Posted in Money on November 14th, 2017
Erich Hartmann tops the list of the greatest fighter pilots of all time with 352 victories in the air and during a time in which weapons and aircraft were unreliable. Erich’s fighting style and vision shows us techniques that we can use with money regardless of whether we agree with all of his views – like Genghis Khan, we can learn many virtues from him. Like Alexander Suvorov going undefeated in all his battles throughout his life, Erich never lost a dogfight – the only time he had to emergency land was when debris from other planes hit his plane.
1. Temerity creates accuracy. Erich’s fighting strategy involved closing on his enemies quickly where there was little distance between him and his enemy, then shooting down the enemy plane. Since the distance was close, his enemies couldn’t adjust or dodge his fire in time, giving Erich the kill easily. This required significant temerity since the enemies’ planes would throw debris at Erich, which resulted in him being forced to land on occasion. But Erich knew this that even with this risk – which could have killed him – the close distance made him more accurate.
With money, many people avoid taking risks to avoid loss, while guaranteeing that they lose by missing opportunities. Part of personal finance involves risk – we simply can’t avoid it. Avoiding risk not only hurts us with money, there’s a growing body of evidence that it may negatively impact us biologically by reducing testosterone levels and having other effects on our psychology. When we consider taking risks, like Erich, we should take risks that have big payoffs not small. If we lose on our risk, we at least lost because of a possible large opportunity; a small opportunity for a risk is unbalanced and a sign of weakness. This would be like Erich closing in on his target to scare them off, not shoot them down – why take the risk of getting that close to an enemy not to down him?
2. We are our vision.. Whether we like it or not, we are our vision. All personal finance starts here, even if we try to run from our own vision or procrastinate from our own vision. When Erich was captured by the Soviet Union, the Soviets tried all kinds of tactics to turn him into a communist. He refused. In fact, at one point he accepted that he would die before turning and the Soviets finally gave up and allowed him to live. Even though Erich was captured at 23 and had a low probability of survival – considering his captors were Soviets – he lived into his 70s. Erich stuck to his vision, while many people around him capitulated hoping to save themselves or to reduce their pain.
I see people change their vision all the time when they face persuasion, which ends up causing them to lose energy as they try to make a switch. A great example here is marriage: many minimalists “give up” when they marry someone who isn’t a minimalist. Rather than filter out people who aren’t minimalists, they try to make something work with someone who is incompatible with them financially. Given that finance is one of the major causes for divorce, this is reckless as it increases the probability of stress and divorce. We are our vision. If we change our vision to suit other things in our lives, what are we saying about ourselves?
How committed we are to our vision shows when events don’t go our way, or when prosperity tries to distract us. Both adversity and prosperity are distractions: only our vision matters.
3. We are never too young to be on top. Erich was born in 1922 and became the top ace in the period of 1939-1945. This means that at his oldest as an ace, he was 23. In order to become the top ace consider that he:
Erich knew what he wanted to do (vision) and he lived his life with that sole purpose. Even before becoming the top fighter pilot of all time, he was a flight instructor at age 14. Also, stop and consider that the top ace of all time never exceeded 23 years of age at his peak (since the war ended and he was captured by the Soviet Union, it was not for lack of trying).
When it comes to money, people love to make excuses why they’re not successful – “I need a degree” or “I need to live in the right city.” Erich couldn’t change his age when he joined the war and anyone could have laughed him out of the room as a “kid” because he was young. Yet, the “kid” ended up becoming the top ace of all time. He didn’t let his age hold him back and he faced all kinds of mockery about his age (other pilots mocked his age). So we don’t have something we feel that we need? Let’s be the first person to get past that hurdle so that we can tell a great story.
4. Challenging times build the greatest people. Erich was born during the Great Depression, which I like to call the Great Opportunity, as more people born and raised during that era became successful than at any other time. The most challenging times are the greatest times for growth; be glad every time you face a challenging moment, as you will grow as a person and build character. Like most people change their vision to suit their needs (weakness), some people change their “personality” to suit their needs because they lack character and vision. Even through the Great Depression, Erich did not – he wanted to fly from an early age.
Good times can distract us and bad times can derail us. We will never automatically rise to challenging occasions when we face them; we must constantly practice these so that we’re ready. Still, when we face these moments, we should remind ourselves that challenging times offer the most potential for growth.
Erich Hartmann was the greatest fighter pilot of all time and it’s unlikely we’ll see someone as great as him, given that technology has made it much easier to shoot down planes, but also means it’s less of a challenge. We can take the meat of Erich’s life while spitting out the bones and learn that our vision overcomes all excuses, that we should be strengthened in challenging times, and that we should always consider the bold action with a large payoff over the moderate action with a small payoff.