financial independence

Why You Can’t Make More Money

Do you recognize any of these patterns in yourself?

One common critique of blogs like mine is that they don’t apply to people with limited means. And indeed, I do sing the praises of Porsche 911s, Ivy League schools and Prada shoes (even if I buy and hold them for 20 years). People that are born without means, without education, without a stable family structure, will struggle to do things like attend Harvard and buy quality that lasts.

However, I often see comments like “How can I cut out my daily lattes when I can’t even afford coffee grounds?” or “How can I afford a 3% down payment on a house if I can’t even scrape together the money for a shower curtain?”

Well, I would venture to guess that people with these problems have an income issue. For many, many people, that is really hard. Even I have had this problem – I have written about how I have struggled to turn more available hours into more money. However, I have personally experienced and observed a number of patterns that get in the way of climbing up the income ladder. Take a look and see if any of these look familiar.

You see “toxic” work environments as something to be avoided.

I have worked for half a dozen Fortune 500 companies and a couple of start-ups (and several companies in between) and have learned the hard way that some degree of toxicity exists at every company. Emotions run high, expectations are unrealistic, people have agendas. Now, there are some environments that are truly abusive. But for the most part, even companies not run by Harvey Weinstein exhibit their share of bad behavior.

I have seen many people take significant steps down in their career, or jump off the career ladder completely, to avoid what they consider “toxic” workplaces. But they would have been so much better off learning how to operate in these environments, and especially, managing their own expectations on what they should expect themselves to accomplish. Learning to cope with personal workplace challenges it is a better solution that trying to constantly outrun them.

You are not willing to put the hours in.

I have had jobs, even periods as a student, where there was a lot of work put on me. So much so that sometimes I would put off simple tasks like paying my utility bills not for lack of money, but for lack of time. However, these were probably the most productive periods of my life. I was learning new things, picking up new responsibilities, and in many ways getting noticed. And I will say that during alternative periods, when I kicked off at 6:00 pm every day, progress slowed down.

Now: I do not think that hard work is the most important ingredient in success. And 80 work weeks are not sustainable or productive in the long run. But, there are periods in life where putting in the extra time gets you ahead.

You Don’t Like Authority.

Bosses generally do the following, habitually: take credit for your work; frown when you take a sick day; not praise you enough; criticize and focus on your few flaws vs. what you’re doing right; not promote you even though you deserve it… the list is endless. Like “toxic” work environments, bad bosses are more the norm than the exception. And staying with a boss with a difficult reputation, even for a finite period of time, will help your own reputation for perseverance, flexibility, and effectiveness (e.g., “if she can work for him, she can work for anybody!!”). So you should assume that any boss will display these qualities, hang onto the ones that don’t, and try to manage your relationship with the rest that do.

You Follow the Rules.

I once interviewed to replace a current VP of Marketing that was described as “an A student” – disparagingly. She did everything a Marketing VP was “supposed” to do, but only those things. And these weren’t enough to produce the results that would let her keep her job.

Following the rules works well in school and when you start out in your career. But you usually need to break the rules, or at least bend them, to get to the next level of professional and income success. Most of the last decade’s most successful companies, from Airbnb to Uber, broke the rules in some fashion, operating in a (charitably speaking) legal grey area. Take a look at the conventional ways of doing things – do they always make sense, specifically for someone with your goals? Sometimes “rules” are broken and the person breaking them isn’t punished – they just get to write the new rules.

You Have One Job

Speaking of which, never let your employer’s rules or preferences stop you from diversifying your income. For brain surgeons and law partners, this might just mean building passive income like investing in real estate. For us lesser mortals, it may be a side hustle (or two) – where you may end up picking up skills that help you in your primary job. So everyone wins!

You Don’t Take Risks

Calculated risks are an organic ingredient of success. The path to every great (and modest) fortune has been marked by at least a few risky moves. The trick is to gather as much information as possible before taking the plunge, and be willing upfront to accept and move on from the consequences if it doesn’t work out.

You Insist on Doing What You Love

As I have stated in a previous post, there are some passions that you should only pursue after you have achieved financial independence. Until then, low paying vocations like writing, music, art, etc. should be strenuously avoided. You don’t want to spend your peak earning years getting gigs for your garage band when you can be leveling up at work, making money on a side hustle, or researching new ways to invest your money.

You Don’t Like Failing

Like risks, failing is also an organic part of the success formula. No one likes failing and it should be painful – but not to the point where we are afraid to try anything new or challenge ourselves. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with planning to fail – e.g., I have taken jobs that I knew I would fail in just to get the experience on my resume. And people will respect your ability to fail and move forward with no shame or hesitation.

A lot of the above can be summed up with the age old qualities of perseverance, flexibility, selectively working harder, and embracing the new, risky, and unknown. I guarantee that if you just break a few of the patterns listed above, your income will eventually (remember…perseverance) rise enough to be able to afford those coffee grounds, shower curtains, and even a little more.

Additional Readings

Here are some posts from other bloggers (representing a broad range of perspectives) that go into more specifics about the various ways one might increase their income:

Your Money Geek: How to Make Money

David Perell: The Paradox of Ambition

Studenomics (Martin Dasko): The Instant Makeout Routine for Increasing Your Income

Do you see any of these patterns in yourself? Were you able to break them? What happened? Tell me about it in the comments below.

3 replies »

  1. I am definitely risk-adverse and I don’t like failing. I like it when there is a clear, defined path! It’s one of the reasons that I am still pursing additional financial credentials. I don’t really need them for the work I do on my website, but school is an easy way to feel validated. I wasn’t born with the entrepreneur gene, but I am trying to acquire the habits! Good article.

Leave a Reply