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You Don’t Have to Be the Best to Win Big in Life


You Don't Have to Be the Best to Win Big in LifeI recently read an interesting article at Financial Samurai – For A Better Life, Be The One Percent In Something, ANYTHING. Sam urged his readers to find something where they can be a one percenter and specialize. I completely agree with his theory, but I don’t know how applicable this is for a regular guy like me. I have never been 1% at anything and I doubt I can find that special talent at this stage in life. It takes time and ambition to become that kind of expert and I’m lacking both. On the other hand, I feel I’m doing very well in life. My early retirement lifestyle is almost perfect and I love my life. Of course, it’d be even better if I were really great at something, but my argument is that you don’t have to be the best to win big in life. Read on…

Reaching the 1%

Reaching the top 1% is not easy. The first problem is that you’d need to measure it. How do you know you’re in the top 1% at all? This is easier when you’re young. Academically, we could look at GPA and class ranking. I’m not sure if class rank is even calculated anymore, though. We can make a best guess from the GPA. If your GPA is 4.0 or higher, then you’re probably in the 1%. As for fitness, we could look at sports. If you aim to be in the top 1%, then you’re probably the star of your team. The sample size is limited so I think if you’re #1 in class, that’s pretty darn good and you’re in the 1% club.

It gets a bit trickier when you’re out of school. My old company had annual performance reviews and workers were ranked by the managers. If you performed at the 1% level consistently, then you’d rise quickly through the ranks. I’m sure you’ll rise quickly through any workplace if your performance is the best out of all your coworkers.

As for finance, we could look at the bigger picture with the Federal Reserve data.

  • Top 1% household income is about $400,000 per year.
  • Top 1% household net worth is about $8 million.

Whoa, it’s tough to reach 1%. We’re nowhere near that financially. The top 1% is really leaving everyone behind.

I’m not 1%

Unfortunately, I’ve never been 1% in anything. I was never that great academically and I was near the bottom of the class when I was in first grade. I think I was #52 out of 55 kids or something like that. Not quite the bottom, but pretty darn close. This was at a private school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Fortunately, I got some help and steadily improved. By the time I graduated high school in the US, I was an honor student. I wasn’t anywhere near 1%, though. The same story applied for college. I graduated with honors and I was very satisfied with that.

As for sports, I was terrible due to a mild genetic disorder. I’m sure I was in the bottom 10% for physical fitness when I was young. Sports were very difficult for me and I was always the right fielder whenever we had a baseball game in PE. My fitness has improved somewhat since then, though. Now I know what I can do and I focus on that.

I was never the best employee either. Engineering was fun when I first started working and I did pretty well in the first few years. There were many other people smarter than me, though. I was promoted early on, but plateaued in about 8 years. Once I started to lose interest in engineering, I didn’t make much headway at work. It became just a job and I aimed for the meaty middle part of the performance curve. In retrospect, this wasn’t a very smart strategy. I should have found a different job that fit me better.

Financially, we did pretty well. I had a six-figure income for many years and we saved a good amount. Our household income never made it to 1%, though. You’d need to be in the right profession, become an executive, or have a successful business to make that much income. Dentists, doctors, lawyers, and other highly paid professionals might have a chance to get there. Engineers won’t make $400,000 per year unless they’re really lucky with stocks. Net worth is tough too. It’s possible for anyone to accumulate $1 million, but $8 million seems out of reach for regular people.

*Mrs. RB40 was #3 at her high school. Close, but no cookie. Also, she is a much better employee than I am and consistently performs at a high level at her work. I’m pretty sure she is in the top 1% at her work. Yeap, I am a very lucky guy.

Winning without being the best

So I know that I’m not 1% in anything. I’m not talented enough and I’m not ambitious enough. I suppose I could try to become 1% in some obscure niche, but I’m just not motivated to do so. Life is good and I’m already winning. I wasn’t in the 1%, but I was above average in a few things.

  • Academic – graduating with honor was pretty good. That’s probably in the top 10% of my class.
  • Engineering – I did very well in the first few years and got great annual reviews.
  • Blogging – Retire by 40 isn’t in the top 1%, but we are doing pretty well. I’m confident that we’re in the top 10%.
  • Finance – Our household is in the top 10% net worth. The 10th percentile net worth starts at around a million dollars and we’re beyond that. Our income occasionally reached 10% in the past and may do so again in 2017. That’s pretty good.

