No One Wants to See the Process


Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re trying to do something to improve your financial situation.

Maybe you’re just starting out, really thinking purposefully about money for the first time.

Or maybe you’ve been trying to make things better for a while, but you’ve hit some roadblocks and you’re not sure what to do next.

In either case, you have questions and doubts. And in those moments, it’s easy to look around and find people who already are where you want to be. You look at them and think something along the lines of: “Man, if only I could be like them. Life would be good.”

And you feel something. Guilt. Jealousy. Lack of self worth. Maybe even a little bit of dismissal. Like they have special circumstances or special talents you don’t have. Or maybe they’re just lucky.

We all have those moments. I’m just as guilty of it as anyone. I see a blog with a bigger, more engaged audience than I have. Or I see a parent who looks totally, 100% at ease with their kids. Or I see a financial planner who seems to be everywhere, know everything and have this business totally figured out.

It’s a normal reaction. But it also completely misses the point.

You didn’t see the process

Those people you see who have all the money stuff figured out? They didn’t just appear in the world exactly as they are today. They didn’t start out with a big emergency fund, a retirement plan in place, the right investments chosen, the perfect house. They didn’t have it all figured out right from the start.

No. There was a process. A long process. You just never saw it.

You didn’t see the first few attempts at budgeting that failed miserably. The ones where they wildly guessed at numbers, blew through their spending goals and had to tear things up and start all over.

You didn’t see the arguments with their spouse over how much to spend on travel vs. saving for retirement.

You didn’t see the hours spent making a spreadsheet to compare car prices. Or evaluate the need for life insurance. Or manage the asset allocation of their investments.

You didn’t see the other spouse’s reaction to those spreadsheets, which was basically “Oh, nice” before turning back to whatever it was they were doing before you interrupted them.

You didn’t see the weekly meetings spent reviewing the latest average spending numbers.

You didn’t see the plans that changed, the efforts that failed, or all the small little wins along the way.

You didn’t see the time spent making lunch every morning to save money on eating out.

You didn’t see the choice to take the kids to a play area in the mall rather than pay 10 bucks for a fancier play area in a dedicated building.

You didn’t see the effort made to cook dinner every single night.

You didn’t see the hours spent Googling and searching through online forums for the specific answer to their specific question so they could get that one thing right.

You didn’t see the times they couldn’t figure something out and had to ask for help.

You didn’t see gift money and tax refunds and raises being put in savings instead of being spent.

You didn’t see the decision to cut cable, or downgrade to an older cell phone.

You didn’t see the day after day repetition of making these same decisions over and over again, year after year.

You didn’t see the process. You only see the result.

This is all really hard. For everyone.

The point is this: none of this is easy for anyone, no matter what it looks like from the outside. Those people whose success you want? It wasn’t easy for them to get where they are. It wasn’t glamorous or magical or quick.

It was a process. A long process filled with confusion, frustration, success, failure, understanding, disagreement, re-thinking, happy moments, sad moments, and everything in between.

And the reality is that no matter how easy it looks for them now on the outside, they’re actually just like you: still struggling, still doubting, still looking for better ways to do things.

They’re still going through the process.

But that’s actually the really hopeful part. If you can accept the fact that there is no secret, no magic formula or special skill that’s needed, you can know that no matter how far behind you feel right now, in this moment, you can get where you want to go if you’re willing to go through the process.

You’ll have to learn new things that at first feel unfamiliar, intimidating and overwhelming.

You’ll have to admit to weaknesses.

You’ll have to ask for help in dealing with those weaknesses.

You’ll have to mess up, repeatedly.

You’ll have to use those failures as a way to learn and do it better the next time.

And if you’re doing this all with someone else, you’ll have to be honest with each other, disagree with each other, and eventually compromise.

That’s all hard. But that’s the process.

It’s the thing that no one wants to see but everyone has to go through if they want to get someplace better.

Are you ready for the process?

So know this: you can get your finances under control. You can make a plan, follow through and build a more secure, more free life.

You can be the person who “has it all figured out”. (Even though you never really will. No one does.)

But you have to be willing to go through the process.

It’s not glamorous. It’s definitely not easy. But it’s the way to something better.

Are you ready?

Big shout out to my wife for the inspiration behind this post.

Start building a better financial future with the resource I wish I had when I was starting my family. It’s free!

