One of my favourite Netflix shows is Last Chance U. It’s about Junior College Football in the US. In the States, College Football is a big thing. Talented kids get scholarships to go to the top colleges to play American Football with the dream of making it to the NFL. In Last Chance U, the show follows a small rural Community College team, made up of kids booted out of top schools or desperately searching for their last shot to land a scholarship and a path to the NFL.
Set in rural Kansas (earlier seasons in Mississippi), the environment is as far away as possible for the mostly black kids. Many have had brutal lives; football being their perceived best shot out of extreme deprivation. The show is bittersweet, in that some of what these kids have gone through is heartbreaking: death, drugs, abuse, broken homes. Then again, watching some of them succeed, despite all adversity, and get closer to their dreams is very inspiring.
I think there are lots of lessons we can take from the show on our journeys toward Financial Independence.
1. No matter your setback you can make it
Most of the kids have had tough lives. Lots have barely had any decent education. Almost all of them have been made to believe they are stupid because they are black/redneck/from a broken family. Getting the grades to get into college is no mean feat for them. Both academically, and psychologically.
In terms of Financial Independence, it’s also about overcoming those limiting beliefs: “I can’t do it.“, “Sounds great but I’d never be able to save that kind of money.” There are no inherent limitations stopping you reaching FI. Society tells us being in control of your financial future is too hard; that you should ‘live for today’. But that’s nonsense, just like those people who tell the kids they’re never gonna be smart, or pass their tests.
2. You need discipline and process
“Ignorance is life f–ing threatening, man, 89% of the NFL and NBA players are broke three years after they f—ing retire. Broke! Bankrupt! Flat broke! And if you think football is gonna pave the way for the rest of your life, you’re f—ing sadly mistaken.”
That’s the coach telling his team that even the guys that make it big often end up bankrupt. It’s shocking how many professional sports persons end up broke. It’s the same in Soccer (Football to us Brits). A lot of it is down to discipline and process. Many of the kids have never had discipline in their lives. They come from chaotic backgrounds. Their pure athletic skill meant they got a pass through lots of life.
That chaos ain’t good for life, and it ain’t good for your financial plans. Just like the kids need discipline and process to get their grades, and improve their football skills; we need discipline and process to keep our finances in order. Sure some people are able to wing it and get to Financial Independence (in many ways, that’s kinda what happened for me). But, even then, you need a process otherwise all that money will slip through your fingers, just like it does for retired athletes.
3. Being the best means nothing
The best player on the team was the star Quarterback. But apparently, at the conclusion of the show, he had yet to get offers from a top school. Throughout the show, it’s the determined kids that come good, even if they are not as good on the field.
It’s the same with Financial Independence. You can earn mega bucks, but without the right attitude you’ll never save enough and fall into a lifestyle trap. Spending every pay rise on increasingly dumb stuff.
4. When you get knocked down – get back up
That Quarterback could really have done with listening to Tubthumping. His big weakness was he didn’t like getting hit – a pretty big flaw in football. But sometimes you’ve got to take the hits and get back up again. Getting knocked down sucks. But, even though it is cliche, those setbacks make you stronger. You learn from them.
As an aside, the Quarterback had a real pushy dad – and it’s clear he’s suffering from some kind of depression or mental illness. His heart wasn’t in playing, and his dad was a total d*ck to him. If your heart isn’t in something, when things go wrong you’re gonna want out. Financial Independence isn’t for everyone, it’s got to be right for you.
5. Quiet determination
This is in stark contrast to the team’s lead Running Back. Throughout the show, he’s calm, cool and not flash. He doesn’t get into fights, he just gets on with it. He has a rough start. It isn’t until halfway through the season he becomes a regular starter. But he was always quietly supporting his teammates, even when they scored at his expense. He actively avoided the camera and a telling moment was that when he asked if he’ll announce his big offer on the radio, he asked if he could not say anything.
Financial Independence can be lonely, and contrary to lots of the big blogs out there, it can be a lonely pursuit. You might lose some friends, a lot of people will be jealous and try to shame you. But it’s important to quietly get on with it and not let other people get on your back.
6. Financial Independence is a backroom pursuit
Perhaps the most telling thing about the show is what you don’t see. Many of the kids love the camera, but many of the top offers went to players that barely featured on film. I presume they just got on with things and sorted out what they needed to behind the scenes.
That’s a lot like Financial Independence. When you make it there ain’t no award or big public celebration. In fact, it might be that nobody even knows it’s happened. A lot of the FI stuff is in the backroom: saving, investing, the discipline. That’s the heavy lifting, not the showy stuff.
7. Football and Financial Independence is a privilege
In one scene, the Coach tells one of his players in a delightfully tasteful way that: “he’s not trying to f*ck [him over]”. He makes the point that the kid has a great deal, with lots of people rooting for him, because out in the real world a lot of people will be trying to screw you over – especially if you’re black. That goes too if you’re a woman, ethnic minority, or just don’t ‘fit in’. If you mope, the Man will wipe the floor with you. The Establishment doesn’t give a damn about you feeling sorry for yourself.
Football and Financial Independence are a privilege. We’re lucky to partake. Sure things go wrong. But, ultimately it’s a great way to stick a finger up at the Establishment. And nobody can stop you from becoming FI but you.
Enough preaching from me
I really enjoy the show, and I’m not really into NFL or football. If you’ve got Netflix I’d recommend watching it. But do be warned, there is a lot of swearing. And I mean a lot (the coach in season 3 would make Tarantino blush). So if you don’t like foul language, this ain’t gonna be for you. Likewise, whilst there are some heroes on the show, the behaviour of the coaches can leave a lot to be desired.
Anyway, thanks for reading.
All the best,
Young FI Guy