February 20th, 2013
Hope is Not a Strategy
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Chapter 1: A Series of Unfortunate Events
I recently had the misfortune of locking myself out of my house on my way to work. Even more unfortunate is the fact that my bike lock is also on my keychain. So I couldn’t bike to work.
I left my wallet inside my house, so I couldn’t take the bus either. Now, I was only a 30 minute walk from the Credit Karma office, so if I had left when I locked myself out I wouldn’t have even been that late.
But as it turned out, my greatest misfortune was that the bedroom window was open just a crack, giving me hope.
So I instead of speed-walking to the office, I rummaged through my backpack to see what I can find that would help me break into my own house.
Chapter 2: Failure
Fast-forward 45 minutes of sweat, scrapes, and fruitless toil during which I ruined a pen, a bit of metal pipe that I found, a rusted paint scraper, and a lot of duct tape.
That’s when I gave up.
But why did I keep doing a stupid thing for such a long time? It helps to look to my history of stupidity.
Chapter 3: More Failure
Perhaps the stock market is a good place to start. I have several shares of a company which is worth very, very little, and much less than I paid for it.
In all likelihood, I will never sell those shares. Because if I do the few dollars I’d get from it would be nothing to the pain that I have to deal with when faced with the fact that I had lost much more.
So even though never selling the shares means I won’t get any of the money, to my battered psyche, that’s preferable.
And again, we come back to the window being open just a crack. Because maybe, just maybe, if I hold onto it long enough, the stock will go back up, and I’ll at least break even. But it’s that hope, that slightly-open window that’s screwing me up.
This makes sense to anyone familiar with the myth of Pandora, who had a box of evils that she accidentally unleashed on the world. Hope was in the box, so it was one of the evils.
In some situations hope can be a wonderful thing. If you’re embarking on a long journey to improve your credit, you’d have to hope that you could actually succeed at some point. But what makes hope so insidious is that it feels the same whether it’s helping or hurting you. And before you know it, you’re an idiot who spent the last 45 minutes trying to break into his own house.
So if hope isn’t a great model in your life or finances, what’s a better alternative?
At some point, reality is your best recourse. Sure, it’d be nice to hope that your credit score won’t be affected by opening up a slew of new cards, but it’s a better idea to get some more information using the Credit Simulator.
Maybe you’re a lot smarter than me, but I know there are several places in my finances and life where I’m trying to use a “hope first, reality later” strategy, and it’s not working out.
There are some situations, like holding onto a stock for too long, ignoring wasteful spending habits, or being completely unrealistic about my terribleness at lock picking, where I’d be better off if I could see clearly long enough to realize that this isn’t working, and it’s time for a change.
It’s tough to admit when we’ve wasted our time, money, or that we were downright stupid. But if we delude ourselves through hoping it’ll work out, we sure don’t get any smarter.
Maybe if I just wedge in some wire…
Ezra Fox is the Creative Content Producer at Credit Karma, where you might find him shooting videos or taking a break playing Smash Brothers with the Engineers. In his free time he can be found searching for the city’s best sandwiches, ramen, and tacos, and writing the great American ebook. If he figures out how the Twitters work, you can reach him at: @ezrafox.
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