The road to wealth is paved with goals

Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, recently shared his thoughts on a New York Times profile of Russ Whitney, a real estate mogul who charges thousands of dollars to learn the secrets of his success. (Whitney helped inspire Casey Serin's foreclosure odyssey. John T. Reed has extensive information on Whitney, not all of it negative.)

Ramit's post prompted me to read the original New York Times article. I began the piece planning to offer my own criticisms of Whitney and his get rich quick schemes. But two-thirds through the article, I realized there were actually two stories here: one about Whitney's brash hucksterism, and another about the people — like Casey Serin — who are so desperate to get rich now that they lose touch with reality.

Midway through the article we meet Tracie Taylor, who is leading Millionaire U, a three-day real estate training course for “advanced” students. Most of the students don't actually know much about real estate, so Taylor is giving them the basics. She's also touting goals, positive thinking, and visualization (all excellent tools when used correctly).

Taylor knew early that her class of advanced students was strictly remedial. Assessing them, she found that only 8 of 40 had invested in real estate before. The infomercial had talked of buying and quickly selling houses, and those who enrolled seemed largely unaware of the real estate slump.

[…]

They were eager to be good students, but blurted out terrible answers. “Where did you guys study math?” Taylor asked. Later, she realized that not one student could even name the world's richest man. “People with goals are the ones who succeed,” she lectured, and she assigned her class the homework of compiling a hundred goals. The next day, when she asked all who had completed the homework to stand, the doctor rose, stunned to find himself alone. “Why are you surprised?” Taylor asked him.

Wow.

This knocked me off my feet: forty people who want to get rich are asked to come up with a list of goals, but only one person completes the assignment. These people haven't got a clue. They're going to return home with a thick binder of PowerPoint slides and a pile of credit card debt, but no real understanding of how to achieve their dreams.

There Is No Quick Road to Riches.

There are, however, well-worn paths that lead to the slow accumulation of wealth. These paths all require work and self-discipline. The more work you do and the more self-discipline you can muster, the quicker you will accumulate wealth. These slow, sure paths to wealth also require goals. (Apparently even the quick road to riches requires goals.) I don't mind that the seminar participants didn't know who the world's richest man is — it's Bill Gates — but it bothers me that they weren't willing to create a list of goals.

Goals are the fundamental building blocks of success, not just in personal finance, but in every area of life. Without goals, you are living reactively, letting life push you around. With goals, you can live a proactive life, steering toward a destination. When you have an end in mind, it's easier to see when you've made a wrong turn. You know where your path is supposed to lead.

No matter the state of your personal finances, whether you're wealthy or poor or somewhere in between, take time to set goals. State them in positive terms. Make them specific. Put a deadline on achieving them. Make them actionable. Write them down. Work a little toward them every day. (It's much easier to achieve goals when you focus on the individual steps toward them.)

When I was young, I had crazy goals like: “I want to be rich by the time I'm 30.” That was a fun goal, but it didn't mesh with my reality. I was acquiring debt. I was moving away from wealth, not toward it. A better goal would have been: “I will get out of debt in three years.” Or “I will research college programs and take 4 classes toward my degree this year.” Or “I will contribute $200 monthly to my savings account.” These are realistic, achievable goals, and one toward which I could make progress every day, if even just a little.

As my financial situation worsened and I became overwhelmed by debt, I gave up on goals of any sort. This just made matters worse. Without goals, I was going around in circles, caught in a debt cycle from which there seemed to be no escape. It was only once I set goals for myself again — realistic goals — that I was able to begin my escape from debt hell.

A decade ago I might have attended one of Whitney's seminars (if I could have afforded it). I was convinced there were secret roads to quick riches, if only I could find them. I'm glad to have discovered the slow, sure path to wealth. I still struggle to stay on course — sometimes losing sight of my goals — but I do my best. I'm glad to have all of you along for the journey.

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Dan
Dan
13 years ago

Progress has little to do with speed, but much to do with direction.

