Have you outgrown your financial hero?

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“If you got time to lean, you got time to clean. “

management

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, then you’ve likely heard that one before. It’s what a supervisor says to anyone who may be taking a break while they’re still on the clock. I’ve even said it to a handful of scrappy chefs who were under my watch back in the day. But looking back, I was a bit of a hypocrite for having ever uttered those words because whenever there was time to lean, it’s not like I actually pulled out soapy water and start scrubbing anything. I was far more likely to pull open a textbook next to my cutting board and to continue prepping for the next shift.

One night, as my [then] Executive Chef Alan wandered through the kitchen , he saw a few cooks cleaning the line and nodded his head in approval. As their supervisor, I assumed he would see me, prepping while flipping through my textbook and offer a pat on the back. I secretly hoped he might even ask a question, setting me up to respond with some fancy tidbit I thought might impress him and deem me worthy of promotion. But, he didn’t. Instead, he shook his head the way only an old school Frenchman would and offered some harsh unsolicited career advice. Something along the lines of…

You’ll never be a great Chef reading textbooks. A great Chef can only become great by focusing on one thing at a time. Stop reading and start cooking.

At this point of my career, I was convinced I was the next version of what a great Chef would be. I was the version 2.0. One who’d developed a mastery of both cuisine AND the business aspect of the job; the latter of which is the Achilles heel of many culinary professionals. It made perfect sense to me but Chef Alan’s remarks left me discouraged. He didn’t agree with the way I was shaping my career even though as an Executive Chef, he obsessed over his food cost, labor cost, overhead and sales.

Well, as you can probably guess, I didn’t go on to become a great Chef. More importantly, that night may have been the beginning of me re-imagining a life outside the kitchen. I’d soon transition to other parts of the business and soon, out of restaurants entirely. I left that career and my admiration for Chef Alan, behind. I moved into other areas of the industry that would prove to be more lucrative and offer a better quality of life.

I outgrew that moment and the heroes that lead me there.


Throughout my young adult years, I’ve had experiences like the one above. Moments where the people I admire reveal a shortcoming and my perception of them changes in an instant. There was the time an older friend [a big brother figure] expressed to me that he would never pay a man to do something he could do himself. I thought that was silly but it helped me understand why that friend never quite seemed to take his business aspirations to the next level. He was too busy…learning.

There was the time another guy [more of a father-figure] tried to explain to me that even if I paid off my credit card in full ever month, I was still paying interest because it was ‘baked into’ the card. My guess is, he was referring to credit cards with annual fees, making reference to late fees or the fine print oftentimes tucked below an introductory APR. That, or he’d had one too many beers. Either way, it didn’t make sense and revealed that I’d given him far too much credit for his business and financial savvy.

There was the time my Mom convinced me buying a house at 26 was a good idea even though I was a student and waiting tables part-time on nights and weekends. She was caught up in the no-to-low money down and refi mortgage mania that was sweeping the country and was convinced the value of homes always went up. Within a year, the property was worth less than half the purchase price and I would spend the next few years upside-down on my mortgage, trying to stay afloat. I don’t blame her though. She’s the product of a different time and was guided by deeply embedded Jamaican idioms that have shaped her thinking about money.

My mother believes "land don't spoil" just as deeply as she believes "God is love". Click To Tweet

My wife has had her own experiences like this. She comes from a long-line of strong, wise, big-hearted and brash Texas folk. She’s always known that no matter what, she’d be protected or have shoulders to lean on. Naturally, when it was time to buy her first car in her late 20s, she took their counsel and leased a luxury vehicle even though she was working at Target. The thinking was “you gotta look the part, to get the part” and nothing says you’re successful than a shiny new car right? Years later, she still drives this car but it’s fair to say, she paid for it twice.

circa 2006

If you’re wondering, yes, I fully recognize the irony of this blog post.

Here I am expressing how wrong the financial heroes of my life have been at various stages of my life. Meanwhile, I’m well aware that in the eyes of some, I am a hero and likely to do the same thing. Well, to that I say, this is not a matter of right or wrong and it’s certainly not an indictment on the people who have helped to get me where I am today. This is about growth.

Depending on where you are on your financial journey, you may require different counsel and corresponding words of wisdom from trusted advisors. For example, if you’re in debt and haven’t developed the necessary discipline to climb out of your hole, there are hoards of programs and personalities offering to throw you a rope.

But as you’re climbing out of that hole, your fear of heights may kick in or you may start to develop thick calluses on those delicate hands of yours. Then, you may need someone else to keep you motivated—to help you power through the pain and toil. And after you’ve completely climbed out, it’s natural to ask what’s next, to question what steps to take first or what direction to walk in. This may be an entirely different voice, tool or community than you’re used to. And while it’s totally fine to rely on the words of another guru, there is one other option—becoming your own hero.

You’ll know you’ve outgrown your hero when you can finish their sentences or when their answers to your questions are “it’s up to you”. At that point, you wont need another book, coaching session, private session or personalized assessment. You won’t need to spend hours combing through their blog, liking their posts on social media or listening to their latest podcast interview. You’ll know your time has come and that the correct answer to almost every financial question you’ve ever had is “it depends”.

Questions like “how do I get my partner on board”? Questions like “how do I know when is the right time to invest”? “Should I pay off debt or fund my Roth IRA?” All of these require context and depend on the situation or the person involved.

If this sounds painfully familiar, well young grasshopper, I congratulate you. You’ve likely found the S on your chest that was there the whole time. But if you’re not there yet, that’s ok too. Just keep climbing and when you reach the top of your own hill, you’ll realize your own superpower and hopefully throw a rope down to someone else who needs it.

Mr r&R

5 comments

  1. Great post man! The funny thing is, through finding FIRE I came to appreciate my dad as a financial hero. I scoffed at his advice at a young age, though I think the lessons somehow stuck when I wasn’t paying attention. The more I got into the ideas of Mr. Money Mustache and FIRE, the more I realized my old man was saying a lot of the same things. The messaging was just wrong for my mindset – MMM made it more of some kind of rebellion, some way to thumb my nose at the system that demands a lifetime of work. Suddenly FIRE became my jam.

    But boy are you ever right about people and money. For some reason I’m always surprised at people I assume are doing well and I learn they have no savings and are living paycheck to paycheck. Others probably see me as on the poor side, yet I’ve got a very comfortable cash cushion and no liabilities other than my house. It’s weird to have people I assumed had way more money than me asking about financial advice. Indeed, we outgrow our heroes.

    • That’s great to hear about your experience with your dad being your financial hero, but not recognizing it until later in life, that’s powerful. Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. I enjoyed the post. I number of great points made. All o am familiar with especially the one around look the part and buying real estate. There are definitely other components to getting it right that is not understood. Just as in cooking there is always different ways to make the same meal.
    Thanks DrMarilyn #FinancialSavage

    • Yep everyone has different ways or paths to “getting it right” Love the food metaphor! Thanks for your comment

  3. Such a great point that is relevant to advice of all kinds but especially as it relates to financial advice. Early financial heroes will likely be people who teach you the basics — emergency fund, pre-tax v. post-tax retirement plans. But once the basics are down, you often have to seek out completely different voices and approaches. I used to get everything I need from Money magazine — now that same kind of advice is completely irrelevant.

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