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Big Picturing

I get a lot of emails from people asking me how to make money. How does one start a business? How does one sell a product?

Yes, there are things a person can do that makes earning money more likely. But why? Why do these people want this money? What will they do with it?

When I ask people this question, I usually get something trite or borrowed from tech conference lingo.

“I want to change the world by providing (insert something here that probably won’t change the world, it will just earn them money).”

“I want to change the world by (insert something here that impacts other people who work in the tech industry, and who can afford to live in the nice parts of big cities, but is irrelevant to anyone outside of that tiny circle).”

“I want to change the world by (insert clone of idea someone else already had here).”

Don’t get me wrong: I think there can be value, for someone, in any business idea. And in the hands of some people, money is a marvelous tool. It’s something that allows them to be more fulfilled and happy as an individual, and will perhaps even speed their pace toward a goal that they truly care about: a cause that will be furthered because they now wield more monetary influence.

But that’s not why people typically want to earn a bunch of money. The money is the goal, and how they get it is somewhat immaterial.

Yes, they’ll parrot the “We’re going to change the world by…” phrases that they’re supposed to say, but their actual goals end at, “Earn a bunch of money.”

They’re betting that they’ll either be happy as soon as they’re wealthy, or they’ll be able to swing that bag of cash around until they hit something that makes life worth living.

This is why, these days, when people ask me how they can start up a business or earn more money, I tell them things that may, at first, seem off-topic.

I ask them to take a step back and figure out why they want the money, and how much they think they need to achieve their actual goal. I ask them if the business or product or service they’re considering is a means to a monetary end, or an end unto itself; something inherently worth doing.

I tell them to read fiction. It helps you empathize with those outside of your default social group and can help you imagine possibilities beyond concrete reality.

I tell them to travel. Whether you experience new geographies and new cultures, or just try new things, new lifestyles, and new ways of thinking in your own backyard, expanding your horizons helps you see the world from novel perspectives, and those perspectives will help you figure out your ‘why’s.

I tell them to focus on being happy with what they have now. If you can achieve happiness before earning fat stacks of cash, you’ll be less likely to sacrifice the most important things in your life for more money (because you’re not desperate to find something that will fulfill you). You’ll also be more likely to spend that money wisely, and on things that actually matter to you, rather than swinging that cash-bag around, hoping to have someone else hand you prepackaged fulfillment.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with money, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing more of it if doing so will help you become more you and allow you to do more of what makes you feel alive. It’s also important to have enough so that you can keep a roof over your head and food on the table: I’m certainly not suggesting that the desire to have any money is a waste of time, particularly when it allows us to sustain the fundamentals.

Just make sure you know why you’re pursuing it. That you see the big picture and allow it to guide your steps.

Make sure that you’re not running in the same direction as everyone else, not because you want to get where they’re going, but because following the crowd is the easiest option when you have no idea where you want to be.

Update: April 21, 2017

I’ve gotten pushback on this concept from some of the people who asked for this type of advice. Some of the responses amount to, “That’s not what I asked you, I want a trick that will help me earn a million dollars overnight. Enough of this hippy bullshit.”

Thankfully, most of the responses imply the person on the other end of these messages get it, and realize that a perspective shift in this regard can be useful, and isn’t a barrier to wealth, but rather a reassessment of it.

There’s not much I can do about the former group, as I was there once, too, and I may have responded the same way. But the latter group is heartening: perhaps they’ll be able to avoid some of the mistakes I (and many people like me) have made in the past.