Personally, I think anyone can do very well in life if they can be in the top 10%. By definition, that’s already better than 90%. Of course, it’d be even better if you can reach higher, but I’m already very happy. You probably don’t even have to be in the top 10% to be successful in life. You just need to stick to a few guiding principles. Here is how I win big in life without being the best.

  1. Keep going in the right direction. Life is a journey and the key to winning is to keep going in the right direction. You just need to keep improving every year like I did in school. You can increase your knowledge every year by learning new things. Your finance should improve consistently and life should get better as time goes by. If life isn’t improving, then you’re doing something wrong. You’ve got to turn it around somehow. Everyone should be better off than 4 years ago. Having long term goals can really help you focus here.
  2. Avoid huge screw ups. Of course, life isn’t always going to be a smooth flight. There’s bound to be some turbulence along the way. We just have to take the bumps in stride and get back on course. There are some obvious problems in life that we can avoid, though. For example, overindulgence in alcohol and drugs can completely screw up your life. Some mistakes are okay, but we need to avoid huge screw ups. More samples – 10 easy ways to sabotage your finance.
  3. Be lucky. This one is a bit hard to explain. I am a lucky guy and things often go my way. I started an early retirement blog in 2010 which was a very lucky time to do so. It’s much more difficult to stand out today with so many excellent blogs on the internet. I married a very smart woman and we have a great marriage. She went off to Peace Corps for a few years after college and most people didn’t think we’d get back together. I persevered and got her back, though. Our net worth kept increasing even after I quit working full time 5 years ago. Things just seem to work out well for me and I’ve been very lucky. Luck isn’t all chance, though. A lot of it is hard work too. How to be luckier? That’s a whole another topic by itself. I’ll have to work on that post so check back next week.

Alright, those are my guiding principles. You don’t have to be 1% to win big in life. An average guy like me can also do extremely well. Lastly, I’d say don’t measure your success with other people’s yardstick. You just have to find your own definition of success and go for it. I’m sure a lot of people don’t think I’m winning in life, but I don’t really care what they say. I’m financially comfortable and I enjoy a great life with my family. What could be better? I’m definitely winning big in life.

Are you a top 1% in something? If not, how do you find success in life? What are your guiding principles?

Follow up post – How to Be Lucky in Life

Image credit Marcus Cederberg

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 74 comments… add one }
  • Michael @ Financially Alert September 28, 2017, 2:32 am

    Hey Joe, I think we’re pretty similar in that I wasn’t really in the top 1% ever, but consistently within the top 10% in many areas… including personal finances. I would like to achieve something within the top 1% in my life simply for the challenge, but I’m super grateful to be and have what I do already. Life for me is not as much about achievement as it was when I was younger, but rather a function of contribution.

    An interesting related question would be – What’s the gap between where you operate, compared to your actual potential? Are you in the top 10% because it’s your full potential, or because you’ve been limited your access to the top 1% out of fear, laziness, etc?

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:13 am

      That’s an interesting question which is really difficult to answer. Potential changes as you age too. For me, it’s really the lack of ambition. If I’m happy and comfortable, then I’m not too motivated to strive for more. It’s probably that way for a lot of people.

  • Pennypincher September 28, 2017, 2:47 am

    Yay for Mrs. RB40!
    I think alot of those 1%ers had a head start w/trust fund inheritances. I’ve seen this before.
    But did you ever notice how self made 1%ers seem to run at a “higher gear” than the rest of us? Think Richard Branson/Virgin Atlantic.
    I’ll never forget what a celebrity once said-“When you become the big cheese, the rats come out”.
    How much $$ does one really need? We all end up 6 feet underground the same way.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:15 am

      Definitely. Sam is much more ambitious and hard working than I am. Richard Branson is really great. He works so hard. The 1% seem very restless. I’m much more easily satisfied.

  • Ernie Zelinski September 28, 2017, 2:53 am

    You ask, “Are you a top 1% in something?”

    No. But I have always been in the top 99 percent in any university class or practically anything that I have ever tried in life.

    Insofar as “how do you find success in life?”, I like what this guy said:

    “How can they say my life is not a success? Have I not for more than sixty years gotten enough to eat and escaped being eaten?”
    — Logan Pearsall Smith

    Seriously, this other guy defines success in a way that resonates with me big time.

