Why You Can’t Get Ahead … Ever

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“Oh, they were born rich.”Make the most of it

“She’s naturally skinny.”

“You’re so lucky.”

Some people believe that people are born with limited talents and advantages.

They think everything we achieve can be traced back to the lottery of birth.

Accept your lot in life, they say. You’ll never become anything greater.

They say things like:

  • “You don’t have the connections.”
  • “You don’t have the money.”
  • “That’s not for people like us.”
  • “You’re getting above yourself.”
  • “Ugh, there’s nothing good on TV. I’m bored.”

Others, however, believe that while people may be born into differing situations, we have the ability to grow.

We can harvest our advantages. We can spring to the next level. We can be richer, healthier, happier, more traveled, and more free than the circumstances of our birth.

We create our own fortunes.

  • If we lack the skills, we build them.
  • If we lack the connections, we make them.
  • If we live in an area that lacks opportunity, we move. (Or we capitalize on the Internet.)

Sure, some people have it easier. That’s irrelevant. Don’t focus on how rich / healthy / advantaged other people are … focus on whether or not you’re hitting your own personal goals.

“But I Only Make $X!”

There are some who believe that their earnings are capped at $X. That’s just what they make. End of story.
Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset
You’ve met those people.

“How can I get ahead if I only earn $X?”

They believe they won’t earn another dime unless some external force that they can’t control (i.e. their boss) waves his magic wand, taps his ruby slippers together three times, and decrees that they should get a 3 percent raise.

This is a “fixed money” mindset. It’s a mentality you need to shatter.

People with “fixed money” mindsets fall into one of two categories:

  • They’re broke. “I don’t make enough to pay my bills!”
  • They’re cheap. “I have to clutch onto every penny, because once it’s gone, it’s gone!

How do I know this? I’m reformed. In my early twenties, I had a “fixed money” mindset. My salary was my salary, I thought, and that’s where the story ends.

As a result, I became ultra-cheap. I’d endure massive lengths to save a buck or two. Meanwhile, I placed zero value on my time.

Then I flipped my mindset.

I started valuing my time. I grew confident that I could earn more, developed an entrepreneurial mindset, and aggressively chased opportunities.

Within two years, I tripled my income. Holy mackerel.

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In short: I flipped from a mindset that thought: “Money is limited; grip it with all your might!” to a mindset that thought: “Money is infinite. There are hundreds of trillions of dollars in circulation all around the world, and I’d have waaayyyy more than I need with just a teeny-tiny fraction of that.”

“Money is also a reflection of the value that I create for others. Impact lives, and the money will flow.”

That’s when I changed from a “fixed” mindset to a “growth” mindset.

From a “limited” mindset to an “infinite” mindset.

From a “scarcity” mindset to an “abundance” mindset.

And you know what’s crazy, and sorta counter-intuitive? When your mindset is centered on abundance, you feel free to give back … in ways that you never imagined you could, back when you were gripping onto your pennies for dear life.

Which do you have?

P.S. If you like this post, check out the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Stanford professor Carol Dweck. It goes into depth about fixed vs. growth mindsets.

Thanks to Flickr / Jenny Downing, Alex CD and Feed My Starving Children for the photos.


  1. says

    I have to admit that I am currently working within a fixed mindset. I’m okay with it in the short term. I still try to earn more (business to launch in 2014, as well as an investment property, hopefully). But I guard the dollars that I have because, at least currently, they are fixed.

    • says

      @Done by Forty — I love that you’re launching a business and buying an investment property. Those are exactly the moves you should be making to boost your earnings, maximize your potential, and get ahead.

  2. says

    Great post! I was the very person you were describing at the start of this post and having that mindset is toxic. It doesn’t allow you to reach your potential. I’m slowly but surely climbing out of that box because I’ve realised you won’t make huge strides in there. It’s hard at times especially when others around you have your old mindset but thank God for the Internet.

    • says

      @Debt Busting — The Internet is one of the best things that’s happened to mankind. I’m not exaggerating; I mean that with complete sincerity. The Internet will allow millions of people to reach their potential.

  3. says

    Love it! Mindset really has more of an impact than we give it credit for. I think I currently hover between fixed and growth. I think it takes certain bit of courage to totally jump into the growth mindset after you’ve looked at things as “fixed” for so long…hopefully 2014 will be the year I totally transition!

    • says

      @Heather — It definitely takes courage to jump from “fixed” to “growth.” I’ve discovered that the transition is always a work-in-progress. But like most skills, it improves with practice. :-)

  4. says

    I love the idea of scarcity vs abundance. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, I’ve seen first-hand how income can grow exponentially over time for smart people who take action. The hardest thing is getting started and sticking to the plan through the rough early stages. And I love that you started with a photo of Paris Hilton — definitely doesn’t help to compare your luck to hers! 😀

  5. says

    I never even thought of earning income outside my primary career until we enrolled in our debt management plan and started paying down our debt. It was slow going at first, but now the dividends are paying off, and opportunities with my freelance writing seem to coming at me from all directions. I’m a big believer in the self-fulfilling prophecy…if you think you can..you CAN!

