A group of professional 20-somethings visited their favorite professor from university at his home. They complained about the stresses of young professional life and how hard it was to adjust to the rat race. The professor listened quietly and then asked them if they would like some coffee. They said yes.
He made some coffee and got out cups for everyone. Half of the cups were plain and plastic. The other half were his nicest and most expensive porcelain cups. He then invited the young adults up to pour themselves coffee.
The former students vied for the nice porcelain cups, negotiating, complaining, comparing and evaluating over who got what. Even after they sat down and began drinking the coffee, they were still eyeing each others cups and making jokes or comments about who got the nice ones and who didn’t.
The professor smiled and said, “You see? This is your problem. You are all arguing over who got to drink out of the nice cups, when all you really wanted was the coffee.”
The Definition of Wealth
I don’t own any property. I don’t own a suit, or a watch, or cologne. I don’t own a car. I haven’t owned a television in over 10 years and don’t want one. I have a small suitcase of clothes and a laptop. I consider myself to be an extremely wealthy individual.
That wealth comes from my experience; and the efficiency in which I’ve organized my life to achieve greater experiences.
I believe I come from a unique background when it comes to wealth. I grew up in a family with a lot of money. We had a massive house, swimming pool, expensive cars, expensive vacations. By the time I was eight my brother and I each had our own televisions and video game systems. By the time I was 10, we had our own computers. We each had two bedrooms and our own bathrooms. I attended expensive private schools and was given a car on my sixteenth birthday.
But for most of my childhood and adolescence, my family was miserable. My parents divorced, and my brother and I each went through our own episodes of trouble with the law.
I realize a lot of people grow up with more serious problems. And I don’t want to come across as the spoiled rich kid whining about how “Yeah, dad bought me a car, but he didn’t hug me enough.” Trust me, we have better things to talk about.
The point is I had the opportunity to witness first-hand for the first 20 years of my life that having a lot of money did not necessarily make people happy, and in some cases, it even wedges people apart and tortures them in subtle and silent ways.
Psychological studies on happiness in the past couple decades have supported this. Research shows that money correlates with happiness up until a middle-class income and after that, there’s no correlation between money and happiness. Happiness flatlines.
One recent study even suggests that making more money can decrease how much we enjoy normal, everyday activities, and inspire us to disconnect from those around us. Both of these factors can lead to greater unhappiness.
Now I don’t mean to get preachy. I realize this is a guide to wealth, not some lecture on the vices of greed. I’m not here to lecture you or moralize all day. Making money is great, I wholly endorse it. I love making money.
But it’s important to think about what the point of earning money is. Ideally, we want to make money so we can enjoy the “finer things” in life. What I’m questioning is what those “finer things” in life actually are.
What’s the point in having a gigantic house and a nice car if you’re never home to enjoy them? What’s the point of having a gigantic plasma TV if you have no one to watch it with? Why make $150,000 a year and hate your job, if you could make $75,000 a year and love your job?
Money buys happiness only when it is spent on experiences and earned without costing too much time. This is why I find it less useful to define wealth in terms of money, and define it instead in terms of the quality of life experiences.
Money is a requisite for wealth, but so is time and so is efficient use of that time and money. Money gives one opportunities for more experiences. But one must also have the time to pursue those experiences. Having the money to travel to Australia isn’t worth anything if you can’t ever take time off work to go there.
By this definition, a lawyer who works 110-hour weeks and never sees his kids is not rich. But a surf instructor who lives with his Costa Rican wife on the beaches of Ecuador is. Call me a tree-hugging hippy, but I’m interested in overall quality of life experience, not how big the number is that shows up in my bank account. As I’ll explain later, money is something that I try to get rid of, as soon as possible.
Money As Experience
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”
I’ve been to 41 countries and dated amazing women from all over the world. I speak four languages, often party on weeknights and wake up whenever I want. I’ve sipped cocktails in the most exclusive casinos of London with Saudi royalty, danced with international models in Singapore, had beers with porn stars in LA and coffee with Pablo Escobar’s brother in Colombia.
And I did all of this for less per year than the cost of a middle-class lifestyle back in the United States.
