On Dogmatism

A great post today by J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly.

While the blog (and the post) are centered on the topic of personal finance, I’d like to expand a bit on what J.D. said, and apply it to a much larger context.

J.D. writes:

Then I read about the debt snowball approach in Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. It blew my mind. Here was somebody saying that it was okay (good even) to do something different, to start by paying low balances first. I tried it, and 39 months later I had eliminated over $35,000 in consumer debt.

In the process, I learned a valuable lesson. In order to succeed with money, sometimes you have to ignore the conventional wisdom. Sometimes you simply have to do what works for you.

I’m with J.D. on this one – you have to do whatever works for you.  But, this is often easier said than done, and can require a lot of balance work.  For example, if what works for you is coming into work at 11 AM and leaving at 9 PM, you may have to run that schedule by your employer (disclosure: I had a boss once who did this. Not my style, but it actually worked out great – we only had to work together for half of the day, a good thing, believe me).

The alternative, of course, is to strike out on your own, and then you can do whatever you’d like.  If doing what you like succeeds, however, you quickly run into another common problem: dogmatism.

There’s too much dogmatism in our culture. People are convinced that their way is the right way to do things. I don’t begrudge those who are certain they’re right. When something works for you, you have a tendency to believe it’s the right choice for everyone else, so you preach it with passionate zeal. I understand that.

The problem, of course, is that we’re all different. Your religion and your politics and your financial tips work for you, but won’t necessarily mesh with my situation and experiences. And mine won’t fit with yours. There are few one-size-fits-all solutions in personal finance — or anywhere else. [emphasis original]

This is a very astute observation.  Especially those people who found success through doing what worked for them, you end up with a lot of people who believe that their way is absolutely the right way.  Complicate things by monetizing their dogmatism (Guy Kawasaki, for example) and you can end up with people whose whole existence becomes wrapped up in their particular “way.”

Now, I’m not saying that you should never give or receive advice – far from it.  Mentorship can be amongst the most valuable and formative experiences possible (in personal, business, educational, and nearly any other setting).  But, like everything, it seems to be a fine line.

I think the best approach to this is to try to balance the following influences:

  • The desire to do your own thing.
  • The flexibility to listen to others and adapt to changing situations and realities.
  • Work within the existing structures when needed.
  • Remembering what’s important and why, exactly, you want to do your own thing anyway.

A continual, daily challenge, to be sure, but one worth tackling.

If you have any thoughts on doing things your way, let ’em rip in the Comments section.

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