39 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • MyMoneyDesign March 10, 2014

    Outstanding post Matt! I’ve had exactly the same reflections myself about how people actually create success in their lives.

    It’s funny: I’ve had a number of people stop by my desk at work and start chatting me up about money because they know I like to invest. Yet they are really disappointed when I don’t have some hot stock tip or big money making scheme to share with them. They hate when my advice is “put more in your 401k” and “start an IRA”. However those are the things that have made me a better investor and quite possibly more wealthy than they are today. They just don’t want to hear that there will be work involved. Everyone wants the easy solution.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      I get similar reactions from time to time. People think about investing and they want something flashy. Or they want a “trick” that they can feel cool about. And to be honest, I get that same feeling with things I’m not familiar with. I think it’s just natural. But the reality is it’s usually just a boring combination of hard work and time. Which is the real reason why it’s usually not very crowded at the top of whatever it is you want to achieve.

  • cashRebel March 10, 2014

    Amen! It’s all about consistency, not a secret. All my friends who are in crazy amounts of school debt think my money saving habits are crazy and that they could never apply to them. The truth is that we all have to start somewhere.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      “The truth is that we all have to start somewhere.” So true. A lot of the “successful” people we envy started right where we are or maybe even further behind. I think it’s very normal to feel inadequate when you’re just starting out, but all you can do is take one step forward.

  • Michael Solari March 10, 2014

    I struggle with this too. It’s tough not to compare yourself to other people. Sometimes though, I feel like once you’re completely content it may be time to retire

  • John S @ Frugal Rules March 10, 2014

    Excellent post Matt! If we all just got what we wanted right away then there’d be few to no challenges to help us grow. It can be so easy to sit back and wish you could be this person or that person, but you rarely, if ever, know what truly got them to that place in life. It’s definitely a struggle to do so, but that is why I say to enjoy the process, because you never know where it’ll take you or what opportunities it’ll present for you down the road.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      When I was in college, there was this big conversation around the idea “effortless perfection”, which was basically this myth that all of the people around you were just naturally perfect. Not only is it obviously false, but even if it were possible it would be boring. In the end, it’s the struggle that leads to the satisfaction.

      I also like what you say about the process opening up new opportunities. That’s a really great point that I hadn’t really considered here but is totally true. Where we end up is often very different from what we initially intended, but in a good way. And we can only get there if we go through the process. Good stuff!

  • Andrew March 10, 2014

    Great post! You make an excellent point. When people hear that I paid for my used car in cash or that I plan on putting down 20% when I buy a place, they just chalk it up to “luck.” They assume that I’m luckier with my finances than they are…when in fact, a lot of work and sacrifice was involved to get me to this point.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      I think that’s a pretty natural reaction. When someone else’s circumstances are so much different from yours, it can be incredibly difficult to wrap your head around the actual steps that got them there. I know I still struggle with that in other areas. Our minds just naturally make the leap from our current situation to their current situation without realizing that there’s a lot of time and effort separating the two.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 March 10, 2014

    In my studies on leadership development, this is one concept I didn’t understand. I always thought leaders were naturally born. You were simply out of luck if you weren’t “born with it.” I’ve come to realize leadership is a process of growth that can actually be learned through study and practice. It’s the same with other areas of our life, including finances. Life is a process. Our problem is we just don’t want to go through the process. We want it all now.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      Great stuff Brian! It’s very easy to find something hard at the beginning and jump to the conclusion that we just aren’t meant to do that thing. But I think your leadership example here is a great one, and definitely one I’ve seen play out multiple times in many different types of environments.

  • What’s the old saying? Nobody ever sees the inside of a sausage factory…

    I think the same holds true with social media persona today. Most people don’t post about the hard work or sleepless nights, they post about the 5-star vacations with professional photographers.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      Haha, yes! And I love sausage!

      I think the reality is that almost 100% of the people whose success we might envy worked very hard to get there. We just didn’t see the work because it’s only the result that’s out in the public eye.

  • Shannon Ryan March 10, 2014

    I love this so much, Matt! Truer words have never been spoken, or written in this case. It is so easy to forget about the long, lengthy process most people go through to become successful. We forget because we just see them when they are success – a seemingly overnight success. That is the story we most often hear but that is the sexy media story we want to hear. We want to believe it can happen overnight for us too. But the reality is most overnight successes were years and years of hard work and effort. I too look around and sometimes wonder when is it going to be my turn. And I get mad when I catch myself doing that because I’m forgetting the hard work it to get where I am now. And if I can do this … what else can I do? Anything. Everything. Whatever I truly set my heart to and am willing to do the work. Love, love this. And I know, without a doubt, doing the work and going through the process, is going to help you create the business and life you want for you and your family, Matt.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      I love this: “I too look around and sometimes wonder when is it going to be my turn. And I get mad when I catch myself doing that because I’m forgetting the hard work it to get where I am now.”