As only he could have said it…

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
-Yogi Berra

Elissa
Elissa
13 years ago

I think one of the big reasons why people always try to find the “short-cut route” to getting rich is because they think that’s how people like Bill Gates did it. When in actuality they have NO IDEA how Bill Gates got to where he is now. They have no idea about the history between Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple). They have no idea about the backstory, and most people don’t care to learn about the backstory because they can’t comprehend the idea of “learning from the past.” (But if you do want to know I recommend watching… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
13 years ago

Definitely an interesting story. It amazes me that so many people paid that much money to listen to a short speech about real estate. Heck, down south, you can get a semester at a small college for that much money! But, I guess those folks were looking for quick answers. It’s just sad.

With site’s like this and Ramit’s on the web, it always blows me away to hear about people with massive amounts of CC debt. Hearing their stories always bums me out, but then to hear that their problems were compounded by some scam…ouch.

Starving Artist
Starving Artist
13 years ago

Great article! I see so many people in my family trying to ‘get rich quick’ and it makes me sad. My dad got stuck in the mindset for years and really kind of scared our family. He’d lost a lot of his retirement due to my mother’s long, drawn out battle with illness, and he thrashed around trying to get it back quickly. Thank God he’s at heart a practical person, and most of his schemes stayed at the scheme stage.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

With site’s like this and Ramit’s on the web, it always blows me away to hear about people with massive amounts of CC debt. It doesn’t amaze me, but that’s probaby because I used to be one of those people. It starts simply enough. You tell yourself that you can afford a treat, that you deserve it, that it’s not that expensive. That feels good, and doesn’t seem to cost anything, so you do it again. And again. And again. Soon you’re into the guilt stage, and that creates its own vicious cycle of spending. Then comes the oppressive weight… Read more »

JenChi
JenChi
13 years ago

I think a lot of people miss out on getting things they want, or becoming who they want to be because it’s uncomfortable dealing with change…and actively pursueing change, oh god!

Adam
Adam
13 years ago

I think maybe some princes of Saudi Arabia might have something to say about being the richest men in the world. They don’t show up in Forbes, but more than likely have more wealth than Bill Gates.

Kevin M
Kevin M
13 years ago

Great article. There are two parts to this — setting the goal and then sticking to the goal. Getting started does you know good if you never finish.

JD, ever thought about doing a book like Ramit?

pfodyssey
pfodyssey
13 years ago

Unfortunately, this theme is a common one. I don’t know if I always “knew” that the “well-worn paths” were the way to accumulate wealth. However, since I was part of the “rat race” and apparently not creative or daring enough to start a business, etc…they seemed the reasonable way for me to go in order to achieve my goals. What I struggle with these days is whether or not I can challenge myself to do better…but not through “get rich quick” methods, but rather by overcoming the inertia to just “stay the course” as I have been. Basically, this means… Read more »

finance girl
finance girl
13 years ago

Could.not.agree.more. It’s so sad to see who goes to the financial/realestate/scam seminars, I am very much against them. First, they create cult of personality, second, they cost tons of money, third, nothing is learned that cannot be learned by disciplined research and studying, and fourth, they can do real damage (such as RK’s boy CS).

Kev K
Kev K
13 years ago

If you don’t know where you want to go or how you are going to get there, you never know where you might end up. I think we need to constantly remind ourselves of this.

badger10
badger10
13 years ago

1% of the population owns 50% of the stock assets in the United States. I often wonder if it is a good idea to convince people that they should be in the market.

For beginners, I would suggest putting money into mutual funds with low fees because professionl fund managers will then make all the stock picks and decisions.

It is hard enough just getting ourselves to invest some money each month. Beginners shouldn’t be encourged to play the stock buying and selling game.

Greg C.
Greg C.
13 years ago

Russ Whitney reminds me of the Burger King King.

John R
John R
13 years ago

I am 58 years old and have been working since college. I have looked at the different get rich schemes over the years and have determined that they work well for the guy who figures it out in the first place. Ultimately you are responsible for your problems, which is simple enough, only we today are looking for someone to blame. If you have goals to follow, written, printed, framed or planted in your mind, this is your road map. My main goal has been my family. Provide for them, watch them grow into good people, and enjoy life. Now… Read more »

limeade
limeade
13 years ago

Having clear set goals is a place to start. As was mentioned earlier, the follow through is where most fail. It’s great to have certain goals, but if you don’t have a way of holding yourself accountable, they’re pretty much wishes. Try carrying a notecard around in your pocket with a couple succint goals and reading them a couple times everyday. Do whatever works for you, but give yourself an attainment date, and hold yourself accountable to it.

