The Fallacy of Money As A Means

by Scott - 55 Comments

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Be honest with yourself – why do you want to make A LOT of money?

Is it because you want to:

  • gain acceptance from peers?
  • have total autonomy over your time?
  • be more attractive to the opposite sex so you can find your ideal mate?
  • have really nice things?
  • to travel to really epic places? (so you can post the pictures on instagram!)
  • create the biggest impact possible?
  • feel like you’re successful? (You’ve made it baby!)

I challenge anyone reading this to take a moment to be 100% honest with themselves and answer this question – why do you want to make a lot of money?

lot of money

If people without families to support are brutally honest with themselves, BTW sadly few are, and they juxtapose their life with the answers to this question, I think there’s a lot of inefficiency going on here. And by inefficiency I mean wasted life.

Most of the things that people think require a lot of money can actually be achieved by taking a much more direct path [sans mucho dinero]…and the path I’m talking about is often more enjoyable as well as yields more certain results. Oh an P.S. -

“A lot of people spend decades chasing something that someone convinced them they should want without realizing it won’t make them happy” -Derek Sivers

 But first…here’s a story:

Guy decides he wants to be a tech entrepreneur. He tells people “he likes building things” because that seems to be a publicly acceptable rationale for building a tech company…but super secretly he just sees starting a tech company as a means to generating an inordinate amount of wealth quickly in a way that’s more enjoyable than playing excel like a keyboard. He never asks himself why he wants a lot of money, but thinks the amount of optionality it will provide him will eventually propel him to happiness.

—fast forward button—

He spends 3 years working 12 hour days on his company (though tells people he’s working 90 hour weeks…12×6 = 72?). The company never hits it big, but they have a soft landing that results in a 500,000k landfall for him if he stays at the company for an additional 2 years.

For that 500k he’ll have put in a total of 5 years on top of his 70k founder’s salary.

The journey was fun, but it was also hard as hell. He’s definitely a better person for it…but is he closer to his end game? (which is happiness BTW)

  • He’s locked up for 2 years and since the earnout isn’t enourmous, he doesn’t really have autonomy anytime soon.
  • He has less friends because he didn’t really have time to see much of anyone while he was building his company unless they were sporting a MongoDB hoodie.
  • He didn’t spend a ton of time dating during that time period and actually got worse with women due to the lack of interaction – “OMG you’re from Texas too!” (psst…no one cares)
  • He doesn’t really have nicer things outside a sweet [X Ventures] Northface.
  • He’s taken 10 vacation days over the past 3 years (he tells people less than a week though just to seem hard)
  • He’s only volunteered twice over the past 3 years because he “never had enough time” while he was building his company. He has however made an impactful difference on display advertisers’ ability to generate a .2% higher clickthrough. Sick!
  • His friend in the startup game just sold his company for $38 million. This coupled with his lack of ego diversification (success with friends, women, health etc) make him feel far from successful.

He looks in the mirror and realizes that 3 years later he’s strangely further from happiness than when he started. Crap.

Chasing money is not usually the most efficient or enjoyable route to happiness. So does it make sense to waste our lives doing things we honestly don’t love to make it so we can eventually.…uhh [insert something that will eventually make you happy here]???

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately….and then I read Derek Sivers’ awesome book “Anything You Want” which resoundingly resonated with all my hazy conclusions…

I think a better framework to establish how you spend your time when you’re young if  don’t have a family to support (kids or your parents) or enourmous college debt, is to start with the end game of determining what creates enduring happiness in your life for yourself and those you care about.

Specifically, ask yourself:

How would I consistently spend my time if I didn’t have to worry about money ever? Not sure…ask yourself what activities excite and fulfill you? I’m talking about the stuff that raises the hair on your arms and leaves you walking away on your toes with a racing heart.

Then I’d ask:

What areas of my life do I wish were different in the realm of health and relationships? i.e. I want more close friends, a fulfilling relationship with a member of the opposite sex, to be healthier etc

Once you establish these things, then ask yourself how can craft a life which eventually embodies all of these things 85% of the time without a lot of money being involved in the equation. Is there a more direct path to your aspirations that supersedes obtaining massive wealth?

Here is some commentary on what I perceive to be a more direct and guaranteed way to arrive at happiness reviewing the common aspirations people want money for listed above:

How to achieve the things people want a lot of money for…without a lot of money.