      That’s such a great point! If we’re always looking around feeling envious of the people who have it “better” than us, how can we ever stop to appreciate all of the things we actually have managed to achieve? Because the reality is that no one actually has it all figured out, so you’ll never actually reach the point you imagine those other people to already be at. Learning how to appreciate the journey and respect what you’ve already accomplished is an incredibly important part of the whole process.

      • just done March 11, 2014

        Two comments struck a chord with me: 1). “I look around and sometimes wonder when is it going to be my turn”; and 2). “the people whose success we might envy worked very hard to get there” – here’s my response (’cause if you “saw” me you may very well envy me) – 1). if you’ve got time to even wonder when it’s going to be your turn, you’re not working hard enough. I was working so hard and living below the poverty level (without taking welfare) that I didn’t have time to wonder when it was going to be my time. I didn’t give a damn about/how anyone else was doing. I was just trying to feed/house/clothe my family and help a few other souls along the way. 2). you’re absolutely right that we worked very hard to get where we’re at. Don’t ever forget that. We worked very hard and very long to get to where we’re at. There really aren’t that many trust-fund babies out there so don’t let them distract you from your own personal goals.
        Love your comment re: appreciate the journey and respect what you’ve accomplished. You stay focused like that and you’re golden – sooner than you know.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 11, 2014

          Thanks for sharing your story! It’s pretty inspirational and really a perfect example of what I’m talking about here. There’s almost always a TON that went into what you see in someone else today, most of which you’ll never know about unless you really get to know them.

          I will say that while it’s incredibly admirable if you can truly never worry about when it will be “your time”, I do think it’s pretty normal to have those thoughts from time to time. I know I have them and I would guess that most people do. So I think the trick is not to try to prevent the thoughts necessarily, but to recognize them for what they are (unproductive) and learn to move past them.

          But I do love your point about ignoring what other people are doing and focusing only on your personal goals. That’s really what it’s all about.

  • Done by Forty March 10, 2014

    Great post there, Matt. I get caught up in focusing on the results in a few areas (bloggers with side incomes and huge followings, especially) without considering the actual work that went into that result.

    I think part of the “problem” is that sharing process isn’t always that interesting. We write net worth updates, not necessarily “scrimping and saving updates”, you know?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      I 100% agree. No one likes hearing about the process. It’s actually pretty dull and tedious with more negatives than just hearing about the final result. Nowhere near as good of a story.

  • thefrugalweds March 10, 2014

    This is a wonderful Monday read 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Matt!
    It’s so true – people didn’t start out having everything figured out. For us, starting our blog has been such a huge reminder of this. We’re not where we wanna be, especially with reader engagement, but it’s building – we just have to trust that we’re making progress everyday. And it helps to have mentors and a community that supports you. From where we are, we can appreciate all the hard work everyone has put in.
    It is about the journey – we just have to appreciate all the necessary steps to where we wanna be 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      I love what you say about having mentors and a community. That’s such a crucial part of any long, difficult process. I know I’m definitely leaning on a lot of people these days and to be honest I’m not really sure where I’d be without the help and encouragement of others. I don’t think I would have even known where to start.

  • Tonya March 10, 2014

    Great post Matt! I think with freelancing I wish I was further along with the process. I see what others are making as freelancers who have been doing it for a fraction of a time I have, and wonder why I’m not making even close to that level of income. BTW I’ve flat out asked how they do it but I feel like I get a bit of a a run around. Or maybe they are afraid of sharing in fear I’ll steal business or something. In any case, it can be a bit frustrating. But I know in other areas of my life I try to be patient with myself.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 10, 2014

      You might be getting the runaround. But I think it’s also sometimes the case that people have a genuinely difficult time articulating how it was they got where they are. And it’s exactly because it’s such a long and difficult process. When you’re in the middle of it you’re not really marking all of your steps along the way, so I think trying to look back at it and explain it in a coherent way can be difficult. Worth considering.