  6. says

    Funny, the more I look around, the more opportunity I see. My challenge is choosing which opportunity to take advantage of. Which one will I still enjoy 3 years from now.

    I like the idea of increasing your income and decreasing your expenses at the same time. It has done wonders for worry. I believe the less I spend, the happier I become and along with the happiness comes a sense of peace.

    • says

      @Stephen — Lack of worry is one of the best benefits to increasing income / lowering expenses. I constantly hear people talk about how they’re worried that they can’t pay their bills, or how they hope that their paycheck comes in by Friday because they need the cash. I can’t relate to that feeling, because — years ago — I became determined to simultaneously increase my income while keeping my expenses at rock-bottom.

  7. says

    Wow, I’ve heard several of those comments. My cousin’s husband responds to everything someone does financially with the phrase “well, they’ve got money.” My mom always claims that she never aspired to be rich and that CDs are best because even if you earn nothing, at least the principle will always be there. A co-worker once said she’d never be able to retire because they just didn’t have enough money, yet they are the ones with a pool and a time share vacation rental. Others ask me how I know what to invest in as I’m reading the Wall Street Journal and they are downloading ringtones to their phone. To see how others act in accordance with their priorities is interesting to say the lease!

    • says

      @Kathy — The phrase “Well, they’ve got money” is one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s so self-defeating. People use that phrase to absolve themselves of any responsibility to improve their own station in life: “Well, I wasn’t born rich, so I’ll pretend that I can’t help myself, and I’ll belittle the people who are helping themselves in order to make myself feel better about my own lack of motivation.”

      Wealth comes to the people who take action. :-) I’m glad that you recognize that truth. Ignore the people who make self-defeating remarks.

      • Paul says

        Problem is I took a lot of actions for years still didnt make the money I thought i can make. What about these situations? How do you react to years of working, taking actions, and at the end you are not getting what you have expected. People might say “you tried your best, better than nothing.” But at the end you are not getting what you expected. That’s not a good feeling at all. I mean im not questioning positive mindset, but the world as we live in is come to the rock bottom. Because fundamental resources on earth are becoming more scarce, world population is growing, life standards are becoming highly demanded, you name it. Naturally, it really effects every ones life no matter how hard they try. back 50 years ago, if I had this sort of growth mindset, I would be billionair. Now, the story has changed. I would say the best strategy is to hold on to what you have but never stop trying even if you dont get to it, and mostly focus to enjoy little things in life.

        • Paula Pant says

          “it really effects every ones life no matter how hard they try” — It sounds like you’ve given into defeat.

          There are dozens of real-life stories on this website — and on plenty of other sites — about ordinary people who worked hard and MADE IT. Check out Randy, who supports a family of 5 on a single income, yet became a successful investor. Check out Julia, who used to make $8.50 per hour and now makes $250 per hour.

          The world has more wealth and opportunity than ever, and thanks largely to the Internet, anything is within our reach, especially if we live in a first-world country and speak fluent English (qualities that open countless doors). Success exists for people who contribute value to the world and don’t succumb to the temptation of despair.

  8. says

    I’m in the process of changing my mindset to an abundance mindset. It has been a process because it sadly feels like a revolutionary way to think about the possibilities and opportunities that have presented themselves to me. I have been actively cutting my expenses and focusing on being content with what I have. It has made an incredible difference in how I’m approaching working for myself in the near future.

  9. says

    @Michelle, I hear you, but it does get easier. I have so many examples I could point to, but it would be too many. It’s definitely a work in progress. One example is that I’ve been a firm believer (even when I was younger) that you have to let go of things (and people sometimes) in order to have other things and opportunities enter your life. Since I was a teen, I’ve always gone through my closets (at least) twice a year and I get rid of clothing, shoes, accessories and give to a women’s shelter wherever I’m living at the time. It’s always replenished, and I’ve NEVER missed anything I’ve donated. Also, if I buy something, I have to get rid of two things. Keeps down clutter!

    @Paula, I’m on my way to working with my Virtual Assistant. That was one of my goals for 2014, so I’m excited about the prospects. At first I thought, “I can’t really afford it like I’d like to right now.” But then I remember something I read (probably here) that “I can’t afford not to do it!”

    Happy New Year Everyone!

    *p.s. I just KNOW we’re going to be hearing about another rental purchase in 2014 from you Paula!

