Quick question: how many people do you know whose life ambition is to make a whole lot of money?
Probably quite a few; I can think of a dozen without even trying. It’s a very common theme to want lots of dough, especially in the consumer-centric United States. Having lots of money is associated with having lots of class, style, sexy friends, and fancy cars. Rich people eat the best food, travel in private jets, wear the most daring clothing, and life the fullest lives.
And in some cases, this stereotype is true. Some people who have lots of money also lead very full lives, enjoying almost every moment, waking up in the morning, and looking forward to the day.
In many, many cases, however, rich people are unhappy. Very unhappy. So unhappy in fact, that they end up getting themselves into all kinds of scandals, constantly seek new and dangerous situations, and essentially throw themselves at anything or anyone who they think will make them FEEL something.
But why!? Why would these people who have all this money — which is ostensibly the yardstick of a person’s success — want to do these crazy things? Why can’t they just be happy?
It’s because they are treating money as life’s purpose, rather than as the means of achieving a richer life. Instead of thinking “what can I do with the money that I have?” they are thinking “what can I do to get more money?”
This kind of lifestyle is a dreadful misallocation of a person’s most valuable resource: time.
If you want to have a healthy relationship with money, look at it as an IOU. Your paper currency is a representation of your effort that you can exchange for the effort of someone else. You are converting your hard work into things that you want and experiences that you want to have. Going after money for money’s sake is a waste of time and effort.
At its best, money allows you to influence events and move the world, even if just a little bit. One hundred dollars, thoughtfully applied, can lead to the most important experience of your life. On the other hand, one million dollars that is wasted away on pointless frivolities could go completely unnoticed in the grand scheme of things, as well as your own mental scrapbook.
So before you start making goals that include ‘making $1 million’ or ‘getting a job that pays me $100,000 per year,’ think it through and be sure you know what the trade off is.
You don’t want to be stuck trading your most precious commodity — your time — in the pursuit of paper IOU’s. Governments can always print more money, but every second you spend is a second you can never get back.
Money is a means, not an end. When spending your time, always make sure the exchange rate is in your favor.
Update: May 9, 2016
This is still a topic I feel pretty strongly about and discuss a lot in my writings and talks. This is partially because I was the guy who wanted to make a million bucks — that was the peak of the pyramid I was building, and I hadn’t really thought past that monetary goal. Set up some kind of studio in LA, get a bunch of big, impressive clients, and make a million bucks. Then? No idea. My ambitions were limited to achieving the means to purchase a lot of stuff.
There’s a hint of some ideas I borrowed from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in here, too. Yes, I know, there’s a lot wrong with her ideology and her work, but I loved the hero’s journey lilt to her work, the mythologizing of the industrious human being. Her work gave me some words to describe some things I had thought but had no words for, previously. It was during my first year of travel that I started to read other interpretations of her work, and heard some things she’d said about it elsewhere, particularly outside her fiction, which kind of tainted the whole shebang for me. But my original interpretation of her words, particularly what she had to say about money (and the power of making and using money instead of guns) had a significant impact on how I was then, and, frankly, how I am now.