Is it because you want to gain acceptance from peers?

  • Become a really cool, interesting person whose constantly enjoyable to be around because they live a life they love…not because they have bottle service  on the reg or a nice car.

It is because you want total autonomy over your time?

  • Find a career that is already what you’d consistently be doing if you had total autonomy or build a small side business that manifests your passion which you can eventually go full time on

Is it because you want to be more attractive to the opposite sex so you can find your ideal mate?

  • Work on becoming a really cool, interesting person who embodies attractive qualities. I’m not talking about having a six-pack, I’m talking about becoming someone with strong moral fiber, a zeal for life, and complete comfort in who they are and what they’re all about. Our behavior and personality is malleable if we choose to accept the challenge of shaping it.

Is it because you want really nice things?

  • Ok you need money for this…but in my experience this is leads to a hollow, fleeting happiness.

Is it because you want to travel?

  • You can travel pretty cheaply in across the world if you’re resourceful. The barrier to entry to traveling for extended periods of time is far lower than you think, especially if you know how to make $$ online. If you have 10k right now you can  pack in more travel in the next year than most people will dream of in a lifetime.

Is it because you want to create the biggest impact possible?

  • Does this sound familiar? “If I’m super rich, I can create a bigger impact ipso facto I should just focus on starting a huge company right now!Be real - is this a self-fabricated rationalization to justify action rooted in more selfish desires (it’s okay if it is). The focus of this post is on an efficient path to happiness, not moral high ground. Just know what really motivates you and own it.
  • Starting a multi-national company is only one way to achieve impact that a small subset of people can accomplish. Note* take a look at what true impact these people achieve and ask yourself if that’s really the impact you’d find fulfilling – “I created sooo many jobs…and toxic waste!”
  • If impact vs. personal gratification is really your desire, you can probably already start guaranteeing impact today through volunteering, creating some type of group or organization, or helping fuel an existing rocket-ship that’s in direct alignment with your passion. For most people*, starting to focus on creating the impact your passionate about today and building upon that will probably yield a greater amount of fulfilling impact over the course of a lifetime than gunning for uncertain success that you hope you will be able to channel toward a mission you’re passionate about “one day”.

Is it because you think it will make you feel like you’re successful? (You’ve made it baby!)

  • Money alone is a hollow surrogate for success. This is why you need to redefine how you measure it. Look deeply at what will truly make you feel successful and run towards accomplishing those things and becoming that person. I personally believe “feeling success” is much more about becoming the person you want to be vs. accomplishing specific things. If you become the person you want to be, the accomplishments will follow.

The Purpose of This Post

  1. The goal of this post is to spark introspection around what makes you happy and why you want money.
  2. Then to prompt you to ask yourself if you can already achieve those things without an inordinate amount of money…hint – you probably can.
  3. Then ask yourself if you’re spending your time in the optimal way.

*I do not think your sole intention in life should just to be happy. I think it should be to be a productive member of society by leaving the world and those  you interact with better than you found them. Because happiness fosters continuity in our work and life – I do think if you can derive happiness in a productive work life, you’re more likely to achieve an optimal output.

 

If you’re interested in this type of stuff and by stuff I mean your precious life, I encourage you to come check out the New York Personal Development Meetup. We’ll be posting a new one soon.

As for me, I’m still trying to figure this out. Though I’ve never had a ton of money, I’ve also never been incrementally more happy with a deeper pocket – so this is merely a hypothetical rant. Still, I figured others could potentially benefit from someone else’s perspective by stating what’s going on in my head after calibrating my thoughts with Derek’s book. Long-live authenticity!

 

This post was inspired by Derek Sivers book “Anything You Want” – big ups to Jerry Colonna for getting it on my radar. You can find my notes on it here.

 

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55 comments, add to the conversation.

    1. jonathan

      I see your points but sometimes wanting lots of money is unavoidable, at least as far as travelling goes you’re only talking to developed countries , take brazil for account (Where I live) , any air ticked will cost about 2 months of a good pay, 4 if the person has average income and a whole year if the guy lives on minimum wage – travelling by sea is more expensive and there are no trains going anywhere safe,,, you could go by car if you live on a border – but again the gas is expensive and the cars made here are made of tin foil

      To go on a roadtrip this year i’ll need to use about a quarter of my wage just on gas (and i make 80% more then the average person here)…

      so what is really a lot of money? for those who have many a lot is more then they need, but for those who have little

      Reply

      1. Andrew

        Money can help, but if your have focused on make your life as good as possible, you will find that not being able to afford to go overseas unimportant. Because your life will be filled with great people around you.

