Grand Admiral Thrawn: Life And Financial Lessons

There are many articles online about financial lessons that can be learned from Star Wars. What makes this one different? Well, it’s the one article to rule them all (sorry wrong franchise). Today we’re not going to be talking about tired Yoda or Luke quotes (sorry gentleman), instead we are going to visit the dark side of the force and the light side of finance, and review what can be learned from the Empires’ best tactical mind, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

In celebration of Star Wars Day, I flashed the geek signal and reached out to my own Inferno Squad (best of the best) to bring you the wisdom of Thrawn!


Grand Admiral Thrawn

Note, if you have not read Timothy Zhan’s excellent book Thrawn, below will contain some spoilers, go and pick up a copy and read it, I’m not going anywhere.

About Thrawn

Thrawn had an impressive military mind, and he rose to the position of grand admiral in the imperial navy in just a few years. He achieved remarkable military victories over the rebels and consistently was two steps ahead of them. Thrawn was a tactical mastermind and brilliant planner; he was renowned for his ability to see opportunity and patterns others couldn’t.

It would surprise no one if he saved a significant portion of his imperil pay and he routinely invested in highly appreciating art and antiques. It’s clear he would have reached FIRE (Financial Independent Retire Early) well before it was time to collect imperial social security, (spoiler alert) if he hadn’t been sucked out to beyond by hyperspace jumping space whales. 


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Melissa Blevins, Practical Money Tips for the Free-Spirited Nerd:   

“No battle plan can anticipate all contingences. There are always unexpected factors, including those stemming from the opponent’s initiative.  A battle thus becomes a balance between plan and improvisation, between intellect and reflex, between error and correction.” -Thrawn

Life is going to throw some “Scum and villainy” in your direction. There’s no doubt about that. You can plan, budget, diversify and still end up losing. How will you recover if you lose your job? What can you do if you end up going through a nasty divorce, and it costs you most of your life savings?

Life isn’t only about planning for the future. It’s about being prepared but reacting and recovering from the mistakes and mishaps.  Of course you should have an emergency fund and plan for the future, but by having a positive mindset and being able to bounce back in the face of danger, you can recover from the battles of life.


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Dave, Financial Journeyman 

“No one is immune from failure. All have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disappointment.  A warrior must not dwell on that failure, but must learn from it and continue on”. – Thrawn 

Failure is part of the process.  Even when we visualize ourselves not taking any chances and covering all of our bases, failure still occurs.  No one likes to fail.  It is a humbling experience.  Most situations that end in failure are not a total loss.  Many situations that appear to be a total failure end up being only a short-term loss.  The paradox of a short-term failure is that it can end up becoming a long term success for those who are wise enough to continue on.

To achieve long-term success, failure needs to be viewed as a lesson and not a loss. By learning from what did not go according to plan in the past becomes as a guide for future success.  Those who are destined for long-term success will embrace failure as a teacher.  Even though it might be painful, that pain is a great motivator for change.  Those who do not embrace this lesson will continue to fail in succession.

Everyone who is on the journey toward financial independence has experienced failure.  It might have been in the beginning of their journey when they decided that they wanted to retire early, but when they looked at their finances they saw big debts and little savings.  Instead of looking at their financial situation as a failure, they learned from their past mistakes and focused on spending less, paying down debt, and increasing their savings rate so they were able to free up money to invest.

On the flip side, it might have been the person who was nearing retirement and had too much of their assets in risky investments prior to a market crash. Instead of selling low, they continued to buy low.  They saw the drop in stock prices as an opportunity to buy value and not as a failure. They might have had to postpone their early retirement, but by waiting they were able to reallocate more of their money into more conservative investments after their stocks recovered in value.

Failure occurs.  Don’t dwell on it.  Analyze it and identify where you made errors.  Use those errors as the driving force for positive change.


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Robert, Real Money Robert   

“One whose path has taken a new turn is often initially disorientated. But as time passes, and the path continues steadily in its new direction, there is a tendency to believe that it will remain so forever, with no further turns.” –Thrawn

Oftentimes in life, as well as in finances, things change.  Our circumstances change and all of this change affects our finances.  These financial changes can leave us in a state of confusion or panic, and can often lead to poor decisions being made.

When these changes occur, as Grand Admiral Thrawn mentions, we are left in a disoriented state.  Maybe you lost your job.  Maybe you just had a new child.  Maybe you are going through a divorce.  Maybe your Jedi Master just got sliced in half by Darth Maul.  Whatever the turn in life you are facing, people tend to get complacent, thinking that things will continue to remain steady.

However, this is not true.  Things will constantly change, and we need to be prepared for these changes.  Life changes are just one of the many reasons why it is so important to have an emergency fund saved.  This allows you to make good financial decisions during those periods of change, and help you stay focused in your financial journey until the next turn in life tries to throw you off.


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Aaron, Personal Finance for Beginners 

 “A great tactician creates plans. A good tactician recognizes the soundness of a plan presented to him. A fair tactician must see the plan succeed before offering approval. Those with no tactical ability at all may never understand or accept it.” – Thrawn

How does this apply to our personal finances?

  • Great tacticians = make our own financial decisions based on education and experience
  • Good tacticians = understand the basic principles (but not the nuances) behind others’ financial recommendations
  • Fair tacticians = follow our peers’ financial decisions because it seems to work for them

For the most part, everyone starts at the “fair tactician” level, mimicking the financial examples of our parents, friends, or coworkers. These examples can be good or bad ones – likely it’s a combination of both.

Fortunately, it’s possible to climb this “tactician ladder”  fairly quickly through personal education and the application of financial principles.