    “There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.”
    — Christopher Morley

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:16 am

      That’s great! As long as your in the top 99%, you’re not the worst.
      I love the quotes too. Thank you!

  • Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle September 28, 2017, 3:22 am

    I agree with you. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the 1% in anything. But I feel like our life is amazing and that is what I consider a win.

    Let’s be honest. Take academics. Businesses don’t care that you were the top 1%. Many prefer those with work experience to someone who a perfect GPA. They want to know you can make it in the career.

    So I think there are few situations that being that 1% is necessary to win at life. Just my two cents.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:17 am

      I think being in the top 1% would help at the beginning, but after a few years it doesn’t make any difference. At that point, the work record speaks for itself. Getting in the top 1% is tough and employer should pay attention to that.

  • Harald @NonlinearThings September 28, 2017, 3:35 am

    Nice post. I agree with most of it and would like to emphasize the following.
    In my opinion a good strategy to become successful/wealthy is to pick some kind of “broad niche” that seems promising (e.g. start-up companies, coding, real estate, investing, etc) and start becoming an expert in that area. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be the 1% but become better than most of the people around you.
    The most important point is that you should stick to it over a long term (years, better decades) and try to develop yourself. I am sure your niche also developed, there are new trends emerging, other areas are not interesting anymore etc.
    Now that you have a lot of experience and a wealth of knowledge it only takes you the nuts not only to be good in theory, but also to take on responsibility and do something on your own.
    Well, I think in the end, all of those steps seem to be very hard to achieve. I personally feel quite comfortable given my stage (people would probably call me a young professional) about the theory in my field (real estate), but I lack experience and I also lack the nuts to do something on my own.
    Nevertheless I am working on it 🙂

    Kind regards

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:21 am

      I love your strategy. You’re on the right track and I’m sure you’ll be very successful soon.
      Picking a good broad niche is a great idea especially when you’re young. Most people have no idea what they’d like at that age. Go for a promising niche will make life easier than going for something that doesn’t pay well. You can always make an adjustment later. I’m lucky that I picked engineering rather than Asian study or something like that.

  • Retiring On My Terms September 28, 2017, 3:50 am

    I think you are being too hard on yourself, Joe. Based on your posts at RB40, you certainly seem to be in the 1% in terms of living a happy life on your terms. Being in the 1% on that metric is probably more important than anything else!

    • [email protected] September 28, 2017, 4:49 am

      This is exactly what I was thinking! How many people can say what Joe said in this post? “I’m financially comfortable and I enjoy a great life with my family.” Even though we might not be able to measure it, based on everything I read and hear – he’s definitely in the top 1% in this category!

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:21 am

      Thank you! I feel like I’m in the 1% on happiness. That’s too objective to measure, though.

  • Brad - MaximizeYourMoney.com September 28, 2017, 3:57 am

    Here’s something many people can be the top 1% in – saving a percentage of your income. The top 1% have the highest savings rate at 38%. I bet many working-to-reach-FIRE people could be the 1% in that category!

    BTW, I’ve been in the top 1% of earners in the past. It’s not all that it is cracked up to be IMO. I purposely left that level and cut back my spending to focus on things that matter rather than money and “stuff”. I’m much happier now being downsized and spending about 1/2 what I used to spend – but achieved FIRE.

    • Mr. Freaky Frugal September 28, 2017, 5:32 am

      Brad – That’s awesome!

      I think lots of people can’t leave the allure of big money even if they want a different life. They get stuck in a tiny career and life box they can’t escape.

      You had the courage to think outside the box and live a more conscious life and FIRE.

    • Financial Samurai September 28, 2017, 6:26 am

      Bingo! I bet Joe didn’t think of that! Be a top 1% saver for the next 10 years, and be amazed at how much freedom your life will earn.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:22 am

      Really? Can you share the data? I can’t find anything on the internet. 38% isn’t that high at all. Most people striving for FI and early retirement can get there easily. That’s awesome!

  • Tom September 28, 2017, 4:17 am

    Totally agree with Retiring On My Terms Comment. Joe is absolutely the best (not just top 1%) at what he has decided to do with his life. Set your personal goals and go out everyday and do your best to achieve them. Comparing oneself to others can be helpful to set those personal goals, but also irrelevant in some ways since we are all unique.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:23 am

      Thank you! Improving yourself consistently is the key. We need to keep learning and get better everyday.