-limeade
http://fiscalmusings.blogspot.com

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

It sounds as if it would be useful for me to write about actively pursuing goals once you’ve set them. A couple of you have mentioned this, and I have problems with it too. Limeade is right: one of the keys is to keep your goals in front of you all the time so that you’re constantly reminded of them. It’s easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day life and to lose sight of goals…

Seorsa
Seorsa
12 years ago

Great article. I am looking to make some changes this new year, and I really need some successes. I feel like my wife and I are programmed to spend everything. Last year we had only our home debt (379K) in January. I pay taxes and insurance, no escrow. Now at the start of this year I have 14K in credit cards, 17K car loan, and 371K home loan. Yikes! I think I said “Yes we can spend that” When I should ahve said “No!!!” I am not communicating well about our financials. I do everything since my wife doesn’t like… Read more »

Andrew Chilton
Andrew Chilton
12 years ago

> There are, however, well-worn paths that lead to the slow accumulation of wealth.

I think this statement sums up the entire ethos of spending less, saving more and therefore having more options in later life 🙂

Marty
Marty
12 years ago

I love the goals, they stop me from driving my life-vehicle while only looking in the rearview mirror. Many people do exactly that.

However, what strengthens me is to have an
OBJECTIVE – the objective is no longer than 12 words and starts with the word: “To…”

The GOAL is no longer than 12 words and starts with the word: BY….

Don’t forget the timeframe and a picture of goal completion.

Luis
Luis
11 years ago

What about people, like me, who have
a LOT of goals ?

Ouida Vincent
Ouida Vincent
11 years ago

I read the Russ Whitney article 2 years ago. I am a veteran of personal development and business seminars. I have invested thousands of dollars. At one seminar, I met a man who had purchased 24 houses in 18 months and had nothing to show for it but debt. His solution was to attend another seminar. I have been an active real estate investor since 2001. My strategy is buy, hold and invest for income. It is not a fast strategy at all and it is a strategy limited by smaller economies of scale. (higher expenses relative to cashflow). No… Read more »

Linear Girl
Linear Girl
11 years ago

I read the headline as “The Road to Wealth is Paved with Goats.” Nice to have a laugh today.

Oleg Mokhov
Oleg Mokhov
11 years ago

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” -Lewis Carroll Hey J.D., Goals are life’s guides. We make a conscious choice of what we want out of life. What makes us happiest, what we’re passionate about, what’s important to us. Then, we set goals to achieve things that bring those things into our life. Goals give us direction. It’s not that we’re living on some soul-sucking rigid schedule or anything – not at all. We are just aligning ourselves to maximize life and effectively do what we want. We enjoy the process of getting… Read more »

Eric Hurczak
Eric Hurczak
10 years ago

I agree, goals are extremely important to keep us focused and moving forward. With out goals to give us direction we begin to stagnate and stop developing, growing and progressing.

Equally important to the goal setting process is the part of taking action. Without action goals quickly become dormant and die.

Andrea M
Andrea M
10 years ago

Patients, self control and goals… The biggest thing is to forget about looking rich. Just because people have stuff doesn’t mean that they really have anything in their bank. Stick to your goals! Good luck.

Dollars Not Debt
Dollars Not Debt
10 years ago

Goals are the only way to measure how you are doing. Without them, you are aimlessly going through life. Aim for something…so you know if you actually hit it.

Moses
Moses
10 years ago
Ralph
Ralph
10 years ago

The road to wealth is certainly goals, but it is more importantly focus. If you focus on what you want (and never quit) then you will achieve. (in all facets of life.)

precious
precious
10 years ago

This has really blessed me. you know what? my goals have been in me, never written down, and I find it difficult to actualize them. As I was reading this piece, I quickly wrote them down, trusting God to help me attain them.Nice piece.

Rob
Rob
10 years ago

Nice post. People need to forget about the idea of get rich quick schemes. There are plenty of good ideas out there but they each require time and effort.

Steffen
Steffen
6 years ago

“It’s much easier to achieve goals when you focus on the individual steps toward them.” This is a very important thing. I just discovered this recently.

You big goal should be like a guiding star on the horizon, but your focus should be on your next step towards your star.

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