I've starting listening to a lot more podcasts and audio books now that I'm driving 5+ hours to see my boyfriend. It's more productive and just about as entertaining as doing car-eoke. (But way easier on my voice!)
These podcasts and audio books aren't just for entertainment, though. I wanted to put the time to good use. So far, I've listened to a book on starting side hustles while employed full-time, and The Revisionist History podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a fantastic podcast but Episode 3 “The Big Man Can't Shoot” really stood out to me.
If you go listen to it, it's about one of the best players in the NBA….. who was TERRIBLE at shooting free throws.
You ask yourself: “Gwen, why do I care about an NBA basketball player and why are we talking about him on a blog dedicated to Financial Independence?”
I'm glad you asked!
Gladwell talks about Chamberlain's best game ever, the one in 1962 where he scored 100 points in a single, multi-record breaking game. This game is notable for many reasons, but the one I'm interested in (and fits in with this article) is he set the record for number of free throws made, which is incredible because he was widely regarded as a bad free throw shooter. So how did a guy who sucks at making free throws set the record?
He changed the way he threw. He went from the typical free throw position to the underhanded granny shot. So if you know incredibly little about the NBA like me, you might assume he went on to set the number of free throws made- a record that still stands today.
Well, you'd be wrong. After that game, he went back to the other method and continued to suck at free throws.
Why'd he change and throw away the chance to break tons of records? Because people made fun of him for throwing granny style and he thought he looked ridiculous.
In fact, it's so ridiculous that only one other NBA player has ever thrown that way. Since 1962!! His name? John Cena. Ha! Gotcha. It's actually a guy named Rick Barry. He ended his career with a .900 free throw shots made average! That's insane!
So obviously, it's a great method that no one uses despite it producing fantastic results.
Does that sound familiar?
Financial independence and retiring early are also things that produce fantastic results but very few people work towards them.
Why is that?
Because it goes against the collective behavior of society.
“It goes against the what?”
There's this guy, a sociologist named Mark Granovetter, who wrote a whole paper, “Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour”, on why people do or don't do things. Going back to the Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, he says:
“Now, what does Granovetter mean by that word, “threshold”? A belief is an internal thing. It’s a position we’ve taken in our head or in our heart. But unlike beliefs, thresholds are external. They’re about peer pressure. Your threshold is the number of people who have to do something before you join in. Granovetter makes two crucial arguments. The first is that thresholds and beliefs sometimes overlap. But a lot of the time, they don’t. When your teenage son is driving 100 miles an hour at midnight with three of his friends in your Toyota Camry, it’s not because he believes that driving 100 miles per hour is a good idea. In that moment, his beliefs are irrelevant. His behaviour is guided by his threshold.”
You can have a high threshold, or a low threshold. Someone with a low threshold is likely to keep the status quo of society. They're probably not going to change.
Someone with a high threshold is going to do their own thing, hang what society thinks. They will be the ones to incite change. They are the first domino.
The first domino doesn't have any pressure against it to fall over. No other domino makes it fall over. It does need something to push it over, but our intrepid domino does that of it's own accord.
The FIRE world is rife with examples of people leading the way to early retirement. Vicki Robins, Jacob Lund Fisker, JD Roth, Mr. Money Mustache, JL Collins, the Mad Fientist and more are some of the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Each one of these first dominoes forged a path for others to follow. They had high thresholds, and by sharing their methods got the rest of us to raise our thresholds and join them.
I originally got into the FIRE community by reading Mr. Money Mustache's blog. I would've dismissed early retirement as impossible or only for the uber wealthy, but here he was doing it! My threshold was raised after I saw him doing it.
Another example would be Paula at Afford Anything. She has a high threshold for real estate. By writing about it and talking to me during the first Chautauqua I attended, she convinced me to invest in real estate. She raised my threshold. I probably wouldn't have gotten into rental real estate investing without her encouragement and support.
I was able raise someone's threshold on attending a meetup. She saw me doing it and decided to go, where without me she probably would've taken a lot longer to go.
All the rest of us in the FIRE world are encouraging others to raise their threshold and consider early retirement. The more of us that write and talk about it, the more it becomes mainstream and makes it seem less ‘crazy'. It's easy to dismiss early retirement as a fantasy until you actually see people doing it.
Of course, whether people are convinced of your method depends on a number of social factors. I am very influential to people younger than me because I have time and experience on them. When I talk about early retirement to people older than me the reception is decidedly less positive. I ran out of fingers a long time ago to count the number of people who pat me on the head and go, “that's a nice dream dear, but wait until you experience some life and then it won't be so possible.” People are also much more likely to be receptive to my message if they like me as a person. That's why Rick Barry didn't convince anyone to throw granny style. People didn't like him, so of course they're not going to listen to what he had to say. That's also why I was unable to sway my grumpy coworker as she straight up didn't like me.
This doesn't apply to just early retirement and free throw shooting. Nope. It's all over the place once you start to look for it.
Going for the 4th down in NFL games.
Legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.
The FIRE community needs as many people talking about it as possible. You may never know someone is thinking about doing it if you don't speak up and talk to others about it. I have a feeling we only need a few more dominoes to make this lifestyle spread to the masses!
How has your FIRE evangelism gone? Any particularly great horror or success stories? Sound off in the comments below!
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