If You’re So Rich, Why Are You Desperate?

A few weeks ago Ryan Holiday released a post called 31 Lessons I’ve Learned about Money. The lessons are great, but I was a bit turned off by this paragraph that came right before the lessons:

And I’ve been thinking about it a lot in researching and writing what is the most in-depth course ever built over at Daily Stoic: The Wealthy Stoic. It’s a 9-week course packed with the best wisdom from the Stoics, as well as today’s leading money experts, on how to be rich, free, and happy. Along with ~30,000 words of exclusive content, there will be 3 live video sessions where I’ll be joined by bestselling authors, pioneering businesswomen, and investing and finance experts. I’m really excited about this course. I think it’s going to be one of our best, and I would love to have you join us—you can learn more at thewealthystoic.com.

The juxtaposition of Holiday saying “Come buy my wealth course” followed by a Seneca quote saying “poverty wasn’t having too little, it was wanting more” seemed a bit odd to me.

I get it though. Holiday is a full-time creator who has to sell books, courses, etc., to feed his family. If I was in his position I’d probably have to do the same thing.

But, what about those people that don’t have to do this? Those who have more money than they could ever spend? Why are they still chasing money and attention so badly? This tweet summarizes it perfectly:

I don’t understand the folks on this website who are like “I sold two companies for $1 billion each follow me for thoughtpiece advice and learn how you can too!”

My brother, no offense, if I sold two billion dollar companies I’d never darken the door of this website again.

The tweet is an exaggeration, but not much. I’ve seen plenty of examples of people bragging about how wealthy/successful they are while still chasing after more. And whenever I see this, I think the same thing: If you’re so rich, why are you desperate?

After all, if you’re so good at building wealth, why don’t you just go and build more for yourself instead of selling me on how to build it? It’s more of the “rich as I say, not as I do” problem, or, as this McSweeney’s article jokingly states, “Let me teach you how to teach other people how to teach other people how to freelance.” 

But the truth is much deeper than that. Because I don’t think these individuals are actually desperate for more money. No, they are desperate for more attention, status, and respect. After all, money by itself can’t provide you with a deeper sense of purpose. But, becoming a thought leader just might. Funnily enough, this is one of Holiday’s money lessons (emphasize mine):

I’ve had the privilege of talking to many, many extremely wealthy people. They are not that rare. Rarer is the one who actually likes what they do for a living (for instance, half the ones I meet all seem like they’d rather be writing books for some crazy reason)

Holiday’s lesson highlights how many of the richest, most successful people out there need more than money to fulfill them.

Though this might seem like a cause for concern, I actually find it reassuring. Why? Because it demonstrates that money isn’t the answer to one of life’s biggest problems—finding meaning. It also reveals a deeper truth based on peoples’ actions, not their words. While society tells us that more money will complete us, those who actually have more money show us something else. 

A great example of this comes from How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis, an incredibly honest account of what it feels like to get wealthy. As Dennis states:

Still let me repeat it one more time. Becoming rich does not guarantee happiness. In fact, it is almost certain to impose the opposite condition—if not from the stresses and strains of protecting wealth, then from the guilt that inevitably accompanies its arrival.

While the data suggests that those who make more money are happier than those who make less (all the way up the income spectrum), I’m inclined to side with Dennis and Holiday on this one. Why? Because we don’t know which way the causality runs between money and happiness. Did the money cause the happiness or did the happiness cause the money?

Perhaps those people who are happier make more money because they are doing something they love. After all, if you’re doing something that you find fulfilling, you probably would be willing to work more (and would likely earn more) as a result. Sam Zell echoed this sentiment in a recent lunch with David Senra from The Founders Podcast:

Go for freedom.

Freedom allows you to control what you work on.

If you control what you work on then you can work on what you love.

If you love it you will do it for a long time.

If you do it for a long time you will get really good at it.

Money will come as a result.

Regardless of which way the causality goes, when you see someone wealthy chasing after more wealth, you won’t know why they are doing it. You won’t be able to see their true motivations. But, I’d bet that the answer probably isn’t money.

In the case of Felix Dennis it wasn’t. He chased riches for the act of chasing riches in itself. As he stated:

…making money is a drug. Not the money itself. The making of the money.

A similar sentiment can be found in The Money Game by Adam Smith (pseudonym):

The irony is that this is a money game and money is the way we keep score. But the real object of the Game is not money, it is the playing of the Game itself. For the true players, you could take all the trophies away and substitute plastic beads or whale’s teeth; as long as there is a way to keep score, they will play.

This is an encouraging point for those of us who aren’t as wealthy as we imagine we would like to be. Because it shows that those who are chasing after money aren’t really doing it for the money. So why should we? Even if we get the wealth we so desire, it won’t make us feel whole. It won’t provide us with a deeper sense of meaning. No, we will be right back where we started.

So what should we do instead of solving for wealth? We should solve for purpose. We should solve for substance. We should solve for the things that make life worth living.

Because no one ever asks: If you’re so fulfilled, why aren’t you rich?

Thank you for reading.

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This is post 351. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data


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