Yesterday was my birthday and it’s always overwhelming to me to receive so many well wishes on social media. These days I joke with my closest friends and kids saying it’s just a day to recognize I have one less year to live. Before you write that off as just depressing consider my perspective. I use it to reflect on how I spent the last year. I assume I have less years to live than the ones I already lived so why not consider if I am using my time wisely.
My father always told me protect two things above all else because you will never get them back after you lose them; time and your reputation.
For years I drove my life after being the best I could be. It was like some unnatural obsession to be the best at anything I did. As I have gotten older I have realized while this is a good trait, it can be overdone. What do I really have to prove?
After this, I think I went through a phase of becoming successful, wealthy or even rich. But I have come to realize this is a useless exercise that only wastes time. Can you ever really become rich? Or can you only become someone trying to get rich?
If you look at time and reputation as the goal it grounds you. My children want my time, my wife wants my time and anyone I want to help needs my time more than my money. Don’t get me wrong I’m not selling everything and going to live in the desert, that is also stupid and a waste of time. What I am saying is I have changed my perspective on what it means to be rich.
Interestingly enough there are reports on the US that go out every year where this question is asked; how much money do you need to be rich or wealthy. There are even calculators that show you how you add up compared to the world. If you make $15,000 a year (less than $10 per hour), which is less than most teenagers can make part time you are still in the top 8% of the wealthiest people in the world.
If someone in Ghana makes $0.08 per hour they would certainly consider someone making $15,000 per year rich. Yet in the US you would be considered poor. So how much is rich? If you ask that person making $15,000 they would probably say someone making $100,000 per year is rich. But if you asked that person they would say someone making $500,000. So, is there a top mark? $1M or $1B? If you ask those that make or have several billion they may say you need at least $5B but then you start to hear; that’s in cash you need $50B in assets. When does it stop?
At the very highest levels of income you start to hear it shift from monetary amounts to “the ability to purchase without constraints”. In my life I grew up hearing money doesn’t grow on trees, as I have gotten older I have realized it’s made of paper so it actually does grow on trees. It’s temporary, it goes faster than it comes. You can have exactly the same stresses about money making $500,000 a year as you do making $15,000. So being rich must be defined by something other than money.
If I have only 20, 30 or 40 years left I am not going to define it trying to run a race with no finish line. I have often told my children be bold in life, I aim to reach one conclusion, to reach the last minute of my life and have a good laugh. To think of things I tried that failed miserably, to say I can’t believe you did that. To remember successes I have had and people I have helped. What I live to avoid is having regrets in that final moment that I didn’t at least give something a try. I don’t want my final thoughts to be…I wonder if.
I can’t live a life without challenge or competition, it makes me feel alive. So, I will still run parts of the race. This is the purpose of salary, wealth, prestige and position; it’s just part of the game. But I will stop before it consumes me. This past year has been the toughest financially for me because I spent more than I made trying to help Veterans. But in ways it was the most rewarding year of my life. I can’t continue that way because you need money to survive. The old saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” is true but I can say it sure pays off sadness!
So, my challenge for the next year is how can I provide, survive and give myself enough room with money so it’s not the focus. This is where extremely rich and extremely poor share a similar mentality, they are both always worried about making more. Their every thought is consumed by riches; either trying to get it or trying not to lose it. Can I make “just enough” to not have to stress yet still have the majority of my thoughts on my family, on helping others and especially enjoying the time I have. Am I investing in my children through conversation. Am I taking a walk just so I can hear the birds and bugs.
We live in a culture that pushes and pulls us towards this impossible and invisible finish line so it takes a considerable effort to climb out of the current.
I want to thank all of you that took the time to send a note to wish me a happy birthday and hope this glimpse of perspective will serve as a valid gesture towards how important it is. I have spent a lot of time with Vets and many, as you know, fight with PTSD and a general feeling of being used up. This often leads to many committing suicides. One thing I have learned is those thoughts only take seed when someone convinces themselves they won’t be missed. I am not capable of that mentality but having several hundred people post happy birthday, having to turn off notifications because so many were coming in to my inbox I can say it still had the effect. You all slapped me across the face. You have all let me know that in some way I am noticed, I am making a difference even if in a very small way. I would be missed. So, thank you for the reminder!