It happens to everyone: a business partner embezzles funds destroying the company and leaving you with the mess; an ex betrays your trust; a co-worker or supervisor harasses you. It is easy to get angry and fire from the hip. But reaction only makes it worse.
To make matters even worse, the person who slighted you gets away clean while your response is dealt with harshly. There is something true to the adage: the second one to throw a punch gets caught.
There is a better way that doesn’t harm any party involved: success. Success is said to be the best form of revenge, but it only works if it isn’t done for traditional revenge reasons.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said if your life has a why you can bear almost any how. This is a fancy way of saying your life needs purpose to strive for the important goals.
Money will drive you if your finances are in desperate straits. Once the basics are covered new motivations are needed to keep striving for your goals. Sheer love of the process drives some, but this is the minority. The vast multitude need something more, a prod to keep them moving forward.
Failure happens. All your hard work and planning sometimes ends up in flames. Your financial dreams are tested in these dark times and to make it worse, people delight in your pain, some more than others. A certain crowd enjoys watching people suffer. Sometimes it is a crowd specific to you.
People are jealous of other people’s success. The people closest to you can be the worst, secretly delighting in your misfortune. Building financial success is one thing. As the stock market claws higher, over-spenders of the world secretly pray for the day when the market collapses or at least your investments take a serious haircut. A jealous brother or friend despises you because you had the discipline to spend less than you earn and invest the excess in index funds.
An ex is the worst of all. In their mind you don’t deserve success or any pleasure after your relationship with them ends. There is something decidedly psychopathic about such attitudes. When you move on with your life and start dating again he takes great pleasure in each relationship that doesn’t work out. It’s as if their worth in life is tied to your failures.
Failure happens more than success so the haters have plenty to gloat on. Your financial investments will have plenty of down days, some remarkably so. Staying the course means time will be kind to you so you get more revenge than your nemesis.
All these feelings, unfortunately, are counterproductive. Revenge is the acid that destroys the vessel which holds it. We all attract haters as we grow. People will do incredibly horrific things to tear you down. The higher you climb the more excuses these people have to hate you for your success. They will work tirelessly to harm you.
This is where you need perspective. While people may hate you for your success and feel you don’t deserve it (who does?), the truly successful know the truth of human nature. Jordan B. Peterson wrote in his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, “Most individuals are dealing with one or more serious health problems while going productively and uncomplainingly about their business.” (I recommend purchase of Peterson’s book. Read it, mark it up and then use it as a constant reference manual on living well.)
It is so easy to sink to the level of those who wish you harm. Striking back is a reflexive response. Mature individuals, however, know everyone is carrying a heavy burden. As Peterson noted, the majority of people are fighting a medical issue or a close family member or friend is. When you think about it that way, it is easier to forgive a past transgression.
Forgive does not mean forget. If a friend betrays your trust you can respect the difficulties they are experiencing in their life. But you don’t have to trust them! This is a personal finance blog so we’ll use a financial example. If a friend steals from you or doesn’t repay money you borrowed him you don’t have to keep giving them more. That isn’t what friends do; that is how people enable addicts and other people in serious need to change in their life.
Hating a cheating ex is natural. The bitter feelings need to come out. But get them out quickly or they turn into a cancer harming you! Yes, you have been betrayed. The betrayer messed up your past, don’t give them your future too!
Past bad experiences can be a powerful motivation tool. Anger and bitterness will eventually destroy you. The “I’ll show them” mentality also wears you out in the end. There is a better way to channel this energy.
Revenge is usually not the real motivation. You are hurt over a betrayal and you want to show “them” what they missed. Using success as a form of revenge is really about showing the world how valuable you are. The people who hurt you in the past are not allowed near you and your newfound success.
Revenge over a prior slight is a long-term steady emotion. Deep down it isn’t about revenge; it’s about acceptance. You are projecting your success as a way to let everyone around you know you are valuable. Every action is motivated discovery. Am I really able to do this? The person who slighted you may not even know you are growing and winning. It doesn’t matter. The person you are really trying to impress is yourself.
Failure brings out the worst in people. Failure is a natural and normal part of the success process.
Elon Musk struggles with Tesla’s growing pains. His efforts to build enough cars and better batteries, to grow his company’s profits, is necessary if he wants his company to compete worldwide. He has tweeted several times in the past about his detractors. He warned people selling him short they will learn a valuable lesson soon. Musk isn’t technically out for revenge, though he is working to prove all the naysayers wrong. The motivation is so powerful he is reported to sleep on the factory floor so he has as many waking hours as possible available to apply toward his goals.
Initial thoughts of revenge are counterproductive. Your first reaction is to strike out at the person hurting you. This will cause you more trouble than anyone else. After the initial sting, the steady state of numbness can go one of two ways: you can fold your tent and withdraw or you can focus on the goal. Quitting is an unfortunate reaction. Stepping back and thinking about what you really want and how to go about getting it is far more productive.
Benefits of Success as Revenge
People visiting this blog generally are looking for ideas to lower their taxes, build wealth, start a business or insights on retirement, early or otherwise. All these things are forms of success. Efforts to create something valuable suffers inevitable setbacks. Many slights are only perceived. We think people are laughing at us or rebuking us due to our misfortune. This isn’t always the case.
A parent may show disappointment when an adult child gets arrested for DWI. The instinct is to withdraw. Burying your instinct is important. To move forward, to grow, you need to use your mistake as a motivator for change. Your parents aren’t out to get you, nor do they derive pleasure from your failure. They want what is best for you so they show disappointment. And they can’t do it for you. Your anger isn’t really directed at them; it’s directed at you.
Lottery winners learn fast how many friends and family members they have. When the money runs out they find out how many true friends they have. The same applies to all of us to a lesser degree. When you bust your tail at a business or investing for early retirement or world travel plenty of people will dissuade you. Your friends are limited as you are in the building process. Not many people want to stick around. They’re afraid you might put them to work.
As the goal approaches the number of friends increases. Now you have money; now you are successful. The fun part is celebrating a victory and crowds of friends show up for that. Most you never met before in your life. Such is the nature of fair weather friends.
The same applies in the blogosphere. Everyone wants to know the bloggers slamming it. The guy eking out 72 pageviews isn’t fun to be around. It’s all work, research, and discovery. Success isn’t guaranteed. The fun part is when playtime is available. It takes courage to continue. Thoughts of revenge rarely play a key role. But thoughts of showing people in your sphere of influence you have the right stuff does.
One of the most disgusting displays of fair weather friend behavior involves interpersonal relationships. Starting and building a business takes long hours of hard work and sacrifice. Money is tight; every penny is funneled into the project. Relationships are destroyed sometimes. All parties may not be as committed to the project as you. Over my three and a half decades owning an accounting practice I’ve seen divorces over this kind of thing. What I find disgusting is when success finally arrives the person who left frequently finds their old partner more attractive then. Rekindling such a relationship rarely works because it is based on one party being exceptionally shallow.
When in the trenches, look around you. When you are sleeping on the factory floor giving every ounce of energy to bring an idea to life, stop for a moment to take an inventory of the people with you. One, maybe two, of these people are true friends. When things turn the corner and success is in full bloom it will be more difficult to determine who your friends are as everyone wants to be your friend.
Enemies will be obvious. They’re the ones constantly gloating at every minor failure. They play an important—if not ignorant—role, too. They are a constant source of motivation to climb to the next level. Not to show them, but to remind you of what you are capable of.
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