Earlier this week, I talked about how much like Super Bowls are ultimately won by stringing together a long string of small gains, in the same way financial success often comes from making many small wise choices day after day. Seldom is our financial future changed by one major event. Most often it is our little day-to-day decisions that make the difference.
There is another lesson I think we can learn from a successful football team. While football games are more often won by teams stringing together a bunch of small gains that become first downs that become touchdowns that become wins, not every play gains yards. Sometimes plays lose yards. Sometimes a player breaks a rule and is penalized for it. Sometimes the quarterback is sacked. Even the best teams don’t score a touchdown every time they get the ball.
Bad teams dwell on their mistakes and fail to move past them. They have a bad play and instead of focusing on the next play they are still thinking about the mistake they just made. As a result they make another bad play. String enough of those bad plays together and they find themselves trailing in the game and losing. And then they lose another game and another and another. I truly believe breaking out of this mentality where they expect something bad to happen is one of the hardest things to overcome in sports.
On the other hand the great teams handle adversity. They learn from it and put it behind them. They accept the fact that they made a mistake, but they move on expecting good things to happen on their next play.
This is a key lesson to succeeding in our finances and in life in general.
Despite our best efforts, things in life don’t always go our way. We make plans. We work. We try to save. Then the car breaks down or we have an unexpected sickness and suddenly we feel like we are back to square one. All our work seems to be for nothing.
Some plays gain yards, some plays lose yards. Championship teams put the bad plays behind them and move ahead. From a financial standpoint I think this illustrates why having an emergency fund is so important. Without that cushion, when we face those minor setbacks, the tendency will be to simply pull out the plastic. Problem is we are adding to our debt at the worst possible time – when we are in the middle of an emergency.
This is why Baby Step 1 in Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps is to save $1,000 for a starter emergency fund. You do this before you start trying to get out of debt. The point is you need that cushion to break the cycle of debt. Life happens. Everyone has small setbacks from time to time. What will you do when they come? Do you give up and go back to your debt? Or do you put it behind you and continue to move forward?
Sometimes the setbacks on the football field aren’t so easy to recover from. What happens when the star player is being carried off the field with a season ending injury? The team has to decide how they will respond. A few years ago the New England Patriots lost their star quarterback, Tom Brady, to a major knee injury very early in the season. Despite a major setback, the team rallied around their backup QB and still went 11-5, a remarkable achievement given the magnitude of their loss.
Sometimes in life our setbacks aren’t so small. We walk into work one morning to be told our services are no longer needed. The doctor says the test results are in and it doesn’t look good. We wake up to the smell of smoke, and in a matter of minutes all our worldly possessions disappear in the flames.
I think the key in these difficult times is to remember that God is still in control. A few years ago I found myself unemployed at the very bottom of this past recession. Unemployment numbers where very discouraging. The job market was very poor in my area. It was a scary time. Before I walked into each job interview in those following months, I reminded myself of 1 Chronicles 29:11-12
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.
I needed to remind myself that no matter what happened, my success or my failure was in God’s hands. I would walk forward regardless of my circumstances and trust that He would open a door in His time. And He did.
Many times it is in these most difficult circumstances that we find a strength we didn’t know we had. When all we have left is God, we learn that He is enough.
Sometimes it is our poor choices that lead to our failure. A lack of contentment leads to a mountain of credit card debt. We get car fever and before we know it we find ourselves with a $500 car payment that we know will be a constant struggle. We neglect to get the oil changed in our car and one day we see the smoke pouring from the engine compartment.
Dave Ramsey calls these moments “stupid tax”. If we are honest with ourselves we often find that the difficulties that we find ourselves in are simply due to our own dumb mistakes.
Even the best of football teams from time to time find themselves in a similar position. Even Hall Of Fame QB’s sometimes throw interceptions. The best defensive backs occasionally get burned for a TD. What makes these players great though is they learn from their mistakes, make needed adjustments, and move forward.
We need to do the same. We all do dumb things from time to time. If you have made mistakes with money, that just means you’re human. The question is what do you do about it. Do you say “the little man just can’t get ahead” and give up? Or do you learn from your mistakes, use them as motivation to change and move forward wiser, if temporarily at least a little poorer.
Don’t forget that despite the mistakes you have made God still loves you. When I was struggling with my own debt a few years ago, there was a piece of me that felt, it was my mess that I made, I shouldn’t ask God to clean it up for me. While I do think it is important for us to take responsibility for our mistakes, I also believe God is delighted when he sees one of His children learning to make wiser choices. If you truly are trying to make better decisions, don’t hesitate to go to your loving heavenly Father for help.
Learn to handle adversity well
Adversity is one thing that is a guarantee in life. Certainly this is true in financial matters. Learning to handle it well is the difference between a life of mediocrity and being a champion.
Photo credit: Tom Newby Photography (creative commons)