Too many times we define financial success according to an outside standard instead of defining it for ourselves. We look at the person with the six-figure income as financially successful. Or we think the person with the biggest, fanciest car is financially successful. Or we think the people who live in the high-class area of town with the big houses are financially successful.
We fail to take into account our own lifestyle, the goals specific to our own life, our own starting point and our own resources as a way to define financial success.
It’s like looking at someone who is a physical fitness trainer as a benchmark for defining our own physical fitness. We will never go from being a couch potato to being a long distance runner in a short period of time. If we are trying to improve our health we need to take it one step at a time. We have to acknowledge the weight we lost over the last year. The amount of daily exercise we are doing now. And the way we have changed our eating habits to be healthier.
So, when we define financial success, we need to start with where we are, define where we are going, evaluate how we have used the resources available to us and measure how much progress we are making to get to our own definition of financial success. Your definition of financial success is not the same as how the couple next door, or your brother or your friend define it.
To some, financial success might mean a certain income. To others it might mean all their debt is paid off. To others, it might mean total financial freedom. Some people may define financial success as simply being able to pay the monthly bills with a little bit left over.
The best way to define financial success is very simple. How much progress have you made on your financial goals? If you are making progress according to your plan, then you’re financially successful.
It takes hard work and paying attention to what you are earning and spending. But almost everyone can make some progress in being financially successful. We frustrate ourselves when we define financial success by looking outward at other people instead of looking inward at our own progress.
If you define financial success as having a million dollars in the bank and you are hardly making ends meet, then you’ll never feel financially successful, even in you manage to dig totally out of debt and your retirement is fully funded.
No matter what anyone else is doing, if you are putting yourself in a better position, little by little then you are making progress and being financially successful.
If you think that financial success is impossible, look for a realistic definition that relates to your own life. If you have $25,000 in credit card debt and you reduce it to $20,000 by the end of the year, you are being financially successful. If you have not saved anything for retirement and you can save $1,000 this year, you are being financially successful. Figure out what financial success means in your own life and aim for that.
You can’t compare yourself to someone who was given a huge inheritance or someone who made a killing in the stock market when a company they founded went public, or someone whose salary is 10 times what you make.
Are you doing better today than you did yesterday? That simple question eliminates all the excuses you may conjure up for yourself. You can’t excuse your own failure based on the success of those around you.
Measuring financial success is no different than measuring your progress in getting healthy. You may weigh 300 lbs., but if you weighed 350 lbs. last year you’re making progress.
All we can really do is evaluate the progress we are making on our own journey. Financial success isn’t hitting some arbitrary net worth number or buying a certain item.
It’s about a long term journey one step at a time to be in better financial shape each week, each month and each year. It’s hard work. But it is well worth the effort.
Start your journey to financial success by being intentionally grateful for what you have. Instead of wanting more and more, appreciate all those things that you already have.
Once you begin to appreciate what you do have, the constant quest for more goes away. You’ll see that a bigger house doesn’t really matter. A bigger TV screen doesn’t really matter. A newer car doesn’t really matter.
Look at what you DO have, not what you are lacking. Philippians 4:11-13 tells us “Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient.I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
What actually matters in terms of success and failure is how well you’re managing what God has given to you. If you work hard, spend carefully and give cheerfully, no matter what happens, you’ll be better off than if you had done nothing at all. You’ll be able to weather both the good and bad that comes your way. Nothing else matters, because there’s nothing else you can really control.
Judging your circumstances against other people makes you frustrated, complacent or arrogant. God is calling you to be a faithful steward of all the blessings he has given to you. He is not calling you to compare yourself against anyone else or to define your success based on anyone else’s journey through life.