  10. says

    I have growth mindset and always have done, I believe. One saying I cannot abide is ‘cut your coat according to your cloth’. It always seems to me that this way people end up with very tight and uncomfortable coats. Extend the cloth, I say.

  11. says

    I found myself getting trapped in the fixed mindset frequently back in 2013. I’ve now come around to seeing that there are literally thousands of ways to make money in this world of ours. You really just need to open your mind and train yourself to see the opportunities that most folks are blind to because they’re stuck in the 9-5 routine.

  12. says

    When your “money belly” feels full, you can concentrate on filling the pantry for the long term.

    Feeling your belly is always empty keeps you thinking short term. Make sure to keep your belly full first, it gives you the bandwidth to think differently about money.

    I love having an abundance focus. It simply works.

  13. says

    I wish I could have this mindset but right now it is hard to when financially things keep crashing. I’ve tried to give to others for it to only cost me, I have tried to plan for emergencies by saving only to have the money taken, and I have made plans to use the skills I have writing for more income to have my machine crash. That affects my freelance plans along with plans to teach online in the evenings. Guess what that means? No writing until I can get more money I don’t have. I either use credit which equals more debt, or wait. I get what you are saying, however it isn’t always that easy when you put you got forward to only have setback after setback. I’m talking thousands in loss even now halting my plans to put a down payment on a home for my child and myself. Add a single mother it is hard. Simply changing your mind doesn’t always help especially during times like these.

    • says

      @NotCompletelySure — First, you made the right choice by halting your plans to save for a down payment. You need an emergency fund, first and foremost. Don’t try to “jump the gun” — you need to put first things first, and your emergency fund is absolutely your #1 priority.

      But don’t go into debt to buy a computer. You can get a cheap PC laptop for $300. If you earn $10 per hour after-taxes, that means you’ll need to work 30 additional hours. You can accomplish this in 1-2 weeks. After that, you’ll have a computer. Use it to work from home, and use that income to build an emergency fund.

      • says

        I must apologize; I was having a very hard moment and the only reason why I came to your site was because I was seeing answers to help me out. I won’t give up and you are right; I can still come out of this. Even if that means the house plans are on hold, that means they are on hold. It is just disappointing because I worked hard for that, we were already looking and my son was very excited to finally have a yard to play in. We will be fine though, a way will be made. Thanks for your insight and encouragement to so many others. What you are doing is awesome. I will definitely take heed to your advice.

        • Paula Pant says

          @NotCompletelySure — I was just re-reading your comment and I wanted to say something about your desire for your son to have a yard to play in.

          Millions of kids live in apartments or condos. Sometimes it’s because of financial hardship, but many times its because they live in big cities like Manhattan or London or Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro, where nearly everyone lives in a multi-unit building, even if they’re wealthy. In almost every big city, lacking a yard is normal.

          The best (and free!) way to deal with this is by visiting parks. Even if you’re too busy to go to the park everyday, dedicate your days off (e.g. every Sunday) to visiting parks. This will give your son a place to run around outdoors and play — and it’s completely free. :-)

  14. says

    I love what you say, but after a failed contractor business, I lost all I had, still paying bank loan & owe a relative a lot of money,,,what can I do ??

    • says

      @Junkman — If you’re in debt, and you don’t have savings, then you temporarily need the security of a job. Find a job, get a second job, work as hard as you can, and save with a purpose. Pay off your debts and build a “cash reserve.” You can take financial risks — like starting another business — once you’re back on your feet, but right now you still need to construct the safety net underneath you.

  15. says

    This seems to be a load of you-know-what.

    I have had an ‘abundance’ mindset, but I have had awful things happen to me in every single area of my life the past 7 years. I currently have nothing, I am living off the generosity of relatives, and I am constantly discriminated against in trying to find a job becuase I am “overqualified”, or too old.

    I don’t believe this at all, because if it was true, I wouldn’t have as many disasters daily as I do.

    Nice read, however, for those who don’t have awful things happen to them daily.

  16. says

    I stopped reading at ‘within two years, I tripled’. I don’t believe anybody can possibly earn more than double within a few years in this economy. It’s unreasonable, and I am sure that is an exaggeration. However, I do believe pushing yourself hard and training can achieve results.

    • says

      @Anon — Your limiting beliefs, and limited mindset, is your own worst obstacle.

      Read that sentence again: “Within two years, I tripled my income.” Not an investment; an INCOME. Plenty of people triple their incomes; ask anyone who used to earn $30,000 and then made a career change (or launched a business) that brings them $90,000+, or anyone who used to earn $20,000 per year and now earns $60,000+.

      Or is your mind so limited — and your belief system so pessimistic — that you don’t believe people can escalate from an income of $20,000 – $30,000 annually, to an income of $60,000 – $90,000? If you don’t believe that’s possible, you are depriving yourself from recognizing the achievements of millions of your neighbors. You’re also holding yourself back, big-time.