  • David @iretiredyoung September 28, 2017, 4:21 am

    I enjoyed this Joe, especially your 3 points at the end. With regard to being lucky, there’s a famous golfing expression that says the harder you practice, the luckier you get, which I think sums it up nicely.
    Now I just have to try to stop making any huge screw ups! Fingers crossed.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:24 am

      Exactly! Luck isn’t just random chance. You have to be in the right place at the right time and you control much of that. Avoiding huge screw ups can be tough. 🙂

  • Jay September 28, 2017, 4:28 am

    Excellent post! I tend to agree with you that by consistently improving a little bit each day, and stacking up a diverse set of talents you can be the 1% in your own special little niche (because there’s a lack of competition!) I also like your point that you can have a great and fulfilling life without being the absolute best. That said, if you’re doing things you’re interested in it can be motivating and rewarding to strive to keep improving. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance September 28, 2017, 5:01 am

    Ahh I can totally relate! I am 100% sure I’m not in the top 1% in terms of academics, income, sports, or anything else out there that you can possibly think of. I might be among the 1% of Vietnamese people in the US who blog about PF, but it’s a portion, not a ranking.

    I used to be so obsessed with being the best that it made me miserable. Now I just want to be happy with whatever it is that I do. Great post! ^.^

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:28 am

      I’m glad you’re not obsessed with being the best anymore. That’s too hard for most of us. A few really talented people can get there. I’m sure those people know who they are. I think you’re a great blogger. 🙂

      • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance September 28, 2017, 12:40 pm

        Thank you, Joe! And I think you are AWESOME!!! Reading your comments on my posts and your responses to my comments always makes me SO happy!!!

        P.S. I’m one of your biggest blog fans! 😀 I think we should have an RB40 fan club!

  • Dads Dollars debts September 28, 2017, 5:01 am

    10% is a valid number to shoot for. Your talks about work resonate with me. I am not see I will be in the top 1% and I am ok with that. The opportunity cost for leaving though is low as I will unlikely be paid more and the job is more or less the same where Ever I go.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:29 am

      Right. 10% is already really good. Unless you’re really talented, being in the top 10% is already awesome.
      You know what, I think most people can get into the top 10% with hard work. Getting into the top 1% requires hard work and talent. I need to work this into the main post somehow.

  • Budget on a Stick September 28, 2017, 5:22 am

    I had my end of year review and my manager told me I’m one of the top performers at the company. He told me they rarely if ever give out a raise as much as they did for me this year. Needless to say, I am pretty excited about upping my 401k and Roth contributions.

    The way I got there was I am constantly looking for new or complex problems to solve, especially if they are as high profile as the two that I did in the last year. Pretty cool when the CIO talks about the work you do.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:31 am

      Congratulations! Keep at it. You’re doing a great job so enjoy the fruit of your labor.

  • Ron Cameron September 28, 2017, 5:29 am

    I think the #1 reason people aren’t in the top 1% is simple – they never try to be in the top 1%! And that’s fine. It’s rare, and takes way more work than most people want to put in – like FI. But if you find something you love, and are really good at it to begin with, getting to be truly at the top of your game isn’t too difficult (like FI!).

    Of the several jobs I’ve had I was at one point ranked overall in the top 1/10th of 1% or so for one of them. The others I was merely average. The difference (looking back) as I really LOVED the day to day operations of that job. The others never quite clicked.

    As for luck, it’s overrated! Yes, some people get lucky. Luck always plays a part in your short term successes. But in the long term, luck has very little to do with it! “Trust Fund Babies” make up a tiny part of the top 1%. People who are crushing it via effort, however, are quite common!

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:43 am

      I don’t completely agree with that. I think most people aren’t capable of getting to the top 1%. It’s too hard. Is that a defeatist attitude? People should try, but don’t be too disappointed if they don’t make it.
      Thank you for sharing.
      I think luck isn’t just a short term thing. Lucky people keeps getting lucky. It’s not just random chance.

    • Financial Samurai September 28, 2017, 10:41 am

      I agree with this, especially now that I’m a father. What I didn’t realize was that nobody really told me what was possible or that I could do very well in a particular thing.

      Once you get into the mindset that you can be the best at something if you work at it hard enough, it becomes much easier to get there. Too many people don’t believe in themselves, and therefore end up exactly where they are.

  • Mr. Freaky Frugal September 28, 2017, 5:40 am

    So I guess one of your points is that any average Joe – bada boom! – can plod along making the right decisions and FIRE. I agree.

