To Truly Reach for the Stars, Challenge Herd Mentality

To Truly Reach for the Stars, Challenge Herd Mentality

I had a little bit of a strange realization the other day. We tell our kids, friends, and other family members that we support their dreams. We tell them to reach for the stars and they can be or do anything they want to in life.

But guess what – those are just some empty words. Even though we say to reach for the stars, those words can be meaningless due to our actions.

We push our kids to chase their dreams, but if they want to do something out of the norm, are we really helping them to get there? Or are we shielding them from truly finding what they love and chasing that dream?

Being able to make the magic of your dreams happen, you generally need to avoid doing something that we seem to all get sucked into… herd mentality. We tend to be influenced by the masses in our thoughts and actions without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, that can break you from finding happiness in your life.

I’m here to tell you that the only way to seriously reach for the stars is to break that herd mentality.

America’s Got Talent… a reach for the stars

One of the shows we enjoy watching at home is America’s Got Talent. It’s a nice, family-oriented show and gives us something fun to watch together as a family.

This article isn’t about showcasing people singing, dancing, and doing comedy and acrobatics… but the performers themselves are what got my mind rolling. These talented people got me thinking about the resistance we face in making our dreams a reality.

The folks who get on this have decided to chase fantasies that aren’t the “normal” way of life. They’ve decided to go against the grain and embrace a part of their soul.

And because of that, there are three camps of people I see on the show:

  • Those who can be some very young kids doing something they love to do
  • Those who are in their early twenties chasing a passion
  • Those who are later in life and showed up to try what they’ve always felt was a part of themselves

I have to applaud all of them for making their dreams a reality, but it’s interesting to think about the stage of life each of them is in.

With the young men and women in their twenties, it’s just awesome to see folks doing what makes them happy.

For the young kids who are something like 10-15 years old coming out there doing their thing on stage, I have to give it up to their parents. Those parents have helped to support their kids to reach for the stars (hopefully encouraged and not forced). Even if these kids don’t succeed in going down this path in life over the long run, at least they’ll know they’ve tried it.

But to me, the most interesting group is the folks on the show who are beyond their twenties. These are the people who generally went down a different path and maybe didn’t reach for the stars earlier in life. Why?

  1. Maybe they hit some kind of roadblock in life early on (like someone telling them they weren’t good enough).
  2. Perhaps they didn’t get a real push from their support groups in life (family and friends) to make it happen.
  3. Or maybe they really just don’t have the talent in that area to make a living at it.

This season showcased a singer, Cristina Rae, who was absolutely amazing. There’s no doubt she should have been singing professionally her whole life…

During her audition, Simon interrupts (about 4:20 into the clip) to ask her to sing her second audition song and she just crushes a rendition of “Gimme Shelter.”

Instead, she was a single mom who had faced homelessness and was living in her vehicle for a while. According to Talent Recap, she studied music and dance in school and briefly studied biology as well.

The point here is that this was someone with a dream. It took her a while to break out (she’s around 30 years old) and she didn’t win the show, but she’s going to be someone we haven’t seen the last of in the music world.

And the reason is that she’s got the drive and determination to fight against the herd mentality. Cristina would have wasted a lot of talent being a biologist for the next few decades!

Some moves we’ve made to reach for the stars

We’ve been able to break some barriers in our own lives that aren’t considered normal – and we’re much further ahead because of it.

Early retirement

Being able to reach financial independence and retire early is something many people dream of… but it’s never going to happen because [insert your favorite excuse here]. The whole idea isn’t something that’s considered normal in society. I’m still looked at as if I’ve done something wrong when someone asks what I do and I decide to tell them I’m retired.

I also didn’t think this was possible before we started down this path. I always thought this was something that you could only do if you were rich. You needed to own some solid businesses or a ton of real estate to be able to reach financial independence.

I probably would never have pushed us toward this goal until Faith was born. Not being able to be with her while I went to work every day was a struggle. And that’s when I found Joe Udo’s blog, Retire by 40, which made me realize this really was something possible even for an everyday guy like myself.

Notice I said “possible” and not “normal.” It took a lot of focus to go against the grain of society and make this a reality. Most folks just gave us the patronizing smile and said, “Good luck.”

But because we made some intentional decisions in how we lived our lives, we’re now able to spend as much time together as we want. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Moving to Panama

When we started to let friends, family, and coworkers in our plans to move to Panama, jaws dropped.

What?! Who moves out of the U.S.?

Panama’s a third-world country!

You’ll be killed there!