Money is only as valuable as the experiences it brings you. Experiences create happiness. Money is merely a tool used to achieve greater experience.
To become wealthy requires one to effectively invest their time and money into the most fulfilling experiences possible. This begs the question, which experiences bring the most happiness? Surely watching a Family Guy marathon on television while stuffing your face with Cheetos isn’t as fulfilling of an experience as say, attending a friend’s wedding, or scaling the mountains of Yosemite Park.Money is meant to be spent. You earn money by adding value and experiences to the lives of others and it’s spent to create value and experience in your own. In a way, you can view money as a transference of experience. Through your work you contribute to an enhanced experience in other people’s lives and in turn the money you receive is then spent on enhancing the experience in yours.
Investing money can be useful if one plans on using it for experiences later (i.e., retirement, emergency savings, etc.) or on experiences which will open up more opportunities for greater experiences (education, business investment, training). Investments are only as useful as the future experiences they are likely to bring. So stockpiling more and more money in the bank is counter-productive to building wealth!
Eventually all money is spent on some form of experience, even if that experience is indirect, such as paying taxes or buying insurance (arguably the two least enjoyable ways to spend money). The important question is, if our money buys experience, then which experiences have the highest return on investment in terms of life happiness and fulfillment?
Obviously, this is a really subjective question as everyone has different passions, needs and interests. If you suffer from chronic back pain, then spending thousands of dollars on a fancy orthopedic office chair may be the best purchase of the year for you; yet for me it would be a total waste.
Your fundamental needs take precedence: health, food, shelter. If these three needs are not met, then nothing else is going to make you happy and not having them is going to make you miserable. But assuming you have those needs met, then research indicates that the experiences which create the most happiness are:
- New and unique activities.
- Shared experiences with others and building relationships.
- Passion activities.
So that membership at the rock climbing gym with your friend Jimmy is going to be more enriching and meaningful than the new Lost DVD set. Inviting your neighbors to a fourth of July barbecue in your backyard will be more enriching than watching the parade on television. Saving up for a trip to the beach will be more worthwhile than buying a new couch or upgrading your computer to play the new Everquest game.
I find it most helpful to view all expenditures through the lens of the experiences they bring. A new car brings a certain amount of experiences for the cost. A plane ticket does the same. A new paint job in your living room does the same. A street hot dog when you’re drunk does the same thing (in this case, the experience involves the toilet the next morning).
The problem is many expenditures have “hidden” experiences which we don’t consider. For instance, when you buy a new car, you think about how it will feel to drive to work, what your friends will think of it, the new sound system, picking up a date in it. What you don’t think about is the maintenance required on it, getting stuck in traffic, paying too much for parking, the stress of finding your door dinged one afternoon, the stress of finding parking tickets in your dash, digging it out of snow, the stress of raising gas prices, etc.
What’s also absent is the opportunity costs of that new car. Those car payments each month could go toward new hobbies, new experiences with friends, weekend trips to the beach, or a new guitar (passion activity). What if you could take the bus or metro each morning, avoid traffic, and have enough money to see an extra concert each month and take a vacation to Europe instead of the usual road trip you take to Miami (or wherever)?
I can’t tell you what’s better or worse. We all have our own preferences and values. These are just things to think about. I haven’t owned a car in nine years. The costs of maintaining it far outweigh the value of having it for me, especially when I prefer living in big cities with good public transportation and taxis. Why spend $15,000 on a car, when I can spend an extra $500 a month and live in the best part of town and walk everywhere? Not only am I avoiding the hassles of parking, tolls, gas, tickets, but I’m ALSO saving money, AND I’m in better shape (and helping the environment, which I care about).
I realize a lot of people live in cities that require having a car, but even then, why drive an expensive one? What’s the value-add? Looking cool? A few compliments? Is that really worth the extra $10,000?
Maybe there’s some futon or kitchenette set you feel you MUST have. What experience does it add? What hidden experiences are involved in maintaining them, cleaning them, moving them?
