Lynyrd Skynyrd was Right: Be a Simple Man

Man Playing Acoustic Guitar

I was driving home from work last week and one of my favorite songs came on the radio: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man.  It’s a beautiful song about a son recalling his mother’s advice on how to live his life to the fullest.  I hadn’t heard the song played since before I started the blog, and as I was listening it got me thinking.  While a lot of the wisdom in the lyrics is just great life advice, there’s a strong overlap with financial independence as well.

It pretty much perfectly encapsulates the mindset one needs in order to be successful in achieving financial independence.  Not to make a bunch of money and be able to afford pretty much anything you want.  Rather, to ignore the superfluous and be content with the life you lead.

Here are the lyrics to the song, along with my thoughts on where they intersect with the personal finance/financial independence mindset.  If you aren’t familiar with the song, you owe it to yourself to listen to the original version.  Just as good (and maybe even a bit better in my opinion) is the acoustic cover by Shinedown.  Enjoy!

Mama told me when I was young

“Come sit beside me, my only son

And listen closely to what I say

And if you do this it’ll help you some sunny day”

“Oh, take your time, don’t live too fast

Slow down, enjoy the ride a little bit.  It seems the world is moving faster and faster every single day.  Why?  I think a big part is because not a lot of people have been bitten by the FIRE bug.  They spend effectively everything they earn, but want to buy more and more.  They need to work more and more just to keep up.

Employers know this and use that against their employers by loading them up with work and expecting longer hours.  Family time and time for yourself gets crowded out.  But if you need the money, you don’t have a choice and you keep on running.

Having a choice is the main value of a FIRE mentality in my opinion, even if you choose to still work.  You control the speed of the treadmill based on your needs, not having someone set it for you based on theirs.

Troubles will come and they will pass

We all struggle with daily challenges, but remember to keep perspective: this too shall pass.  It’s corny, but your lifetime-to-date survival rate is 100%.  We’re still over 4 billion years away from the sun not coming up tomorrow, so whatever you’re going through, you’ll have another day to tackle it.  It’s all about keeping perspective and not letting today’s concerns derail tomorrow’s goals.

Another follow-on to this thought is how we react to the struggles we have in our lives.  A lot of things – being laid off, the stock market tanking – we can’t control.  But we can control how we respond to those challenges.  One of my mentors had a great line that’s stuck with me to this day: “The test of a man is not whether his life lacks adversity, but how he responds to the adversity inherently there.”  Powerful stuff from a 7th grade football coach.

You’ll find a woman and you’ll find love

And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above”

Have faith, even if it’s just in yourself.

“And be a simple kind of man

Why do we need to complicate our lives with extra burdens?  At the end of the day humans really only need air, water, food and shelter in order to biologically survive.  Because we’re social beings, security and companionship get added to the list.  But that’s still only six core things, and doesn’t include a fancy car or house.

Once you’ve got the basics covered, really question your motivation for extending further.  What itch are you trying to scratch?

Oh, be something you love and understand

To thy own self, be true.  You can only live your life, not someone else’s.  No amount of wealth or financial security or prosperity means a thing if you aren’t comfortable in your own skin.

I also think this really speaks to the need for self-reflection.  Understanding what motivates you will help you align your actions.  The “why” of wanting financial independence is arguably more important than the “how” of achieving financial independence.  I’ll admit, I’ve struggled with this one.  One of my biggest fears is that when I finally get there, I’ll look back and ask myself, “I did all of this for what, again?”

Baby be a simple kind of man

Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can”

“Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold

An eloquent way of saying don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s.  Unless you’re Warren Buffett Bill Gates Jeff Bezos, there will always be someone with more gold than you.  There’s been scientific research showing that you likely aren’t the richest, making the most money, etc. even within your own circle of friends and acquaintances.  Bottom line, you’re chasing an goal you can’t achieve.  That’s energy that could have been productively spent elsewhere.

Notice that the line isn’t “don’t lust…” it’s “forget your lust…” instead.  It’s not saying that you can’t have desires, but rather you need to control them.

All that you need is in your soul

And you can do this, oh baby, if you try

All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied”

Being satisfied is the key.  It all gets back to expectations too.  Human happiness occurs when reality > expectations.  Set your expectations appropriately and you’ll be happy with the results.

“And be a simple kind of man

Oh, be something you love and understand

Baby be a simple kind of man

Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can”

“Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself

Nobody has everything figured out day one.  Learning is a process of trial and error.  Just keep striving to be your best self.

Follow your heart and nothing else

Only you can decide the life you want to live.  When you follow your heart and live your passions, you will lead a life of purpose and meaning.

And you can do this, oh baby, if you try

All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied”

“And be a simple kind of man

Oh, be something you love and understand

‘Baby be a simple kind of man

Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can”

All good words to live by, for sure.  Readers, what other songs do you think speak particularly to the financial independence mindset?  What do they say to you?

John started Present Value Finance in 2017 to share his experiences and insights on personal finance to help people make better decisions and take control of their financial lives.  

He achieved financial independence in 2016 by walking away from the high stress world of corporate finance to focus on his family. He’s a husband, father, family CFO, and all around finance geek.

He uses Personal Capital* to track his spending, investments and investments for free and recommends you do too.* Affiliate link.

5 comments

  1. This is one of my favorite songs as well, both for the music and the message. I really long for a simple life with a small space surrounded by vast spaces and mountains. Someday…

    (now the song is stuck in my head!)

  2. Very nice. It is fun to listen to a song and relate it to your own life. As time goes by, songs also have different meanings because we develop. The same can be said for books or movies. I really like how you applied being a simple man to reaching FIRE.

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