        It sort of seems you miss the point of the article. Will your life be better if you have traveled the world? Or better if you have made a life for yourself that makes you proud. Cause I think if you achieve the latter, the former will happen for you.

        Reply

  1. Le Zhang

    How dare you bring reality into startups!!

    Great post Scott –This should be a mandatory read for.. well.. everyone.

    Reply

  2. Rogue Cyborg

    Excellent post! It resonates with my thinking:

    1. Money reduces suffering to some extent. Beyond that, it’s Diminishing Returns.

    2. Happiness is a choice. Cultivate happiness, independent of money.

    3. Follow your passion. If you’re having fun, you’ve already won.

    Reply

  3. Serdar (GenjiPress)

    I’m confused about something:

    “I personally believe “feeling success” is much more about becoming the person you want to be vs. accomplishing specific things. If you become the person you want to be, the accomplishments will follow.”

    How do you become the person you want to be without actually *doing* stuff — that is to say, having accomplishments in the first place?

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      If you become someone who intentionally defines their success and values and lives it out, actions will follow.

      I.E. Success is leaving every place I work and live better than I found it. Living that means working hard and doing a great job to push your organization forward.

      I guess I’m coming from reversing the starting place. The notion of actually doing things and action still exists, it’s just starting from a different place.

      Reply

    2. Beat The Struggle

      Because who you want to be equates to one’s personal code of moral character (internal scorecard), not a collection of trophies and medals in the club room (external scorecard). Identify the traits and characteristics that you admire in role models or people whom you respect and then try to start living these values and habits every moment of your life. This is what will make you who you are. You are not a person “who won an award” you are a culmination of each and every moment and all those traits that have allowed you to win such a reward. The people who are just striving for the shiny trophy for external praise are living hollow lives compared to those who are striving to live for their ideals and values.

      It is the gap between the ideal standard of behavior we set for ourselves versus our actual actions in life that we should aim to close. The closer this gap becomes, the happier and more confident we become in every encounter. The wider the gap, the greater a schizophrenic divide develops between who we are versus who we ought to be.

      An old wise saying proclaims “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”. Hiking Everest is a “success” or an “accomplishment” in society’s eyes, but in order to hike Everest an individual must be fanatical in developing the traits and habits of relentless perseverance, courage, fortitude, endurance, and resiliency. These habits applied to such a degree in any endeavor will likely yield accomplishments that can be praised by society. But it’s not just being at the summit of everest that would bring us happiness, it’s about the person we had to became in order to be able to summit everest that brings the real lasting joy – because that joy is derived from an embodiment of who we are and thus cannot be taken away from us and therefore not fleeting in nature.

      I think what Scott is saying is don’t focus on the accomplishment as an end goal, focus on values and the manner in how you wish to live your life and then live those values in every moment to the best of your abilities. Accomplishment will likely result as a byproduct of us “becoming who we are”.

      It’s also interesting that the majority of the responses here are centering success around work. I think this is such an unfortunate missrepresentation of the word success.

      Instead of just exclaiming, “I want to be successful” we should start getting into the habit of adding the term “in what” to the root statement:

      1) I want to be successful in marriage
      2) I want to be successful as a parent
      3) I want to be successful in friendship
      4) I want to be successful at this job
      5) I want to be successful as a student
      6) I want to be successful as a teacher

      And so on…

      If we take all of those statements on our list and are able to place a check mark next to them, only then have we lived a successful life.

      Too many people only focus on #4 to define their totality of success.

      Reply

  4. Smith

    Scott,

    Depressing post. However, I think you forgot to mention how important is the felling of self-worth. You know, traveling, having fun, hanging out with friends, being in a good relationship, etc. is all nice but you can still feel bad if you haven’t explored your full potentials. I cannot refer to this feeling since I have always been enterpenurial and successful in some sense but I know of people who stayed out of job/projects for long periods of time, having all the time in the world, and at the end coming out of it with lower self-esteem and out of touch, and in deep depression too.

