Three-thousand five hundred feet of elevation gain in 10 miles. That’s what you’re up against if you decide to race the Little Cottonwood Canyon Climb in Salt Lake City. While preparing for this race, I trained with a French Canadian former pro bike racer named Pierre. One day we were out training and I asked him what our plan was for the workout. He told me, “It doesn’t really matter what we do for our workout; we just need to learn how to suffer.”
Suffer now, or suffer on race day
What he was referring to, of course, is that the mechanics of training – the total length of the workout, the specific work-rest ratio for the intervals, the target wattages – are much less important than just getting out there and learning how to maintain a high level of intensity despite discomfort. Because that’s 98% of what matters on race day.
Similarly, getting out of debt and reaching financial independence is much less about the math details, and much more about being able to stay disciplined and intense day in and day out. There are plenty of blogs and books out there that will teach you the mechanics of personal finance. What you really need to learn is how to suffer. Because if you don’t suffer now, you will eventually suffer later.
How do you learn how to suffer?
Some people are naturally good at being disciplined and intense. I am amazed at people like WCI who somehow manages to pull down a full time job, raise a family, backcountry ski, and start a side business. Other people need to LEARN how to suffer and stay disciplined. It starts with recognizing that life is not supposed to be easy (at least not initially) and discomfort is okay. A portion of my medical practice is spent on obesity management and weight loss counseling. I spend most of the visit trying to convince my patients that it’s okay to sweat and feel tired while exercising, and it is okay that broccoli does not taste like ice cream.
You will suffer while paying down your debt and accumulating assets
In order to pay down your debt and invest, you will necessarily need to spend less than you make. When you get your paycheck, you will need to take a huge chunk (say 50%) and immediately place it in your loan payoff account, your savings account, your Roth, or your taxable brokerage account. This is hard. You will not be left with enough money to be able to do everything you want to do. You may have to live in an apartment with pot-smoking neighbors for a few years. You may not be able to go out to dinner for the month. You may have to take a tent-camping trip instead of staying in a nice hotel. You may not be able to afford that nice new fat bike or a new car. This is okay. Eventually you may be able to do all those things. But not now. Learn how to suffer.
Eventually you will no longer need to suffer
At some point (hopefully within 15 years, if you save 50% of your income), you will have your debts paid off and you will have a nice accumulation of invested assets that are passively making money on their own. You will be able to purchase a home (maybe even with cash). You will be able to choose exactly the type of work that you do. You can treat yourself to a dinner at The Farm. You may be able to go kitesurfing in the Cook Islands. You will have freedom and you will no longer need to suffer. Unless of course you’re still trying to race up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Then you will always suffer.
What do you think? Have you learned how to suffer? If you’ve already suffered for years (such as in the long and arduous medical training process), does it make sense to continue to suffer, or should you reward yourself for all your hard work in the form of more creature comforts?