      You won’t succeed unless you rethink your assumptions. “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — either way, you’re right.”

  17. says

    Oh please. If you don’t think rich people can afford to take significantly more risk than someone scraping by you’re deluding yourself. Losing 10 dollars is a big deal to someone not getting by. Losing 10 grand to a billionaire is chump change. It’s called materiality and it’s the reason rich people can get significantly more richer than people in the bottom rung. Not only can they take more risk, they have more wealth with which to gamble with. It’s not just wrong that anyone can make it in this country. It’s a flat out lie. In fact social mobility in America is worse than most third world countries. Those are the facts. The poor person tripling their money in two years is the exception, not the majority.

    • says

      Hi Ashley,

      1) I don’t care whether or not billionaires are getting richer; that’s irrelevant to my daily life. The ONLY question I’m concerned with — and the ONLY question you should be concerned with — is: “What type of life can my family and I experience?” Focusing on other people is a red herring. Focus on YOURSELF, and improving your own station in life. And once you’ve achieved a secure station in life, then focus on helping the less fortunate who are also trying hard to improve their situation.

      2) If you believe social mobility in America is worse than third-world countries, you’ve clearly never lived in a third-world country.

      I have. I was born into one of the poorest nations on earth. There’s a very good reason that my family and I immigrated to the U.S., learned English, legally changed my name, adopted the new customs and culture, and worked our asses off. Success is possible here, even when you start with no money and no connections. The success that MILLIONS of immigrants and other once-poor people is living proof.

      I probably won’t be a billionaire, but who cares? I own a house, I can retire comfortably, I can travel and take vacations. I could never have achieved that if I’d stayed in the third-world nation where I was born, where there are daily power outages, no clean drinking water, and a bloody civil war.

      Be grateful you don’t know what it really means to live in the third world.

      3) Your Naysaying attitude is part of the problem, not the solution. You are actively keeping people down.

      Imagine twin children, both born into the same poor circumstances. One child is constantly told: “You’ll never get ahead. Social mobility is a myth. Accept your fate. Work your crappy job. You’re stuck in your position in life forever.” The other child is told: “You can be anything you want, as long as you work hard and dream big.” Which child is more likely to succeed?

      You’re the Naysayer who is damaging and demoralizing the very class of people you purport to care about. If you REALLY care about the fate of the less fortunate, you would empower them, not demoralize them.

  18. says

    I know that I can grow and change. The problem for me is that I have an abusive family. I should have been able to move out when I was 18 or 19 but now I’m almost 22 and every time my parents get the slightest thought that I might be moving out (cutting out a free source of money) they purposely do something to force me to give up my money to them. I’m too scared of my parents to fight back too. But since i’m an adult now and such I can’t do anything to turn in my alcoholic abusive parents. Because they’re mentally and emotionally abusive. So, unless my father drops dead, i’m screwed. I can’t even leave to move with my boyfriend.

    • Paula Pant says

      @Katie – If you’re 22, it’s time to stop accepting money from your parents, and move out. Here’s a breakdown of what this might cost:

      Rent: If you live with roommates in an old building in an immigrant neighborhood, in most parts of the U.S., your rent can be around $400 or less.
      Utilities: $100 (split with roommates)
      Food: $200
      Transit: $150 (buses and bicycling)
      Health Ins: $150 (look at ehealthinsurance.com or some comparable aggregator for the cheapest plans)
      Misc: $200

      For $1200 per month, you can live on your own — not with your abusive parents. You can be independent.

      How do you make $1200 per month?

      Let’s say you’re a server at a restaurant. You make $15 per hour, and work 40 hours/week. That’s $2,100 per month (with 3.5 weeks per month).

      After taxes, and even accounting for fluctuations (certain weeks when tips drop, or you get fewer hours), you’re still bringing home around $1800 per month — which is 33% higher than your basic costs of living.

      That means you can save $600 per month into a “rainy day fund” so you’ll have money to fall back upon when times get tough.

      In one year, you’ll have saved $7,200.
      In two years, you’ll have saved $14,400.

      That’s enough money to pay for vocational training (like getting a Realtor license or becoming an electrician, plumber, carpenter, HVAC mechanic or other trade) or to start sending yourself to a small community college to become a paralegal, dental assistant, etc.

      Once you complete that training, you’ll be earning even more money (let’s say you’re making around $4,000 per month), at which point you can save EVEN MORE, and use that money to start building a retirement account, buy a house, or build a safety net so you can switch to another career.

      Step one, however, is to leave your parents home and become independent. And that starts with getting a job that pays around $15 per hour, like serving tables, data entry, becoming an virtual assistant, etc.

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