extreme. I brought not only lunch to work, but also coffee from home. I ditched my internet connection to save money. I had even quit smoking. On average, I would spend 0.00€ a day.
I was only 24.
Now, how is it possible for a 24-year old girl to spend 0.00€ a day? Well, first off, I was living with mom, and she took care of the bills and food. My only fixed monthly expenses were my phone bill, and half the cable bill. I was working hard towards getting debt-free and that involved me spending as little as possible of my precious, tiny paycheck.
Again, I only had to figure out today. Not tomorrow, next week or three months from now. I focused on Today and what I could do TODAY that would help my finances in the future. It was during that period that I became obsessed with saving (and now, 4 years later, I wrote My husband spends too much money… or is it just me?).
See, I couldn’t just say “I’m not gonna spend anything this week or this month” and expect a miracle. I knew I had made a Big Strategic Choice – get better financially – and that choice required lots of little everyday choices. This wasn’t something that I could just dump a lot of effort in at once. I had to put in little injections of choice until I could shape my path to reach my big goal. (Which I did.)
How does success come?
Well, not overnight! That’s for sure.
Whatever your Big Goal is, you won’t reach it through going through some short tough roughpatch. You’ll have to go through a long tough roughpatch and stay on it for countless steps.
You don’t learn to play the piano by taking a week of hard practice 8 hours a day. You don’t learn French by dedicating three sleepless nights to it. You don’t lose weight by not eating anything for one whole day.
There’s only one way to be successful at anything, and that’s to make lots of hard little choices every day. Lots of hard little steps. Lots of little battles won.
That’s how you win a war.