I’d like to say I’ve seen myself grow from a “fair tactician” to a borderline “good/great tactician” (depending on the topic) over the past 6-12 months.

Twice a year, my employer sets up times for us to meet with 401k advisors to discuss our retirement planning. In the past, I’ve always jumped to schedule a time to review my balance, contributions, and portfolio.

This spring, however, I was disappointed to realize I’d see little benefit from setting up an appointment. Why is that?

Over the past six months, I’ve learned everything I currently need to know about 401k’s. I’m taking advantage of the full employer match, deliberately choosing how my contributions are invested, and monitoring my balance more frequently than is helpful. While I may not be an expert on all things, I’ve moved from “fair” to “great” on this one topic.

So how can we improve our financial “tactical abilities?”

  • Read popular personal finance blogs and books that are well-reviewed
  • Spend time on your own personal finances… always be applying “lessons learned”
  • Connect with others – whether online or through local meetups – who share your financial goals

Stay consistent with your efforts to learn and apply new financial principles… you’ll be a “great tactician” before you know it!


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Ashley, Money Gravity 

‘The Soldier In the field and the crew member aboard a warship inevitably see a war from a limited perspective”. –Thrawn

Surrounding yourself with people with a similar perspective can leave you narrow-minded. It’s challenging to seek various solutions if everyone thinks inside “their own box”. You can see this pattern in many communities and social circles. People who associate and spend time together tend to think alike. Believe it or not, this can be not only harmful to your perspective of the world but your financial health as well.

Let’s say your social circle consists of your friends who work in corporate America. They work 9 to 5 and celebrate during the weekends. They don’t feel safe investing in the stock market, so they keep the majority of their money in cash. They don’t understand the concept of compounding interest and long-term investing. Since they are you aren’t exposed to any other perspective, you assume that is the only way to save for retirement. You are stuck without even knowing it.

Opening yourself to different social circles and perspectives will help you select the best strategy for your lifestyle and financial well-being. The more you expose yourself to other ideas and options the easier it will be to select what works for you. Sometimes our social circles hold us back without even realizing it.

Another way they can limit your perspective is their financial habits. If you never see them in the same car or they spend 4 nights a week out to dinner, you could find it challenging to keep up with them. This not only creates toxic financial habits but it drains your budget.

Create a social circle or community of people who have similar goals and interests and can help you expand your own reality.

Meet someone new. Expand your financial knowledge. Seize the day!


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Stephanie, Xennial Blogger 

“Each person has goals. Some of those goals are open, visible to all who care to observe. Others are more private, shared only with one’s closest friends or associates. Some are dark secrets that one hopes will never see the light of day. But eventually, inevitably, those deepest goals must be made manifest if they are to be reached. They must be opened for someone to hear, or see, or offer assistance. Everyone who brings those goals into the light must be prepared for either acceptance or rejection. And he must be ready to bear the consequences. All of them.”    – Grand Admiral Thrawn

Well said, isn’t it? Our thoughts and words echo into the universe, and the universe is there to provide us with what we ask for. This is why we need to be mindful of what we say, think and ask for. Be grateful for the things and opportunities we have. Be mindful of our quests.

How does this relate to personal finance? Personal finance is personal. More simply put, it’s about that person. You. Me. Him. Her. We all have goals in our personal lives, and we all have dreams and desires that include money.

Today, we need to acknowledge what is in our heart and on our minds. Write down those goals, and share them. Post them in your home. Tell your friends and family what you wish to accomplish. Tell the universe.

Money isn’t inherently evil – let it assist you in being the most authentic you that you can be. Remember that the universe can take time to bring you what you ask for, and it can truly come in different shapes and sizes than we’d expect.

The best advice I can give you is to take the time. Take the time to learn your real dreams and goals, and take the time necessary to make them happen. Let the universe direct the results to you, because if you are true in your desires, they will come true. Be careful what you wish for, and be ready to accept what comes.

May the force of the universe be with you and your dreams, always, on this day.


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Some Final Words

My fellow bloggers offer some great advice.

Thrawn is not only a great Star Wars book, it’s an excellent book in its own right. The lessons in the book could easily be taught in any business or management school, and similar to the book Starship Troopers, Thrawn would feel at home on the Navy commandants reading list. Thrawn can be seen as a metaphor of the American dream. I’m sure Timothy Zhan didn’t intend for that.

Thrawn joined the Imperial Navy as a penniless alien. He rose to prominence on the results of his hard work against a backdrop of bigotry towards nonhumans. His management style was one of abundance; he knew the way to help himself was to help others.

He joined the Navy because he felt serving the Empire was the best way to look after his people, the Chiss. When Thrawn was confronted with advisories from within the Navy, he knew the Empire was best served by having those people reassigned to roles where the personalities would excel. He could have chosen to seek revenge or retribution instead.

Thrawn achieved success based on his own skill: a skill that was refined and developed through thought and training. He routinely isolated himself to contemplate and study.

Thrawn took every opportunity to make both his commanding officers and his subordinates look good. He commanded respect from the crew and those watching his career unfold not from political connections or ”hokey religions” but from the success built of hard work and sheer determination.


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Bonus tip for you “Rebel Scum”

Pete McPherson, Do You Even Blog

“Never tell me the odds.” – Han Solo

There will be times on your financial journey when you feel like progress is impossible.

Paying off massive debt, EARNING more, retiring before you die…there will be days when it seems like a huge struggle, and that your efforts are worthless.

Your efforts are not worthless.

Take a note from my good buddy Han, and forget the odds. Focus on the work ahead, and don’t give in to overwhelm.

It’s not impossible to crush your financial goals, it’s just difficult. Never tell me the odds.

Grand Admiral Thrawn

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