I learned the expression “waiting to be shot” when I worked for a small engineering and consulting firm about 25 years ago. We used the expression to refer to employees who weren’t performing well, they knew it, and yet they didn’t have the courage to go find another job where they’d be more successful. Instead, they wandered around the office with limited purpose and productivity. Lacking the courage to go elsewhere, they had to be fired by management. For some, it was the only way to get them out the door and off the payroll.
The idea of waiting to be shot isn’t limited to demanding enterprises and indecisive employees. For some of us, it’s very much a part of our personality, and it’s often reflected in how we manage our personal finances and the many things that can influence our financial well being. If we recognize the problem, we can perhaps do something about it. After all, there are much better alternatives to “being shot.”
Using personal knowledge to provide real life examples, let’s look at how some have handled their personal finances by waiting to be shot (or a similar, but less severe route of shooting themselves in the foot).
One business partner allows the other to mismanage the enterprise and waste precious start-up funds because it’s easier to ignore the problem than to constantly argue about how the business should be operated. After the business is forced to fold up its tent, the arguments about how to run the operation aren’t an issue anymore. It’s now time for bankruptcy proceedings.
An employer is in a marketplace that’s in a downward spiral, yet employees see no sign of management trying to regain market share with creative ideas, it’s just more of the same approach that isn’t working. Nevertheless, employees hang on, hoping that things will somehow get better. When they’re laid off, they find it very difficult to find a job simply because prospective employers see that they don’t have one.
Something doesn’t sound right with the car, like the engine is low on oil, but the driver keeps driving anyway. The mechanical sounds get louder and have a more pronounced metallic sound. A short while later it sounds like a dozen monkeys under the hood hitting the engine with 3-pound hammers. Eventually the engine fails due to low oil, and it’s time to spend money on another car.
A young man offers one excuse after another for not being employed. He doesn’t have to work because his parents keep sending him money for rent, and he gets a free midday meal from a local charity. His lifestyle is being subsidized by those who care for him. After months of this, his parents finally cut him off and his world gets turned upside down.
A young man has a business selling toys for children, but he’s not making any money to speak of, yet he’s sticking with it. He’s been heard to say, “I’m slowly going bankrupt.” He doesn’t have any ideas about how to turn around his financial situation.
The above examples suggest that there are many reasons why someone might wait around to be shot. Here is a short list of some of the key factors that might get us into this mode and keep us there.
- We’re in a comfort zone and naturally we’d like to linger.
- Alternatives are uncertain, and we’re not budging until we’re certain the grass is greener on the other side.
- We really don’t know what we might do to better our position, and perhaps we don’t appreciate why it’s important to do so.
- Unfortunately, we’ve settled for less, it’s meager, but it seems to be enough to get by.
- There have yet to be serious consequences for our less than responsible behavior.
- We haven’t hit bottom, or we don’t recognize it when we do.
- We’re being enabled to be less responsible.
- We’d rather play it out to the end so our choices are limited; decision-making is basically done for us.
A lengthy article could be written about each one of the above items, but let me take a shorter route by offering four pieces of advice for those who might know someone who is waiting to be shot or repeatedly shooting themselves in the financial foot.
- Be deliberate and proactive. Don’t wait for things to happen to you, instead, make them happen for you by being deliberate about it. Success in any endeavor isn’t going to settle in around you, you’ll have to make it happen. That will require a can-do attitude and a reasonable plan.
- Plan it and follow through. I’m big on planning because it’s always worked well for me. Once you know where you’re headed, it’s easier to make good choices that can help make certain you get to where you’d like to be. And, there’s no sense working hard until you have a reasonable plan for achieving your objectives.
- Don’t settle for being a victim. I’ve often thought that there are really only three basic roles we can play in our lives, that of villain, victim or victor. In my mind, the idea of being a villain is out. Being a victim is also out of the question because it often makes you a pawn in someone else’s game, and it’s easy to become increasingly dependent on others and unable to manage your own life…how pitiful. So, the selection should be clear, it’s the victor that one should strive to be, one who succeeds based on their own initiative.
- Know the company you keep. If you’re following the advice of others, make sure they represent good examples of success. Their success should be based on following their own advice. If you hang around smart people, and you’re receptive and perceptive, their shine will likely rub off on you. On the flip side, whether it’s ditching a bad business partner, walking away from a draining relationship, or turning your back on others who are intent on riding on your back, it’s sometimes best to cut your losses by getting rid of human tar babies. In other words, instead of waiting to be shot, sometimes it’s others who need to be shot.
Could we simply be waiting around to be shot, or are we “looking alive” and trying our best to stay that way? When it comes to our personal finances, are we on top of the game, letting it slide, or waiting around to see what happens next? Do we have a plan, is it reasonable and achievable, or are we going to let the economic winds blow us where they may? Is our attitude that of achievement, accepting challenges, just holding our own, or are we more inclined to simply give up? Do we have a mentor or role model, are we surrounding ourselves with good examples, are friends and family a source of encouragement, or do we have a monkey on our back?
There are as many answers to these questions as there are people, and it’s only important that you answer the questions honestly for yourself. To do anything less is to cut short your chances for success. There are many paths that one might take to get out of debt, accumulate wealth, live comfortably, and otherwise have the financial means to enjoy a self-chosen lifestyle. Many paths lead to success, and as long as we stay on one that’s reasonable, we’ll at least we’re not simply standing around waiting to be shot.
And, if you know someone whose approach to personal finance includes standing around waiting to be shot, it might be best to step away from them and keep your distance.