    I didn’t even FIRE very early but when I tell people when I retired they look at me like I’m a space alien and quickly change the subject. I just feel like shaking them and telling them it’s not that hard.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:44 am

      Yes, most people can do it if they keep going in the right direction. If you keep walking west, you’ll hit the Pacific ocean at some point. 🙂

  • Veneta @ Becoming Life Smart September 28, 2017, 5:44 am

    While I think being in the top 1% is a good goal to strive for, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. As the saying goes, shoot for the moon and you will land among the stars.

    Your suggestion to focus on improving each day is a much better goal, in my opinion. If we are better today than we were yesterday, if we learned more, helped more and loved more, than we are already in the top of any list that matters for living a good life.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:46 am

      It’s gotta be tough for those in the 2%. You have to keep pushing really hard to get to #1. Life is much more comfortable at the 10% range. 🙂

  • Dividend Diplomats September 28, 2017, 5:46 am

    RB40 –

    You can be very successful and have the life you want without being a 1%. I think it may be a “fun” or “Novel” idea of trying to “kill it” in one area of your life to see if you can dominate it. Here is a weird/odd example – wood cutting/bench/furniture making. One could take classes and start cutting wood to create beautiful pieces of furniture and then sell them on every outlet that one can in order to develop the prestige and recognition of being the “best homemade wood furniture guy” haha. I digress, however, as I agree with both scenarios!

    All in all – it’s about doing the best that you can to have the life that you want with the loved ones in your life. 1%, 10%, doesn’t matter at that point.


  • El Jefe September 28, 2017, 6:07 am

    I am well inside the top 1% for both income and net worth.. so what? Not something you put on your tombstone. I am in no way special, as far as I can see, other than having had a reasonable degree of success/luck in a once lucrative industry (financial services). Joe and many commenters have it right. Living a happy and fulfilling life is th best measure of success and doesn’t require being in the top 1% of anything.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:48 am

      You should put it on your tombstone. That’s a nice accomplishment. 🙂
      That industry is a great way to begin life. I should encourage my kid to get into it. When it comes down to it, you have to be happy with your life.
      Thank you for your comment.

  • Financial Samurai September 28, 2017, 6:25 am

    Thanks for your highlight and good post. It’s interesting a lot of the comments here so far are focus on money, when I was trying to emphasize in my post that you can focus on being the top 1% in anything to help one’s cause.

    I like how one commentor wrote that we aren’t in the top 1% of something because we’ve never really tried. Give anything 10 years of commitment, and I’m sure everybody can get into the top 1% of something.

    And I think if you can get to the top 1% of something, the consistency and drive will attract other people to whatever else you were attempting to achieve.

    I would say you are in the top 1% of blogs and of enjoying a great life in the grind of America!


    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:56 am

      I think it’s easier to measure net worth and income. It’s tough to see if you’re the top 1% tennis coach.
      Thank you for your compliment. I hope I’m in the top 1% for blogging, but there are so many excellent bloggers now. The competition is tough!
      Consistent and drive is the key to high achievement.

      • Financial Samurai September 28, 2017, 10:43 am

        Not so much tennis coach, because I’m far from the top 1% in tennis coaching. More like the bottom 90%. But in tennis playing, I’m rated 5.0 USTA skill level, which roughly 0.84% of tennis players are ranked. The number dwindles down to about 0.1% for 5.5+. But I’m trying to get down to 4.5 so and have more fun on the court and play more matches! It gets tiring keeping up with these young guns and Ex division one college players!

  • [email protected] September 28, 2017, 6:31 am

    Being in the one percent would be wonderful but I can’t think of any category where I’m there. Like you, I’m probably in the top 10% in a number of categories. The most important areas to me, would be as a husband and father. If I can get to the top 1% there, I’d have accomplished my goals. Financially by being in the top 10% at my profession, savings rate and investing by matching market returns, I’m confident I’ll end up financially independent much earlier than most.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:57 am

      I’d love to be in the top 1% as a husband and dad. How would I know, though? I try my best, but sometime I’m impatient with Junior. I could do better and I am striving to be a better dad. It’s not easy.

