Lion or Lamb - Which One Would You Rather Be?

Yesterday I found myself sitting in a large room wondering why I was going to subject myself to a day of likely discomfort. Worse yet, I'd invited a friend to join me and I already felt bad for subjecting another human being to the experience that would likely follow.

How did end up in this situation? 

A month ago or so, I registered for this event, a motivational seminar. The tickets were free, though there were two attempts to upsell me in the days leading up to the event. The tickets included a free breakfast and lunch, which to me smelled of the timeshare rackets so many people get suckered into. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And for many people in attendance, that lunch turned out to be very expensive.

The seminar was a mix of Tony Robbins-style motivation—most of us would be lying if we said we couldn't use some of that rah-rah stuff on occasion—and step-right-up carny pitches. Nearly every speaker had something to sell: a DVD, a deeply discounted 3-day course, books…all accompanied by “act now” or “for a limited time only” messaging. 

Side note: I happen to really like our 2009 Rav4 Sport. Having had an expensive status-oozing car in the past, I think they’re an expensive nuisance that syphons away time and energy that could be put to better use.
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What bothered me most about the messaging was that the speakers, a crew of well-dressed, flashy men, focused on rags-to-riches personal stories, getting something for nothing, and the idea that being successful is all about the material rewards: luxury cars, luxury homes, luxury vacations, luxury [fill in the blank]. They even made fun of some of the cars they’d “seen” in the parking lot on the way in. I mean who wants to drive an eight-year-old beater when they can drive a Mercedes, a Porsche or even a Bentley? Right?

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One of the speakers shared a length story of his hunting trip in Africa (ahem, wrong crowd for that sir, but anyway) and how he was impressed by the confidence male lions exhibit, suggesting that we all need to develop the confidence to succeed, no matter our current situation. I couldn't agree more. We all needed the confidence to ignore his sales pitch! 

Each member of the flashy crew worked hard to create the imagery needed to ensure the call to action at the end of their presentation would be successful. And it worked. After each speaker, members of the audience flocked to heavily-staffed tables set up on each side of the stage, credit card or cash in hand, like lambs to the slaughter.

Why are people so gullible?

I left at 1:00pm, though the seminar lasted until 4:30pm. In that time, some folks had already spent $234 on merchandise and classes and there would be at least as much in the balance of the day. If they’d accepted the upgrade offers prior to the event, some of the people in attendance had already spent $343 for the priviledge of attending a “free” seminar. And the food? Let’s just say it was in line with what the organizers thought of us as an audience. 

Why are people so gullible? Hopelessness. Scarcity. When we feel we have too little of something—in this case success and/or money—we latch on to anything in our immediate reality that offers hope for something better. And when the solution is only $20 or $99, or $115—the cost of the first three offers—it feels within reach. What's proposed feels doable, affordable. Someone is going to show us a way out, a way of getting unstuck...and fast!

[S]elf-justification is more powerful and more dangerous than the explicit lie. It allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done. In fact, come to think of it, it was the right thing.
— Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made - But Not By Me (2007), p. 4.

As I watched people come back to their seats after every rush to the stage, I heard some of them already justifying their purchase, almost as though they knew it was too good to be true. But still, they just needed to believe in the dream, if only for a little while.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Most people, when directly confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously.
— Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made - But Not By Me (2007), p. 2.

I also wondered whether any of them realized they’d only taken the first step in what's known as an upsell funnel. The sales pitches for the classes included the invitation to “bring a friend or family member along for free”. By buying the first class, they had declared their gullibility. They would soon be sold on the need to sign up for monthly subscriptions to websites, coaching, audio and video tools, other seminars. In the up-sell funnel, the cost to learn the next level of “secrets” and “how tos” only increases. And, thanks to loss aversion, the momentum to continue is there to push them along. 

The Antidote

I sat there observing, my heart aching with empathy for those around me. The experience was a solid reminder of the armour I wear that offers immunity to the pitches, deals and offer that are too good to be true. That armour is a layer of fiscal peace of mind that protects me from the fantasies created by charlatans whose businesses are predicated on the fleecing of fools.

Fiscal peace of mind (by having reached some level of financial independence) is a powerful force that enables us to:

I may not have owned a Mercedes, but I owned my freedom.
— JL Collins, The Simple Path to Wealth, p. 32.
  • Smell a rat.
  • Spot the scam.
  • Find the bad apple.
  • Know when something sounds too good to be true.
  • Trust that gut feeling we have that something just doesn’t feel right. 

Not one of the speakers at that conference mentioned the personal empowerment that results from building up personal savings and what it can feel like to manage our lifestyle in a way that enables us to live debt free. There’s a good reason for that. Just as it isn’t very lucrative to sell the idea of eating lots of fruits and vegetables to be healthy, it isn't very lucrative to teach people what they already know: 

Spend less and save & invest the rest.

The big money is made by selling an illusion and it's nearly effortless thanks to the audience’s appetite for packaged solutions, systems and programs. People want to believe that success is complicated because it makes it easier to justify why they haven’t been doing what needs to be done. Learning a new system, a new program, a new approach can be a great tool for self-justification, procrastination, and even willful blindness.

I’m grateful to be living life with the peace of mind that financial security provides. And it takes less to start building up some personal armour than one might think. A good start would be the $400+ that some participants likely spent on smoke and mirrors yesterday. With 47% of Americans having difficulty coming up with $400 in an emergency, just setting that much aside could itself be life altering for many of us. 

Want more information about stepping toward financial independence? Check out this post for the six steps to follow to become 100% immune to the messages these and other bozos use to try to fleece us, the sheeple in their sights.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy this one: Are You A Hunter or a Grazer?


Image credit/copyright: Maggie Smith &  tiverylucky for lion pictures & Simon Howden for the lamb picture, all found on freedigitalphotos.net

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