Personal Finance

The flip side of motivation

“Motivation alone is not enough.” – Jim Rohn

Last week I was invited to attend a motivational seminar. If you’ve read many of my posts, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a big fan of many things connected to personal growth and so, it won’t surprise you to learn that I was excited to go to an event which boasted a good line-up of speakers and some interesting topics.

The theme of the event was the motivation and each speaker was supposed to be sharing materials that would encourage the audience to step up and take action. However, it became obvious early on that they were much more focused on getting people fired up and excited than they were on actually giving them actionable material to channel their energy into. In fact, the only truly actionable suggestions that were made during the whole day were during the 50-minute sales pitches, which were sandwiched between each 20-minute speaker segment.

Motivation needs action

For me, this is a problem because I believe the hallmark of a great seminar, keynote or presentation is whether it gives you practical tools and strategies that you can take away and use to make a shift in your life. It’s not hard for a good speaker to connect with an audience, build a rapport and get people fired up and excited about their own abilities and the possibilities that exist around them. Taking that energy and using it to up-sell a product or training course cheats the audience out of the opportunity to take action right away and instead reinforces the idea that they need more information, more training, more coaching before they’re equipped to take action. While learning more and developing skills is rarely a waste of time, it can also be misused by trainers as a way to foster dependency – each course you take leads to another opportunity to learn even more, by taking another course.

Related article: Principles of implementation

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken some great courses that were introduced to me while I was attending another seminar or workshop. I do think that selling can add value to an event but only if it’s accompanied by good quality, actionable content. I believe that anyone attending a workshop (or reading a blog post) should be able to walk away afterward not just with an inspiration boost, but with real information and the tools to turn that information into actionable steps regardless of whether or not they bought anything.

Be wary of “shortcuts”

It’s like the proverb says: giving someone a fish feeds them for a day but teaching them to fish feeds them for a lifetime. Unfortunately, there is money to be made in teaching people to depend on you for their fish and this is why the financial services industry has spent years convincing people that they don’t have the necessary tools and understanding to manage their own money. It’s not true. Managing money isn’t rocket science, it just takes a little knowledge, a little planning, and a little discipline. However, one thing that became really clear to me during the day I spent at this event, was that a lack of knowledge makes people incredibly vulnerable to misinformation and far too eager to jump at the chance to take very risky short cuts to wealth.

Related article: Financial planning is a road map

Catch your own fish

So how do we protect ourselves from being misled? In a nutshell, we need to get irritated by the fact that our lack of knowledge or lack of interest makes us vulnerable and we need to use that irritation as the motivation to get educated about topics that affect our financial health. Finally, we need to “catch our own fish” by stepping up and taking action; taking ownership and control of our finances. I’m not saying that you should become a financial whiz or take courses in taxes and accounting (unless you really want to!). What I’m suggesting is that investing a little time in understanding your personal cash flow, setting clear financial goals and making conscious choices about how much of your money is saved and spent each month is an investment that will pay you huge dividends. Likewise, taking the time to understand simple investment concepts such as compound interest and how management fees impact your investment returns will help you evaluate which institution you should invest your money in order to have it work as hard as possible to grow your nest egg and not your advisor’s. You don’t have to become an active investor and watch your portfolio like a hawk; there are plenty of options for passive investors who prefer to take a more ‘hands-off’ approach with their money. All you have to do is arm yourself with enough knowledge to protect yourself from people who are looking to profit from your ignorance.

The habits that lead to wealth are simple but not necessarily easy and, outside of a lottery win, there really aren’t any short cuts. However, that doesn’t stop people looking for them and it definitely doesn’t stop others from coming up with ways to profit from the searchers. To me, this seems like a darn good reason to arm yourself with a little knowledge!

If it seems too good to be true…

Each of the small pieces of information you absorb will combine to give you more knowledge (and more confidence). This means that (hopefully) if you happen to encounter someone on a stage, trying to convince you that no-one is making money from mutual funds but that you can average a 15-30% return by simply accessing a web-based tool that will tell you when to buy and sell, you won’t be tempted to leap out of your seat, run to the stage and hand over $99USD to learn how it works!