There are drugs all over the place there. You better watch out for the cartels!

You know there’s human trafficking there, right?

The list could go on and on with people suddenly thinking they’re experts in random countries throughout the world.

Going against the grain and herd mentality has proven all of this to be hogwash. We moved to Panama in August 2019 and there’s not once we’ve felt unsafe in Boquete, Panama. In some ways, it actually feels safer than in the U.S.

Although we probably won’t stay there permanently, we’ve already had such a great experience there. It’s allowed us to be immersed in another culture and learn about the differences between the two countries.

To Truly Reach for the Stars, Challenge Herd Mentality - On a hike in Boquete, Panama
Enjoying a hike in Boquete, Panama

These are going to be years that Faith will remember forever. And she’ll realize that it’s possible to actually reach for the stars and make things happen.

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is another area where herd mentality has pushed hard to make you think that it’s a bad route to go. You’ll hear everything from “your kid’s going to fall behind” to “that’s a sure-fire way to make sure your child doesn’t develop good socialization skills.”

Everyone seems to be an expert in areas they don’t know anything about. But once you dig into it further, you’ll find that homeschooling can provide an education that’s as good as, if not better than, traditional schooling. And it can be a great way to help focus on the specific skills your kid is good at as well as what they’re not.

As far as socialization goes, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Faith has made friends outside of school while in Panama, she does activities (like horseback riding) where she’s hanging out with other kids, and she’s still keeping up with friends back in Ohio.

I’m not saying that homeschooling is for everyone, but by ignoring the noise of the herd, we’ve done something that I think has been amazing for Faith.

Faith’s turn to reach for the stars!

So we’ve made some big changes in our lives over the past few years that go against what society might consider as normal. However, as proud as we are of what we’ve achieved so far, we did start making these changes a little late in our lives.

There are still things I want to try my hand at and see how I do with it. That can be everything from gardening to possibly even teaching. The good news is that FIRE (financial independence / retire early) gives us that freedom to try things like these without the fear of failing miserably.

But I’m also now in my mid-40’s. You start to lose some of that drive you had in your 20’s as time goes on. I know that there are some things that I probably won’t do just because – eh, it seems like a lot of work.

I don’t want that for Faith. I want her to chase her dreams and reach for the stars while she’s young. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything today, but it does mean that it’s time for us to step up her game with her. I want to help her start exploring the things she loves so she can figure out what passions to chase and which ones to let go of for now.

For instance, Faith absolutely loves horses. She used to do a little bit of horseback riding while in Ohio and became enamored with the animals. We then made it a once or twice a week routine once we moved to Panama where it’s a lot less expensive to do.

To Truly Reach for the Stars, Challenge Herd Mentality - Faith on a horse

However, I started thinking about it and, although she’s really enjoying it, is that enough? If she loves horses so much, could this be something she wants to do more with? Maybe she could even make a living around horses in the future if that’s her passion.

As part of Faith’s homeschooling, I do a personal finance lesson with her every week. Last year, we hit on everything from saving and interest, spending and loans, the stock market, real estate, retiring, and more.

With our lesson last week though, I decided to try a different angle. We talked about what I’m writing about here – trying to ignore the herd mentality and going after what you love.

In our discussion, she talked about some of the things she enjoys right now. Here are just a few of them:

  • Horses and horseback riding
  • Gymnastics
  • Coding / Programming

So, what we started chatting about was how we could do a little more in these areas. For instance, in regards to the horses, why not find a place where she could help groom the horses? Maybe down the line, this could be something she could even start making some money doing. She loved that idea.

The same goes for gymnastics. If she’s still really enjoying it a handful of years from now, why not consider what it would take to buy or build a gym and turn this passion into a business? If it fails or she loses interest, then the business could be sold. But you don’t know what that can lead to until you try it.

Now, I know that what she loves today, she might not love tomorrow. But I think the only way for her to find out what her true passions are is to keep after them and to explore other things she finds interesting along the way, too.

In other words, the onus can’t just be on Faith to reach for the stars. If we as parents aren’t encouraging and supporting her in what she enjoys (or to try new things), she’ll have a harder time making those dreams a reality.

The world will try to mold you – don’t let it!

What you see and what you get in this world are not the same thing. We all live our lives with different people around us, but most of the time herd mentality comes into play and prevents us from reaching our full potential on the happiness scale.

Maybe it’s parents telling their kids they can do or be anything but then still guiding them to follow what’s considered the normal path in life – college, stable job they might not enjoy, etc.