  • Pauline @RFIndependence March 10, 2014

    There is hard work behind every success, even if some make it look easy. Even if you inherit a large sum of money, it takes hard work to grow it instead of burning through it in a few years.
    I tried to walk some friends through the process but most just want the end results without the effort and it is just time lost.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 11, 2014

      I like the point you make about inheriting money. Being handed “success” isn’t necessarily any easier than having to work for it. A big part of the value of the process is that it prepares you for where you’re going, while simply being handed something doesn’t prepare you at all. Neither way is easy.

  • Shannon March 11, 2014

    I reflect on this a lot when I get “push back” from clients on their financial plans. Everyone wants to have amazing results, rainbows and happy endings, but the reality is that between points A and B is a lot of hard work and dedication. It is a big reason why I feel as though I mentally equip my clients more than anything else. I just watched a documentary on Seal Team Six on Netflix and they spoke a lot about training being more of a mental exercise than a physical one, and I think the same is true for financial success.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 12, 2014

      Great insights Shannon! I definitely agree that any difficult journey has as much (if not more) to do with the mental side as it does with the tactical side. Pure and simple persistence is often the most powerful force we have on our side.

  • No Nonsense landlord March 11, 2014

    Great post.

    • No Nonsense Landlord March 11, 2014

      It’s always a struggle to save, or spend. Once you start to see money come alive, it becomes easier.

      • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 12, 2014

        Agreed. It definitely gets easier once you’ve been doing it for a while and you start to see some results. But even then you’ll hit difficult choices, mistakes, things you don’t know and you’ll still have to find your way through the process. It can definitely get easier but I don’t think it’s ever really done.

  • Free to Pursue March 14, 2014

    It makes me think about the quote from a favourite movie of mine, Shawshank Redemption: “All it takes is pressure and time.” Small-scale, persistent action build into significant, lasting and sometimes life-changing accomplishments.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 17, 2014

      Love that quote! I hadn’t thought about it in connection to this but I definitely think it applies.

  • Kemkem March 15, 2014

    This is a fantastic post. Your wife is very smart. The truth is everyone wants the magic pill, but most are not willing to suffer for it. I don’t even write about finance, mostly because the memories are raw, and after all this time, it still stings. Nobody saw the process of my scrimping and saving, my being house rich and money poor, my mistakes made, my foreclosure, my walking to work ( in L.A!) while my help drove brand new SUV’s. In those days, pre internet , and l’m only 49, you had to figure it out yourself. I got married after l was financially ok and it pisses me off when l read blogs that are well of because you are dual income. Anyway, the end result is much better. We are comfortably retired now, and l write about the end results. The message is the same , work hard, save more, spend less. Some listen , some don’t.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 17, 2014

      Wow, thanks for sharing! It sounds like you kind of epitomize exactly what I’m talking about here. Someone could easily look at your comfortable retirement today and just assume that it was all clear sailing the whole way along. Clearly it wasn’t. It took a lot of time, effort and struggle to make it to where you are now. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story here.

  • FloridaStache March 15, 2014

    Excellent post- lots of truth here. And of course, the same philosophy can be applied to losing weight, getting in shape, or any other seemingly impossible goal that we want to achieve. Everyone has to start somewhere, and there are no shortcuts! You have to go through the process. Thanks for writing this!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 17, 2014

      Agreed. There’s a process to just about anything you want to achieve in life, financial or otherwise. The goal always seems so daunting when you’re starting out, but you just need to start and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  • Jennifer Roberts March 18, 2014

    Just found this via Rockstar Finance, and it’s a GREAT post. Coincidentally, I wrote something along the same lines recently. I had been talking with a relative who told me “You don’t know how many people would give their eye teeth to have the life you have.” Maybe so, but like you said they either don’t think about the process, or they know the process and don’t want to do the work. I wanted to facepalm right then and there. My whole blog is about helping people have the life I have (if that’s what they want). It’s hard not to feel frustrated when I’m told I’m lucky for the umpteenth time. Luck can’t be emulated. Effort can be. If you really want what I have, do the same work! And listen when I take the time to try to help! There is nothing special about me, I’m just determined.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney March 19, 2014

      Hi Jennifer. Thanks for making your way over! And I love this quote: “There is nothing special about me, I’m just determined.” I think that really sums up the essence of what this post is all about. Success is really the result of persistence through struggle. It’s hard, but if you’re willing to put in the work you can get there.

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