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher September 28, 2017, 7:02 am

    Why can’t we settle for just being good at something? There’s nothing wrong with improving on our skills, but we don’t have to pressure ourselves to be the best. If anything, it’s the *pursuit* of becoming the best that’s the more important thing.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 9:58 am

      I’m perfectly happy at being good. Getting into the top 10% is pretty darn good and I’m very happy with that. 🙂

  • Mrs. Groovy September 28, 2017, 7:18 am

    I feel that thinking about being in the top 1% is a great way to view your path if competition is your psychological driver. So if I were an athlete, a race car driver, a haute cuisene chef bucking for a James Beard award, or a scientist trying to find the cure for cancer I might feel the need to be 99% better than my peers. But in my non-competitive world I don’t. I’m happy believing I’m in the top 10% as a good human being, a good wife and a good friend. I say “believing” because what matters most to me can’t easily be measured. Some things in my life where I actually was in the top 1%, like high school academics, had little personal value to me. Maybe that was because it came very easily.

    • retirebyforty September 28, 2017, 10:00 am

      Wow, a valedictorian! 🙂 I agree with you completely. Being top 10% is really good. I think I’m there as a dad, husband, and a human being. That’s pretty darn good.

  • freebird September 28, 2017, 7:25 am

    one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do …

  • Helen September 28, 2017, 8:41 am

    Great topic. I’m very happy staying somewhere in the 99%, and have no ambition chasing the 1%. One of the reasons I retired early is that, I don’t like to be judged, and want to live my life in my terms. As long as I’m healthy, and my basic needs are met, I’m happy.

  • Mr. FWP September 28, 2017, 9:16 am

    Great perspective, Joe. I liked that article too, and I’ll add that being in the 1% in something doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, either. I’ve been blessed to be in the 1% in far more things in life than seems fair, and to be surrounded by others who’re likewise in the 1% in a lot of areas. But what matters more, I think, is character and having your priorities correct.

    • retirebyforty September 29, 2017, 11:20 am

      Really? I assumed that if you get in the 1%, you’d be very successful in that niche. That’s an interesting perspective. The strength of character is very important too. If you’re proud of who you are, then you can be proud of what you’ve done in life.

      • Paper Tiger October 2, 2017, 1:47 pm

        It is even harder to feel “successful” in the 1% niche. Imagine what it is like being around a bunch of 1%er’s, nearly all trying to be in the Top 1% of the 1%. I experienced this first hand as an executive in an F100 company. As they say in the South, “it ain’t pretty.”

  • Caroline September 28, 2017, 9:24 am

    If being in the 1% of anything makes you happy, then work at it and get there. To me they are just numbers not a measurement of my happiness.
    I don’ t believe in just being lucky, you just did a great job at going after the right opportunities. “Many people may say that luck is important, but I think you create your own luck by working hard to ensure you don’t miss opportunities.” – Ivan Glasenberg

  • Lily @ The Frugal Gene September 28, 2017, 9:57 am

    Aw Joe you are just the sweetest, most down to earth blogger ever. It’s hard to measure the 1% – I think we’re in the 1% for our age group in terms of NW but we’re on the fringe. I wouldn’t blink an eye if we were booted off.

    I want to be in the 1% for happiness and living a life I enjoy. If we strive to be in the 1%, that just might drive me nuts.

    • retirebyforty September 29, 2017, 11:21 am

      Thanks! Wow, I’ve very envious of your NW. Great job! It’ll probably get tough as you get older, though. The 1% shoots way up very quickly.
      Good call striving for the 1% in happiness.

  • Amy @ Life Zemplified September 28, 2017, 10:13 am

    I really liked this post including your 3 points at the bottom, and look forward to that post on luck. I’ve been very lucky in my life, with a lot of hard work! I do think you are in the top 1% of PF blogs though.

    • retirebyforty September 29, 2017, 11:21 am

      Thanks! I hope I can get a good article out on luck. It’s pretty tricky.

  • Jeff @ Maximum Cents September 28, 2017, 6:07 pm
    • retirebyforty September 29, 2017, 11:22 am

      Wow, that’s great! Thanks for sharing.

  • Mr. Tako September 29, 2017, 1:42 am

    Hi Joe — you mentioned you weren’t in the 1% but largely it sounds like you were mostly in the 10%.

    That seems to be enough to have a very good life with plenty of money and happiness to go around. Isn’t that enough?

    It seems like being in the top 10% is plenty!

    Hell, it’s a big world out there. Being in the top 1% might just be luck. You and I are already killing it in the top 10%

    • retirebyforty September 29, 2017, 11:22 am

      I’m in the 10% in something and that’s enough to carry me to a happy life. I’m very grateful.