Now imagine that money going towards trip to Aruba with your girlfriend. Or a Vegas trip with your two best guy friends. Or a surprise skydiving trip with your brother for his birthday. Those are experiences you’ll remember and value for a lifetime and will expand your perspective and identity. Sure, there are hidden experiences involved (security line at the airport, arguing with the hotel attendant, getting shoved out of a plane by some asshole), but these are negative experiences that you can share with others. Shit happens. No matter what you do. But the difference between the run-in with the cops in Vegas and some guy backing into your new car at work is that one makes for a great story a year later, the other makes for great stomach ulcers.
And this doesn’t even get into spending money on experiences for OTHER people.
When we spend money on experiences for others, it makes us happier. This is regardless of who it is, whether we know them or not, what the reason is, or even how much we spent.
When I began my business, I struggled and was broke for years. I slept on a friend’s couch for a few months. I lived with my mother for a while. My ex-girlfriend helped to support me for longer than I’d like to admit. I would often take business trips across the country knowing I needed to find at least two clients to even be able to pay for rent the following month. Sometimes I didn’t get those two clients. All of my money went into my fundamental needs and investing back into my business.
As hard as that time was, it was good for me. I sold almost everything I owned to support myself. I lived with little to no possessions. I had no recreation other than spending time with my friends. It forced me to disconnect from owning stuff and instead find enrichment and value in experiences.
These days I make a decent amount of money, more than most. But I find myself trying to get rid of it. Keeping it seems stupid. I can either be enjoying it or reinvesting it. Letting it sit around seems insane to me.
Almost all of my spending goes towards travel (something I’m passionate about; creates constant new experiences), learning languages (allows me to connect with new people; creates new experiences), exciting activities (learning to surf, Muay Thai kickboxing, skydiving), and experiences with others. I take big trips with friends and live in obscure parts of the world for no other reason than to see what it’s like. I’m going to take a trip to Turkey with the girl I’m dating at the moment. I’ve paid three guys to come to live with me in Colombia and work for me in my apartment for six months. Next month, I’ll take the four of us mountain-biking down a volcano in Ecuador. Not only is it a way for me to invest in my business, but a way to give experiences to others and cultivate relationships. That same money could have been spent on new television or a second computer, a custom suit or a car payment. But why would I do that?
At the beginning of this article I stated I didn’t own anything — not a car, a house, a suit, a watch, a television, video games, anything. This shocks a lot of people. But I’d rather punch myself in the face than spend my money on stuff like that. In my mind, I’m spending my money on my business (to generate more money and opportunities for experiences), on new experiences for me and people around me, or directly on the people around me.
And I’m happier than a fat kid in a candy store. Every day. Every single day. It’s awesome.
(OK, that’s a little facetious. I still have my down days, my bad moods and complaints. But my bad days tend to be for ridiculous reasons that you would absolutely hate me for and likely stop reading. You know, like “Oh, it sucks I can only spend a week in Italy because I need to be back in South America by October to make sure my interns are doubling my income.” Stuff like that. I’ll shut up now.)
But this is all well and great, assuming you have money and a lot of free time. I’ve lucked out in many ways. I also worked my ass off. But I didn’t just work my ass off, I worked smart. I didn’t work to earn money, I worked to earn experiences. And as we’ll see, there’s a big difference.
Finding Your Passion
Tim Ferriss tells a story in his book The Four Hour Work Week about a Mexican fisherman. It illustrates an important point about wealth and life.
An American consultant was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied only a little while.
The consultant then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked the Mexican how he spent the rest of his time.
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The American consultant scoffed, “I am business consultant and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American consultant replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, señor?” asked the fisherman.
The consultant laughed, and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You’ll become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions, señor?” replied the Mexican. “Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
For a Guide to Wealth it may seem strange that the “how to make money” part is at the end and the “how to spend money” part is at the beginning with “finding your passion” crammed in the middle.
But I think most people get it backwards. They invest all of their time and energy to make as much money as possible first, without paying attention to what they spend it on. And they earn it working jobs they hate. As the story about the fisherman shows, you only need to earn enough money to satisfy your, basic needs, life passions and relationships. And if your passions and relationships are simple like the fisherman’s, then what’s the point of making millions?
If you’re passionate about racing motorcycles and helicopter rides, then yeah, you probably need to find a way to make more income.
