Few topics have been written about more often or attracted greater controversy than $$MONEY$$. Righteous myths are often put up against greed and self-serving behavior as memes intended to keep us honest and pure but all they do is add to the confusion.
Money is not the root of all evil any more than it is the path to self-actualization but it is still, and for the foreseeable future, the primary currency we rely on. Irrespective of your ideology about it, money still makes the world’s economies go around and there’s no avoiding it.
If your calling is to serve or help those less fortunate, you do not need to be less fortunate as well. You will be better able to help others with their struggle if you’re not being dragged down by your own struggle to get your needs met. This is not ideology, it’s a practical reality.
You deserve to be happy and money helps
Attaching happiness to money can be a trap. Misery does not disappear once your net worth reaches a certain level, as many disappointed millionaires have discovered. Some of the most miserable people there are can afford anything they want except they can’t buy their way out of their discontent.
I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.
Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth. It should be something more important.
~ Excerpts from the last words of Steve Jobs
But just because there is not an absolute correlation between wealth and happiness, it doesn’t mean there is no correlation. If what makes you happy requires money, you’re fooling yourself if you believe there is a nirvana waiting for you beyond the struggle where money won’t matter. People who make such claims are typically lying to themselves and anyone silly enough to indulge their fantasy.
Money makes things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be so. Travel, a nice place to live, good food to eat and so forth – whatever is important to you. Perhaps there is some nobility to be eked out of roughing it without the things you want but how sustainable is this as a strategy for living? At some point it’s likely to grind you down.
Likewise, an obsession with money is likely to grind you down. There are some who argue that the pursuit of more than you need is a form of mental illness. Of course, this is a trite thing to say because who is to judge where the upper threshold lies. Only you can determine what is enough and what is unnecessary but at some point, money will do nothing to change your happiness so why bother trying to accumulate more of it? And in fact, asking that very question could improve your life exponentially by setting you free from the endless pursuit of more.
What is money and why do we care about it so much?
Guess what the number one reason is for divorce? How about stress? What’s the most common obsession? Money, but why?
If you look up the definition of money it will likely say something about it being a medium of exchange in the form of coins and banknotes that are created by banks. Hardly something to get excited about let alone end a significant relationship over. But we all know this is not what’s important about money; it’s what it makes possible or impossible that matters, and where the advantages are created or where problems arise. Along with the mountains of meaning that are attached to both.
In its most stripped down form, money is just paper and metal. Symbols of value that provide an alternative to a barter system. But at its broadest level, it’s what underpins the economy. So it can hardly be dismissed as unimportant but when it becomes a singular focus, we can start to lose sight of what matters underneath and the problems it can create will start to add up.
So how did humanity get to the point where we care so much about pieces of paper and metal that we’re willing to fight or sacrifice the rest of our lives for them? The answers lie in the mountains of meaning we attach to money. We’re conditioned by our upbringing and the media to place far more importance on money than is either necessary or helpful. And then we’re pounded with judgments from other sources about how bad it is to want it or feel like we need it to have a good life.
It seems like a strange cocktail of misinformation and unhelpful opinions without many of the important ingredients like how money actually works and how to get the right amount of it. More attention is paid to the propaganda than the mechanics but you end up drinking the cocktail anyway because it’s the only thing being served. Wrong, it’s not. It’s just the crappy beer taps that most people still drink, but there are alternatives.
Remember, money is just a medium of exchange. All the other meaning that’s attached to it has been artificially constructed. And if it’s been constructed, it can also be deconstructed. Then it will be easier to see through the fog and understand the underlying principles of money and how it works.
Focus on your needs first
Money can have plenty of soul but not if you don’t have any. Which is why it’s important, critically important in fact, to take care of yourself first. THIS IS NOT SELFISH OR GREEDY. Selfish or greedy would be keeping everything for yourself or taking more than you need at the expense of others. Taking care of yourself so that you’re financially satisfied is a rational and sensible thing to do; you will be able to help others in ways that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It’s easier to be generous if you have money or energy to give that wouldn’t be available if you were too bogged down in being dissatisfied.
You can be generous to yourself AND others and I’m making the argument that the sequence matters. Pay attention to your needs first, figure out how to get them met quickly and then you will be of exponentially more help to others than you will if you’re scratching around in your pocket for a few spare pennies. Learn how money works by applying it to you and then help others learn by sharing your wisdom and experience.
Learn how money works
We’re not only conditioned to place far more importance on money than is necessary or helpful, we’re not even taught or exposed to the practical financial knowledge we need to survive and thrive in the modern world. If we want to learn that, we have to go and find the extra education we need so we can learn to get money working for us rather than just working to get enough money to survive.
Just know that it’s fear that keeps most people working at a job. The fear of not paying their bills. The fear of being fired. The fear of not having enough money. the fear of starting over. That’s the price of studying to learn a profession or trade, and then working for money. Most people become a slave to money… and then get angry at their boss.”
~ Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad
The gap in knowledge can be such a liability that we can go through most of our working lives without even understanding the system we’re part of. We just become a cog in someone else’s financial machine. It doesn’t have to be this way, it is very possible to learn how money works and then learn how to leverage it to transform how you live and get your needs met. Without compromising your most sacred inner values – you don’t have to sell your soul to The Man in other words.
The market for education about money is like the market for diet books. Prolific, full of theories and gimmicks that make more money for the authors than the readers and a few simple and timeless methods that work most of the time. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to learn them and you don’t have to be a financial genius but you do have to make the effort to learn the basics and be willing to think differently and change ineffective habits. It’s what I did and it changed my life.
Pay attention to the myths
If there’s money to be made you can bet there will be someone willing to say something about anything. And close behind will be the moral crusaders warning us of the dangers of getting involved at all. Stay away from the edges is about the best advice I can offer here. Don’t believe the people who say making money is or will be easy if you just do x,y or z. You could waste a lot of time or money on charlatan ideas packaged to sell. But equally, don’t get sucked into the stories of people with an ax to grind or a puritanical lecture to impose. You could miss a lot of opportunities to create financial independence.
There are too many myths and silly ideas about money to do justice in exposing them here. You might find that a good portion of what you believe now has no rational basis and would fold under rigorous scrutiny. Good! If you’re willing to let them go, treat it like a Jenga game and let all the myths come tumbling down. You can always rebuild your model with a more solid foundation or with the things you know that work. The point is to open your mind and be willing to step out from behind the myths that have little practical value but which do play a powerful role in keeping you small and afraid to take risks.
If you want to serve others or give back but feel you have to compromise your own needs to do so, I understand. I was there too until I saw the trap I’d created for myself. I left a successful corporate career and instead found financial independence in other ways which has freed up my time and energy to give back. It wasn’t easy and there was mental pain and anguish at times. But it wasn’t as hard as staying in a career I despised and it was less pain than treading water in a rut.
If this sounds like your journey and you need support, contact me. I can help you navigate the myths and the truths to come up with a plan that gets you where you want to go.