In 2003, Aron Lee Ralston became famous for cutting off part of his right arm after it got stuck in an accident when canyoneering alone through the Bluejohn Canyon. He had a choice that time – to die with an ‘intact’ body or to sacrifice his arm for survival. Sitting in a comfortable room reading this, the only logical choice would be to cut off his arm.
But the actual process of carrying it out could be a very traumatising one for any human. Cutting off one’s own arms with a non-specialised blunt tool is not an easy feat. Aron had to use a dull knife to cut through the bones and pliers to severe his own tendons, while taking care not to bleed to death – all alone in the wild and not being in the best of form after struggling for a few days. I have no idea how he coped with the pain. He was 28 that time.
What stood out the most was the tenacity he had. In the face of adversity, he did what he had to survive. Not many would be able to do it. Even people do not suffer a blow as extreme as what Aron had gone through, not many would be able to stand back up as easily to do what is necessary.
In Chinese, there is a common phrase called 做多错多, which means the more you do the more mistakes you will make. Or in English there is also this common saying of: If you do not want to do anything wrong, don’t do anything. That is why in the workplace, the more senior staff will always prefer not to do anything unnecessarily to rock the boat. To them, they have achieved what they wanted, and their priority is to protect their assets and resources (ie job, position, reputation etc). As long as they do not make any mistakes, they will not fall. That is why for many seniors in the workplace, their objective is always not to achieve something, but to prevent something from breaking down. They are then viewed by the junior staff as ‘scared to die’, weak, lacking motivation and all negative things associated with such a laid-back attitude.
For commoners who do not have a strong family background, if one is to achieve financial freedom, then one has to take active steps and to do more than the others. Doing the bare minimum and going through the motion of life as what the system has dictated can still nett you a decent life, but you will never truly achieve freedom. If we scale it back down to the workplace, you will then realise that the more junior staff are more daring and pro-active in their work – because the rewards far outweigh the risks. If they succeed, maybe they will get their promotion. If they fail, the worst that can happen to them is to find another similar job elsewhere. But as one goes up the ladder and the cost to reward ratio slowly adjust itself, gradually they become the very people whom they once looked down upon – afraid to do anything for fear of losing everything they have earned over the years.
For people who truly wish to achieve financial freedom, one has to venture out into the unknown, continually taking more steps forward, at times with others and often times alone. Few would guide you on that path. People always say it gets lonelier as you climb further up, partially because the others are jealous but mainly because they will not understand you. Why do you risk so much when you already have so much? It is not a surprise, because to get to where nobody else can reach, you have to walk where nobody walks. If your path is filled with many other people, then your destination is surely one filled with many others too.
I mentioned earlier there are no get rich quick schemes, but for commoners who wish to move forward, a certain appetite of risk is necessary. At a situation where the cost to reward ratio continually gets more unfavourable in terms of time and effort, risk is one factor we need to introduce in in order to make the reward worth it.
The path to financial freedom is not a linear graph, where as time goes by you will slowly increase in financial success. If you ask me, it is more like a tiered level, where within each tier there are many small levels, much like the game show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. In the game, there are 15 levels classified into 3 tiers. After you cleared a tier and moved up to the next, you will have a safe zone to ensure you do not fall below to the previous tier in the worst case scenario. Except that in our case, it is the opposite.
As we move up the levels, soon we will realise that sticking to the same way of doing things will result in us hitting the ceiling of our current tier. To break through the ceiling, one has to improve on the current way things are getting done. The issue for us commoners is, we have little resources, and so to move up the next tier, most of us will choose to take calculated risk. But as we take many steps into the unknown, no matter how careful we are, sooner or later we will miss a step and fall. That mis-step can even be something very small and insignificant, attributed to pure bad luck at times. Or it can be a big decision mistake or a moment of folly. Whatever the reason is, a mis-step is a mis-step. Whether bad luck or wrong calculation, a fall is a fall.
Unlike the gameshow where there is a safety level, there is no safety level here for us. Depending on the severity of your fall, you may be plunged right back to where you started or even worse. The best examples would be people who failed and got sunk into debt, dragging their family down with them.
This is where tenacity is very important. The desire to survive and to get back up where you fall, no matter how many times you fall, no matter how hard you fall, no matter if there are people who help you or not. As mentioned earlier, most likely you will be alone without help.
Not many will be willing and able to help you, because you are not one of them and of course because of jealousy. You may have good friends who sincerely wish to help you but unable to do so. For some, they may even be happy to see you fall. Sometimes, the very people who do not want to see you succeed are the people by your side.
Nobody in society owes you anything. If you want to climb up, you will need that tenacity to keep trying as you forge along the path in the unknown and the dangerous. Give up or die trying. Once you decide on a path, do not look back. The unknown is not meant for people with no conviction.