Or perhaps it’s just following a path in life and subconsciously doing what you think would be socially acceptable. Then one day you wake up and find yourself doing something you don’t love or even worse – one you hate.

The only one who can help you get out of this trap is you. To make this happen, try to challenge the idea of groupthink and herd mentality and figure out YOU. If you don’t know what brings you joy in life, it’s time to start figuring it out while blocking out the noise of what’s acceptable by your peers.

You’ll find a lot of naysayers along the way, but going the opposite direction of the herd can generally be the most rewarding. If you want to be a famous singer or comedian, there really should be no reason not to give it your all. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider another route if you’re really just not good at it. But, why not put some real effort into finding out?


The path to a happier life can be yours, you just need to go after it and make it happen!

Have you been able to make your dreams come true? If not, what’s stopping you?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

22 thoughts on “To Truly Reach for the Stars, Challenge Herd Mentality”

  1. Faith’s weekly personal finance lessons outshines US public schools, where I don’t think this topic is ever discussed or even mentioned? It’s so important, coupled with what kids observe and absorb about their parents’ and other surrounding adults’ spending & saving & money management. Way to go weaving this critical topic into your homeschooling. It seems like a good way to also incorporate math skills, make things fun (mock cash registers, investing, etc.) I had none of this as a kid and as a result, squandered too much $ in my 20’s and learned my lfinancial essons the hard way.

    1. I’ve heard that some schools offer some personal finance but I’d be curious how good it actually is. I was like you and didn’t have this as a kid and blew a lot of my dough in my 20’s as well! You and I had to learn the hard way! 🙂

      I can only give her a good foundation, but the rest will be up to her. The hardest part is once you get excited that you start making real money and just start spending it like it’s nothing… eh, retirement – that’s decades away! Hopefully, she’ll remember some of these lessons and can skip some of the stupidness I did when I was younger.

      1. I preach to my kids about finances and use as many examples as possible. They are late teens and work in the summer. They have UTMA account and I have been moving money to Roth IRA’s as they make money. I’m doing everything I can to show them you can have things you want (not everything though), just do it at a reasonable cost. I use their purchases as a learning experiences. This is especially true when it is something that was expensive that they didn’t get the value out of and won’t get much back if they sell it. I want them to think hard before parting with their money. So far it seems to be working!

  2. Brilliant post, Jim. All the personal finance stuff we talk about on our blogs is great, but getting down to the “why” is the real life-changing stuff.

    You and your wife have already made many incredible choices to give Faith a beautiful new perspective on life that most people will never have.

    It reminds me of Gavin, the founder of ZenPencils.com. He quit his corporate job to pursue making comics on the internet – a “foolish” dream if ever there was one.

    But his website has been an inspiration for millions across the world.

    The comic below in particular, illustrating a quote by Bill Waterson, author of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip series, is a rather poignant message I find myself referring to again and again.

    A Cartoonist’s Advice:
    https://www.zenpencils.com/comic/128-bill-watterson-a-cartoonists-advice/

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Right on for tackling the juggernaut dream killer called “herd mentality”. I think its what you stated, this “fear of failing” that reinforces the herd mentality in much of our society. People get comfortable, semi successful, and so they give up on their dreams. It’s inspiring to see you fostering Faith’s interests while they are fresh and strong. And it makes me excited for my own FIRE journey and the chance to be there full time for my daughters while they are still in the home.

  4. You’re such a good dad. I think Faith will turn out just fine. She’s a great kid. You’re showing her that life can take you in many directions. You don’t need to follow the herd if you don’t want to. Not many kids get to see that.
    I’m trying to teach my son to stretch himself too, but he’s a lot more naturally conservative (similar to his mom.) Everyone is different and they’ll have to find their own path. FI gives you a lot of options.
    Thank you for the mention!

    1. I think your son’s in a great position, too. Knowing you’re retired early is going to be something that opens his eyes up to see there are other options in life. Even if he’s pretty conservative, just knowing he has more choices on his path is huge and gives him a nice advantage to finding happiness.

  5. I don’t know that “Cristina would have wasted a lot of talent being a biologist for the next few decades!” if she decided to pursue that path. She might be just as talented as a biologist — or even more so, and we need talented biologists just as much as we need talented singers. And there is nothing to say she can’t do both!

  6. Hi Jim,

    Follow one’s gut feel. Most of the time, it will be against the usual direction of the herd. I think that this is the route to happiness regardless of the outcome of the dream.

    WTK

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