Or even better, find a way to work with motorcycles and/or helicopters for a living.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t even know what they’re passionate about. They don’t know which activities drive their life, or what makes them feel most alive. And before we can get into how you should be earning your money, we need to figure out what you love doing.
After all, if you don’t know which experiences bring you the most happiness, then you don’t know what your requisites are in the money-making department. So here’s a quick rundown on how you can go about finding what you’re passionate about if you aren’t sure.
- Try out new activities. Take out a sheet of paper (or word processing document), take 20 minutes, and write down absolutely everything you can think of that you have any interest in doing. It doesn’t matter how big or small. Play basketball, run a marathon, climb a mountain, fly a kite, build model airplanes — absolutely anything that seems even mildly interesting to you. If you get to the end of the 20 minutes and you’ve only written a few things, then take another 20 minutes and get more creative. Expand it from activities you think may be interesting and write down activities you don’t think you’d hate.
One big problem of people who can’t find anything that they’re passionate about is that they’re overly-negative and inhibited. So they think, “Oh, model airplanes? That’s stupid.” Really? Have you done it? Why is it stupid? Why isn’t it awesome? If you can’t answer these questions without making a harsh judgment about random people, then you need to shut the fuck up and go buy a model airplane.
Example of a BAD reason to not be interested: “It’s a dorky hobby and nobody likes someone who sits in their garage all day gluing wood together.”
Example of a legitimate reason to not be interested: “I haven’t enjoyed other crafts projects in the past, so I have little interest in this one.”
Continue to question your motivation (or lack thereof) for each of the items on your list. If you can’t come up with a reasonable, non-judgmental explanation, then give it a try.
Once you try things, give them a chance. Unless you absolutely hate the activity, try it at least a few times. If you try it once and find yourself with absolutely no enthusiasm to go back and do it again, then just forget about it and move on.
- Eliminate current activities. This is a bit counter-intuitive, but try eliminating current activities in your life and see what happens. There are two reasons to do this. The first one is that activities which you think you enjoy quite a bit you may find you’re happier NOT doing them. And secondly, it’ll make you bored and inspire you to find and try new things.
For instance, I thought for years that I was passionate about politics. This past April, I decided that they were stressing me out, so I decided to stop following politics for 30 days. To my surprise, not only did I not miss them, but I actually felt more relaxed and relieved that I wasn’t following them.
A similar occurrence happened for me with video games years ago. I used to be a hardcore gamer. It was a major part of my identity, and something I spent a lot of time doing. It got to the point where I competed in tournaments and would spend hours a day “practicing” a game in order to become good at it. About halfway through college I realized that my gaming was harming my social life quite a bit and decided to take a semester off from playing them at all. Not only did I not miss playing at all, but I had so much fun and made so many new friends that I never went back (and still haven’t).
- Pay attention to what excites you. One big issue people have when they try to figure out what they like or what they should do with their lives is that they think in terms of subjects or occupations. They figure they’re a “math guy” or a “management guy” without really paying attention to the underlying themes of the occupations are.
I love problem solving, but I hate learning mathematical concepts. As a result, math was a really hit/miss subject for me, but I enjoy coding, design and programming a lot because it requires a creative set of skills when it comes to problem solving.
I hated writing classes in school, yet I’m a professional writer and fucking love my job. Looking back, I always loved writing. I was a forum whore. I would write a dozen pages a day and post them on internet boards. I’d go back and edit them and re-edit them. I had thousands of posts written by the time I was 18. What I didn’t like was writing about books and topics that I didn’t care about, and that’s more or less what school was.
If you don’t feel passionate about any particular activity in your life understand that it’s a process. It’s going to involve a lot of trial and error and passions often develop over the course of months or years of doing them.
The goal here is to eventually identify what you’re most passionate about and then parlay that into a form of income. I realize that sounds daunting, especially if your passion is something like wakeboarding or abstract painting. But finding a way to monetize your passion is going to be a hell of a lot easier (and more exciting) than trying to find a way to make a job you hate interesting.