    Money is not everything and for sure you can still be unhappy with loads of it in the bank but people with money have higher confidence in themselves, higher self-esteem, and other forms of success in the form of personal development. Money is a simple measurement of how well you do in life. Of course you can always devote your life to things like finding cure for cancer but unfortunately not many of us are cut for this. This also leads to sense of achievement. Some people do volunteer work and that could also bring sense of achievement, etc, etc.

    It is not about money and it is not about the 24/7 job but it is about how you feel about it and if you feel that you have achieved something that matters at the end. It also provides a nice framework for people who are not designed to do extraordinary things by not accumulating huge piles of money.

    I could be delusional.

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      I think you bring up some good points.

      I think a lot of people do derive a feeling of self worth from making a lot money. I do myself to an extent. But I also think this is one of the things that leads to unhappiness.

      If you redefine how you measure success, you can alter how money is correlated to your self worth. Here are some ways people derive self-worth proposed by Derek:

      -For some people, it’s as simple as how much money they make. When their net worth is going up they know they’re doing well.

      -For others, it’s how much money they give.

      -For some people, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better.

      -For others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives.

      Reply

  5. danek

    Great post, Scott. It’s so succinctly written!

    I’ve never had a lot of money either, but I made a decision a few years ago to just slow life down, do what I want to and enjoy life during the summer each year. My plan was to do that as many summers as I can while still in my 30′s.

    I traveled; I learned how to cook more things; I played music and took photos; I read on the beach; I visited friends and family overseas often. Even though the decision involved sacrificing the stability of being a permanent employee, as well as potential advancement in a company/corporation, it’s still the best decision I’ve ever made. I am grateful that I could do it; in some other industries (non tech), this kind of flexibility may not be possible.

    Happiness is freedom. Happiness is about being with people, being at places you love and getting to know yourself (without stress:).

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      Danek – thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds awesome! I love your courage.

      I think we’re on the same page in the understanding that everyone needs money, but that you just don’t necessarily need an inordinate amount to be happy and pursue the things you love.

      Reply

  6. MindGazer

    Two things:

    One

    Money engenders opportunities. I want to make more money in order to maximize my opportunities in life. Granted, my opportunities aren’t few now, but with more money I have more options. For instance, suppose I decided tomorrow I’d like to write a novel full time. Well, that isn’t a job, and hence I can’t pay my mortgage on hope alone. I’d have to work nights and weekends to fulfill that dream of working full time on nothing but all the backlog of stories I have accumulated. Or, if I had millions in the bank, I could just work all day writing, publish only when I felt it was perfect and not worry about how much it was making. I could make it a labor of love and, importantly, I can choose how much time I get to devote to it rather than scraping time away from friends and family on the weekends to do it. So you work hard making money in the short term (hopefully), and have the option to spend your days on what you love that may not have any material rewards.

    A famous saying is “carpe diem”, or “seize the day”. With more money, I could choose to spend my time on my own dreams, rather than trading a large chunk of my life for someone else’s dream (in a job). It’s tough to seize the day when you don’t own every bit of it.

    Two

    Financial security for the future is maximized, almost by definition, by acquiring more money. Now, certainly there is uncertainty if you tie it all up in stocks and they drop in value, or you hide it all in a mattress and the house burns down, and so on. But, all else being equal, more money provides a stronger foundation for one’s ability to provide one’s self and family in the future. And not just for things that aren’t necessary, but with enough money, you can feel more certain that you won’t go hungry and have to work at Walmart when you are 70, or that your kids might not be able to eat if you lose your job. And so on.

    For instance, suppose you were going to go hiking on a 1000 mile trek into the wilderness that will take you 12 months. You can pack enough food for the entire journey, or you can pack enough food for two weeks and hope/assume that you’ll find/make more when the food runs out. It’s entirely possible to make the journey in either case, but there is greater security in knowing you already have the food you need for the trip before you even begin.

    Now, the analogy isn’t perfect, but in general the sentiment is right. If I’m going to live at least 30 more years (assuming), and hope to be able to make at least 100k+ a year for the entire journey, that’s 3 million. So I could hope that in the future I’ll still be able to pull the 100k / year, but it’s much more satisfying knowing that I already have the 100k / year now if I make 3 million+ now.