Related article: Building wealth is simple, not easy

So beware of people making promises that seem too good to be true because chances are they are! Instead, I challenge you to learn a little more about how you can put your money to work and get involved a little more in making sure that it’s you that it’s working hardest for.

If you have any thoughts, insights or cautionary tales you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!


  1. James Bacon

    Thanks. This is one of your best columns yet. You very clearly shown that there is a distinction between ‘free’ seminars that are really about ‘selling’ easy methods or supposed shortcuts to wealth, and seminars that are about personal growth and responsibility for taking charge of ones own financial destiny. Thanks for your insights and experience.

  2. Claude Mayrand

    I agree with James, Sarah, another fine article and an appropriate one for preparing one’s retirement.

    You mentioned “Managing money isn’t rocket science, it just takes a little knowledge, a little planning and a little discipline.”

    Managing money is like managing grocery shopping. One uses only a small portion of what’s available on grocery store shelves. And most of those purchases are repeats of something tried and deemed tasty, suitable.

    Preparing meals doesn’t require one to be a chef. Eventually you’ll prepare more than PB&J sandwiches.

    Financial products and services have evolved dramatically over the decades, and they’re still changing; look at Mutual Funds being criticized fro their fees for instance.

    Money is a bartering product; time and knowledge are exchanged for a pay cheque, pay cheques are exchange for food and lodging and, dare I… retirement.

    Money can also work to accumulate capital from pay cheques, and then work to generate income from that capital.

    May I just add that some myths have been propagated by too many advisors. It is simply not true that the CPP will run out. It is not true that the CPP is a pension plan. The CPP and OAS and GIS are supplements to a personal pension plan designed to cover shortfalls and emergencies.

    Desire must be added to “a little knowledge, a little planning and a little discipline.”

    Desire is the match that’ll get those lackadaisical procrastinators fired up about building retirement capital.

  3. Dave

    CPP is a pension plan only available to workers who have contributed. I don’t understand why you would not consider it a pension plan by itself, but I agree it should only be part of the overall plan.

    OAS is only available to 95% of age 65 and over. It does not matter whether you have ever paid taxes or worked. If you’re 65 and breathing with the required years in Canada you get some or all of it.

    GIS is just additional non taxable Welfare for low income people and the rules seem rather bizarre when its applied to those who only receive a portion of OAS because of less than 40 years in Canada.

    Interestingly taxpayer paid health care is something Canadians don’t think of as part of the plan. As we age the cost of health care to the individual may well become a greater individual benefit than CPP/OAS/and GIS combined. The increasing numbers of people 65 plus who only receive CPP/OAS/GIS and therefore don’t pay income taxes is a looming problem. We’re living longer receiving CPP/OAS/GIS, and in most cases living longer because ever increasing, expensive medical procedures/drugs sustain us.

    • Claude Mayrand


      The amounts are too small, especially for a single person, to be considered a sufficient income for a pensioner – an income that doesn’t even cover the real inflation rate.

      As you point out, there’s a financial sustainability issue for government assistance for low income retirees. For instance, in BC if your income is too low, health care premiums are forgiven and most prescriptions are free.

      As to paying taxes, there are many tax-advantaged income sources for retirees – TFSAs for example.

  4. Melissa Yuan-Innes, M.D.

    This is true about the health industry as well. As a doctor and author of a book on back pain, I find that some patients want a magic cure-all. To use your analogy, they want me to give them the fish, or at least strong pain-killers. This works as a crutch, but to prevent recurrent or chronic pain, you’ve got to educate yourself and exercise.

    Then, as part of the education, you’ve got everyone from Great Aunt Minerva to some “expert” hawking a vitamin/needle/oil/pill that only costs $49.99. Just as with finances, you’ve got to sort through all the information and pseudo information, figuring out what helps you and what doesn’t.

    Good luck to everyone in finances and in health!

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