Earning Money Off Passion
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Do you love your job? If you’re a student, do you love what you’re studying? And I don’t mean like, “Oh, it’s pretty cool, I guess.” I mean love it to the point where you enjoy Monday mornings, where you start to miss it on a long three-day weekend, where you’d cry if you couldn’t do it anymore. Do you love it that much?
Steve Jobs famously said that every morning he would look in the mirror and ask himself, “If this was my last day to live, would I still do what I am going to do today?” And when the answer was “no” too many days in a row, he knew it was time for a major life change.
There are an infinite number of ways to earn money in the world. Why did you choose yours? If you’re like most people, you found the intersection of “What I’m kind of good at” and “What pays well.” If you’re like others, it’s the only job you could find and now you’ve gotten comfortable.
Someone once asked me what my life mission was, what I’m on earth to do. It caught me off guard. I couldn’t believe I had never thought about it when he asked me. But it was a great question, and it forced me to verbalize something I had been feeling for a while although I had never put words around before. I’m here to write, to inspire, entertain and inform others, to help a new generation of men to not be such emotional fucktards, and to have fun while doing it.
What is your purpose? Is it to write sweet ass B2B software? That may make some people chuckle, but it may make other people light up with excitement. What lights you up with excitement? If you can’t answer that within a few seconds, then you don’t know. Is it your job right now? If not, then you need to start rethinking what you’re doing with your life.
In his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl states that a fundamental emotional need of every human is to feel like their life has purpose, has a meaning. That purpose could be as simple as being a good father to your children or a good husband to your wife. It could be as complex as lobbying for a new piece of legislation that would change society, saving the environment, or helping people with chronic mental illnesses. But what’s important for your emotional health and wealth is that you have one.
50% of your waking hours are spent on your job, if your job is not fulfilling a deeper life purpose for you then you are essentially wasting 50% of your life.
If you’re going to become wealthy, if you’re going to enable freedom to enjoy experiences in your life, then you need to enjoy — no, you need to fucking love what earns you money. Because without that passion, that drive, that deeper life purpose, you will NEVER excel at what you do and become one of the best. You won’t stay awake at nights thinking up new innovations, new angles; you won’t hop out of bed at 6AM on Monday because you can’t wait to start working on your new idea; you won’t work through weekends without even noticing it’s a weekend. These are the things that get you ahead, that make you unique in an industry, that make you more money, that create more opportunities for wealth, and ultimately make you a happier and more fulfilled person.
Studies show that only about 30% of people love their job. Research also shows that job satisfaction is proportional to how well the individual can discern the value in his work. For instance, if a person just pushes paper around and doesn’t see or understand the value he’s adding to society, then he’s probably miserable.
What value is your job adding to society?
If you feel pretty good about answering that question, then chances are you feel pretty good about your job.
If you don’t, then it may be time to consider a career change or starting your own business. Obviously this is a difficult question to confront. Many people want to leave their professions and/or start their own business, but they are terrified to do it. It’s understandable. Your current job is your security. It allows you to meet all of your fundamental needs. There are social pressures and expectations. And any time we make major modifications to our self-perception and who we believe we are, there’s always going to be some fear and internal resistance.
But as I explain in the Guide to Happiness, what determines our happiness and long-term fulfillment is not the external qualities of our life, but whether we feel like we’re in control of our destiny or not. When I started my business, I struggled for many years, and there were a lot of stressful days and sleepless nights. But I never wanted to go back to the comforts of a cubicle. Ever. I never considered it once. I was in control of my life and my destiny and I was doing something I cared about. I was doing something that enabled my passions. And I worked 12-16 hours a day to make sure I didn’t let this opportunity blow by me.
The topics of starting a business and changing careers are big ones and beyond the scope of this guide. But for now, I will leave you with this:
Find the intersection of your passion and what creates value for others. Take what you’re passionate about, find a place (or invent a place) where that passion meets societal demand, and then work your ass off to fulfill it. It will be hard. But nobody said getting rich was ever easy.
Relevant articles on Markmanson.net:
- Quit Your Day Job and Travel the World
- Why Young Americans Should Work Overseas
- How to be an International Career Hacker
- Interviewing Like a Boss
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