Feb 232011

In the movie “The Matrix”, Morpheus offers Neo a choice of taking the red pill or the blue pill.  Take the red pill and learn what the enslaving Matrix really is, or take the blue pill and return to a life of blissful ignorance with only a hint that things might be different than they seem on the surface.

Before reading the rest of this post, please click on the clip below and watch the red pill / blue pill choice movie clip — Why? — Because its fun, it helps one remember the details of the movie, and it helps you spot some eerie similarities to normal life discussed later in this post:

The red pill offered Neo extraordinary clarity, although the clarity came with a price — Neo could never go back to blissful ignorance.  He suddenly learns that everything has been an illusion, and that he must change everything to fight the enslaving and pervasive power of the Matrix.

I had my own red pill clarity moment when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, financial success, personal balance, and staying healthy not too long ago. This post offers that same red pill clarity moment for your consideration.

There are uncanny parallels between the movie and our lives today. Many people slave away, diligently working long hours day in and day out. trying to break free to financial freedom, but 95% never seem to get far ahead. The realities of the bell curve dominates the landscape, with 95% of people staying within the first or second deviation around the norm, never escaping the grip of “slightly below average / average / slightly above average” financial and personal success. This life-near-average is because people remain in a semi-blissful state of ignorance when it comes to their single, most precious resource.

This is your red pill clarity moment. Choose the red pill by reading on and you will see how profound a perspective change one little blog post with a big core idea can be.  Or choose the blue pill, stop reading, and click on the Optimism Man logo in the upper left corner, then don’t come back to this post.  The downside of choose to read on is that you can never go back to the semi-blissful state of mind.

I’m glad you chose the red pill.

Some people think the most precious resource is money. It is important but it is not in the top three of your most precious resources. Our most precious and fleeting resource is time, assuming that you have your physical and mental health. As with any key resource, how one invests that resource matters a great deal.

Escaping the life-near-average 95% simply comes down to one concept – Do you invest your time wisely or do you choose to spend and squander time?

Websters dictionary defines the term invest this way:

Invest transitive verb

1: to commit time or money in order to earn a future return

2: to make use of for future benefits of advantages (invested her time wisely)

As soon as most people get out of school and plunge into the world of work, the Matrix (which is made up of the companies we work for) takes over a huge slice of their time. Soon thereafter, a person cedes investing their time, instead spending it on behalf of the company. The spending habit spills over to “free time” — free time away from work is often spent on trivial pursuits such as sports, parties, watching TV, going to the malls, and eating. Marriage and kids are next and most one’s time is then spent on kid and family events. After kids fly the nest, many believe they are too old to start much new.

Although time is one’s most important resource, it is not the only important resource spent instead of invested. Most people spend their income as fast as they make it, buying the baubles of the world to live in great comfort and look successful in a hurry, often before they can afford it. In America today, people leave less than $65,000 to their families when they kick the bucket, and this number is severely skewed by the top 1% wealthy. The statistics are all over the board, including some that say less than 20% inherit any money at all.

It is really this simple: You must invest your time and your money to get ahead and break into the third deviation top 2.5% of success. Investment vs. spending changes everything, financially and with personal success. This is the realm of financial freedom, where you can decide to do exactly what you want to do, because daily expenses and substantial reinvestment are easily covered by investment returns.

As with all habit change, you must first become conscious of what you are spending your time on, with an eye on how a little bit of it can be redirected and invested. To invest your time, you must use it on projects that offer the potential of greater success in the future. If you invest 2 hours each week on learning Spanish, it has the possibility of paying off in the future. Opportunities for promotion or a great new sales territory might come up because you become bi-lingual. Reading good books is often an investment in the future, helping you develop new ideas or simply impress others with your breadth of knowledge. On the other hand, is watching the next episode of Lost or Dancing with the Stars or Sunday’s big game an investment of time? It is not — TV and most internet surfing is spending your time with no hope of any future value.

I suggest keeping a small diary of every minute you invest each week. Learning most anything qualifies. Working on your written goals and plans. Improving your task management. Going to Toastmasters to be a better communicator. Creating a website. Reading investment magazines. Writing a novel. Becoming a top 1 in 1,000 expert at work.

At first, many weeks will fly by without any time invested. You stay busy busy busy, but are really in the semi-blissful illusion created for you, mostly by your company. This is not to say that there is no strategic time to be invested at the workplace — there is plenty of opportunity. If you work on a high profile new customer win that seriously contributes to company results, that time is strategic.  If you invent a new widget or process that saves the company millions, that is strategic. Anything that the CEO notices or can be put on your resume as an accomplishment is strategic and helps you get the new promotion, pay raise, or changing companies. But getting the quarterly reports done by Friday or hanging out at the coffee pot is not going to break you free of the life-near-average.

Mark down everything you can in your little time-investment book. Don’t be too strict — mark it all down. If you manage 30 minutes of strategic time invested this week, try to beat it the following week, and the week after that. Momentum will build.

Likewise, start putting aside 10% of your income for financial investment. Start reading about investing, start learning about investing, open an account at Ameritrade, Etrade, or Charles Schwab, and start investing, one share of stock at a time if that is all you have put aside. A person who invests in 1000 times more likely to become a millionaire than a person that does not. Its not brain surgery difficult and it is not a matter of a mad dash to save when you turn 50. Financial investing is a matter of being steady and purposeful, like the tortoise that beats the hare in the proverb. Ignore the noise of the day traders. Don’t know what to buy? Buy SPY and QQQ ETF shares, which are shares that track the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 companies, and hold them — they represent a simple bet on the prosperity of America.

The red pill clarity bottom line is that thinking in terms of investing vs. spending will change your life forever, if you embrace it. Invest your time, don’t spend it. Time is the most important asset. Invest a portion of your income, don’t  squander it. Success is not as hard as many pessimists think it is. Anyone can become an extraordinary success, but you have to invest your time and money, week in and week out, from this day forward.

I.M. Optimism Man

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