    The 100k is an example, it could be 10k a year, and the sentiment is the same. More money establishes greater financial security for the future.

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      I agree – money does maximize optionality to do things you love. I just don’t think it takes as much as people think. I also think a lot of people let having to accumulate a lot of money prevent them from ever doing what they really want to do. Just my observation

      Reply

  7. Gregory Magarshak

    Awesome realizations. A lot of this resonated with me. We seem to think along the same wavelengths, Scott — check out http://twitter.com/GregMozart sometime.

    For me personally, I know one of the main factors for me to be happy is being in love, and starting a family around that. However, if you’re picky about your mate, having very little money makes it very hard to meet the kind of woman you want. Especially if you’re a software developer, you spent a lot of your time working on a computer to pay for your living expenses, instead of practicing your interpersonal skills. Of course, it can still be done, but money helps to the point where you can have free time to really do what you enjoy without worrying about living paycheck to paycheck — and even better if you have money to pay a team to work on it with you, be it video production or software development, or something else.

    I think that, in the future, society will be so automated that every person will get the minimum level for free, but until then, we have to secure that for ourselves — some more than others.

    Also check out http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      Thanks Gregory. I think having very very little money does make it hard to find an attractive mate. However, the notion that you need to have an inordinate amount of money to attract the mate you want is silly. People are driven by emotions, not things.

      I agree more money does facilitate a greater sense of optionality and scale (i.e. work with a team), but I think the pursuit of it without some degree of happiness tied to its accumulation has problems for continuity which results in suboptimal output.

      Thanks for the links!

      Reply

    2. Ben

      Money matters waaaaaayyyyy less than you think when it comes to finding your “mate”. Girls (and guys) are attracted to status, power, and drive, it isn’t the dolla dolla bills. You also need charisma, confidence, humor, emotion, etc. Green pieces of paper and shiny things don’t get you the dream girl, being awesome does :-)

      Reply

  8. Fuuny

    Indeed very smart, but if a person does not get to try various things (which are usually unavailable to those without money?) how is she supposed to know what makes her tick?

    Figuring out end game and working towards it requires all the knowledge on the matter and understanding of it.

    I know for a fact that I shake, my fingers tumble and legs play salsa when my buddy drives 190kmh and turns off lights in a curve, do You suggest I keep on doing it?

    With Your logic civilization would never improve as they would find little things that make them happy and thats it. But if you step up, make yourself able to try whatever.. And then figure put what ticks You, is totally diff.

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      I think everyone will have to go through a process of striving in order to come to conclusions about what they want and the most efficient process of achieving them.

      *My statement on doing what you love as a career should not be taken within the context of being a productive member of society.

      Reply

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  11. anon

    You didn’t mention anything about security… Security is very important to me. Not to be insanely rich, but to be able to pay all bills, eat good food and have decent medical coverage. Status means nothing to me. Money can’t buy happiness. But it will do the things I mentioned. Especially when raising children in the mix. So if one has to work hard to attain financial freedom to pick and choose a lifestyle for their families… so be it. Balancing time is a must as well. All of what I said is not that easy. But it is what I prefer.

    Reply

    1. Scott Britton

      I agree and security is important to me. I think that a lot of people truly think they need much more money to be secure than in reality…and in many cases, people can probably be secure making money in something that’s more in alignment with what they actually want to do, but limiting beliefs prevent them from doing so

      Reply

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  14. Martin

    Great post, Scott! Something that I think most people struggle with to define and understand. Lot of readers have left some great insights. As this is something I’ve spent lot of time pondering, and have even unplugged from normal life to travel for a year, in the end “happiness” I think is the desired-end result, but it doesn’t mean money will get you there (though it certainly can help).

    If I may, I’d recommend picking up this book. “Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar from Harvard. Succinctly written and it encompasses many of the points brought up here and some good guidance on how to manage it all. I think you may find it of value:

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Happier_Learn_the_Secrets_to_Daily_Joy_a.html?id=oJ3uZnRm2gsC

    Cheers buddy. Keep up the good work!

    Reply

    1. Post Author Scott

      Thanks man. It is hard to understand and for me it’s still something I’m trying to grasp. I am definitely going to check out this book and thank you for the recommendation and support

      Reply

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