  • [email protected] September 29, 2017, 6:35 am

    Very nice post Joe. Super specialization is the key.

    Another example: when Walmart and big stores started killing mom and pop stores, they went into super specialization to survive. Stores that sell only furniture, only shoes, only old styles….and they have thrived.

  • Felipe September 29, 2017, 6:42 am

    Great discussion. I feel your pain. I went to a hard school, so was average there. But I learned a ton, including humility at being surrounded by geniuses. I never won a race, but 38 years later am still slowly jogging at 53 in far better shape than my friends who used to be “winners” but now live in their past glory watching football on the couch.
    Now I’m not the richest person I know, but I’m the freest – of debt, of family expectations, my job doesn’t own me. I can quit any time, my friends can’t with their nicer cars and big mortgages.
    In the 90’s I did hospice work. When someone’s about to die you really see what they’re leaving behind in life. Do they have visitors? Is their room always full of family and friends, or are they alone watching TV? That’s what’s important – not winning, not being the best at something. How do we treat people, do we live ethically – that seems more important than where I stand in a pie chart.

    • retirebyforty September 29, 2017, 11:24 am

      Great job keeping up with your fitness. I think I’m probably out of the bottom 10% now because I maintain my fitness. I was never great, but everybody else is going downhill faster than I am. 🙂
      Thank you for your perspective. The hospice would give a lot of people a better view on life. Maybe everyone should work in a hospice for a while.

  • SMM September 29, 2017, 1:15 pm

    I like the avoid screw ups part. Also if we do screw up, better that happens early in our life and career so we can learn from our mistakes and remember them when other important decisions and life matters come our way.

  • Steve September 29, 2017, 3:17 pm

    Thinking about the 10,000 hour rule I do wonder if there is something even now in my 40’s I could pick up and spend 3 hours a day on so I could be a 1%er in my 50’s. I’m not sure there are any though.

    My favorite 10,000 hour story is the possibly apocryphal story of the Polgar twins. Their father wanted them to be “World Class” in something, so he picked chess as something that they he could teach them easily and they could practice for multiple hours every day and reach Grandmaster level.

  • Andreaus @ The Blue Pants Budget October 1, 2017, 9:25 am

    Comparing yourself with others can lead to some negative emotions, depending on how you view the world.

    I like following the Kaizen method of self-improvement. My goal is to get 1% better day by day. It’s not a competition with others, it’s more about competing with myself. Pushing myself to do more and be more. A better writer, a better speaker, etc.

  • Edwin | Cash The Checks October 1, 2017, 10:23 am

    Progress is key. As long as you were better than you were a year ago, whats important is that you’re headed in the right direction.

  • Ben in Atlanta October 1, 2017, 12:21 pm

    I believe in 90 percent as a goal for all things you are into rather than 99. If you look at a performance curve it requires exponential time and energy to get from 90 to 99. Thuink of learning golf. Once you get into the sport and start playing you can shave strokes off very quickly. To get a few strokes off of your handicap once you start approaching par is going to mean you have to play multiple times every week. I’d rather pick up a new interest and continue learning and growing. Well rounded, always learning without going to 99 percent extremes is the life for me.

  • James T October 2, 2017, 6:38 am

    I’ve been a long time reader/lurker of both FS and RB40. I read Sam’s post when I came out and I thought the same as Joe. You really don’t have to kill it to do well in life. With that said, I do set lofty goals on anything I get into. Its motivating to me to aim high, and I’ve trained myself to just be great full for the results even if I fall a bit short. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” In my 20s I used to measure my accomplishments against my peers, but in my mid-30s, and after becoming a father, I find that I tend to compete with myself. Maybe because most of my peers aren’t into the same things I am into. When I talk about investing and FI, my friends eyes glaze over. Haha! Keep up the great work guys!

    • retirebyforty October 2, 2017, 12:03 pm

      Thanks for sharing! I set more realistic goals because I’ve never been great at anything. Most of the time, I can’t accomplish the moon shot. I guess you have to figure out what’s right for you. I’m good at plodding along.

  • Oliver @ Appreneurinvestor.com October 11, 2017, 8:15 pm

    “You don’t have to be 1% to win big in life. ” – True. You don’t need to start as the best to end up getting the best, otherwise there would be no success stories like that of Bill Gates, right?

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