I was watching an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s new project Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It seems an alternative title could also be Almost-Billionaires In The Twilight of Their Careers. In an episode where he sits down with Howard Stern there was a moment of conversation that caught my attention. They were discussing how when they were younger the idea of owning a production company, hiring talented artists to be creative, and having the opportunity to pick what gets developed would be a dream. The following dialogue starts at 8:40 in the episode:
Seinfeld: Would you like to play god with shows? And make shows? And say ‘I like this guy, I wanna do this with him’? How come you haven’t done that?
Stern: I had a production company and I had ten shows sold and in production. And I walked away from it. There’s nothing more exciting than the announcement. ‘Howard Stern now is head of his own network!’ You know, whatever, some big announcement.
Stern: That’s a great high! But then you actually have to go out and get it done.
Seinfeld: Right (laughing).
Stern: And then you have no life. And that’s the problem. I love the announcement.
Seinfeld: It’s so funny how it works isn’t it? That you get to the point to get that thing. And you don’t want it.
Stern: No (agreeing)
Seinfeld: Why is life so fucking twisted like that?
Why indeed! It seems there is something demotivating about financial independence. When you actually have the time, the money, the skills to do that great project you would have loved to had the resources to do when you were in college, suddenly it just doesn’t seem like such a great idea anymore.
Maybe it’s wisdom. – A realization that those kinds of things like big projects or businesses, even though there would be some positive things, some fun aspects, and many good moments, ultimately really just don’t make some people happy and they know enough to keep a distance. Making a priority of family and just enjoying a more carefree life is more important.
Maybe it’s plain laziness and that, ultimately, given the opportunity to avoid the headaches of work, some just default to inaction over action. Though I doubt this is the case. Because people who reach financial independence early, or people like Stern or Seinfeld who amass great wealth, almost always do so through years of hard work and perseverance. Though maybe we’re only born with the ability to tolerate that for so many years before we run out of fuel.
I do see a lot of people with grand plans for when they reach financial independence. – Things like starting companies. – Or making art, movies, novels, or software. – Or working with or starting an organization to fight for an important cause. And there certainly do exist people with enough passion and drive for some things that they actually do pull off those grand plans.
But I also think a lot of people, when they actually get the point where they can make it a reality, succumb to the temptation of comfort and enjoying a quiet life.
My own approach is to just keep the door open. I don’t have any big projects planned. Though I can see how building a business could be fun. Especially if you can do it without the stress of facing potential starvation and financial ruin if you don’t succeed. Or making a independent film would be fun. Or a video game. But I also keep in the forefront of my mind that things are more easily begun, than finished. And what seems like a lot of fun when you’re in the planning stages often ends up being a source of stress, frustration and regret only six months later. And again. I don’t know if that’s wisdom or just plain laziness.
My instinct is to go build something huge. My experience tells me to hold on a minute.