The Temptation To Be Rich

Instead of calling it quits in another year or two and never working again, I could just keep on chugging along. – Constantly reinvesting my growing rental incomes and paychecks. A little quick spreadsheet work shows I could be in the $2M/assets + $400k+/yearly income range within about 6 years at the rate I’m going.

This recurred to me last night when I was looking at projections to figure out when I’ll have enough income so that I’ll feel comfortable quitting working again. What if I just kept going, racing past my goal on into the future? What if I kept up this pace for 5+ years? Where would I be? There are lots of opportunities for failure along a path that long, but I’m confident, if I made it my goal, I could be a multi-millionaire by the time I’m 40, and likely a deca-millionaire before I’m 50. – If I made it my goal.

I could certainly take that route. – Being a hard-working businessman through my 30′s, and a high-rolling investor throughout my 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. – Helping to launch businesses, or rescue them. – Creating jobs and wealth along the way. – Taking on lofty goals like revitalizing a city neighborhood, creating scholarships, or helping fund the search for a cure for some awful affliction.

Then there’s the opportunity for a little decadent consumerism like yachts and pent house suites.

Once or twice a year these types of thoughts will cross my mind. And I entertain them for an hour or so, imagining what such a life would be like. But I always return to my old conclusions. No doubt, such a life would be fun, but I always seem to fall back to the idea that I would have more fun settling for a modest income and filling my time with days at the beach, or on mountain tops and having parties with my friends rather than days on construction sites, or at an office desk working my way through a never ending to-do list of mundane business.

The work-a-holics would likely state just the opposite though, wouldn’t they? That they’d much rather spend the day productively solving problems with like-minded colleagues and helping to build wealth for themselves and others, rather than sitting around yet another camp fire on the beach trading silly anecdotes, half of which they’ve already heard.

I don’t think either approach is intrinsically better than another. It’s just a matter of personal appetites.

Some dime-store psychologists peg me as having a fear of failure. That’s not it though, I’m quite comfortable with failure. I’m just easily happy. And if I can facilitate that happiness with only $20k-$30k/year, why spend decades of my life doing something I don’t enjoy just in order to have $200k-$300k/year? Is that small increase in enjoyment from that much larger amount of money worth sacrificing a decade or more of my life? I don’t think so. Though I concede that for another, the word sacrifice would hardly seem apt, since they could get a great thrill from accumulating wealth and building businesses. While I acknowledge that kind of stuff can be enjoyable, for me it always seems to wear thin after a short while and I always end up wishing I just had more leisure time.

I remember in high school my economics teacher told me that economic demand is limitless. Yet, then in my English class Thoreau told me that, “The community has no bribe that can tempt a wise man.” Somehow I figured out a way to cap that limitless-demand, at least so far as my personal economy goes. I’m not clear whether that’s thanks to wisdom, or the good fortune of not being born with such appetites, or, likely, a little mix of both.

I imagine that titan entrepreneurs and hard-driving business people, people who could afford to choose to never work another day in their lives if they wished, face the opposite temptation. – The temptation to call it quits. I imagine, just like me, they mull it over for an hour or so a couple of times a year, imagining what life would be like with all that free time. Much like I imagine what life would be like with all that productivity around me. And they conclude, much as I do, that they couldn’t possibly be happy doing anything else.

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13 Comments

  1. Posted August 8, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Could it be that you are LACKING AMBITION? :)

    I used to think that option B you described (chasing more money/climbing the ladder) was what I wanted but after working for just over a decade I’m definitely leaning towards option A (working till I have ENOUGH). The trick is to know when to draw that line and switch my focus on other ventures.

  2. Posted August 8, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I find myself squarely entrenched in the same camp as you — I cannot wait to leave my working days behind and having unlimited time for relaxation and personal growth.

    I used to look on the lifelong workaholics with a bit of disdain or scorn, but in more recent times I’ve decided to feel grateful that they exist. After all, they’ll be the ones who keep the dividend payments flowing when I’m living off that passive income.

  3. Posted August 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I think the last paragraph was perfect. I imagine the workaholics mostly get that “what if I just quit and enjoyed life” thought when they take their annual vacation. I don’t have to imagine too hard, since that used to be me. And every time I took vacation I noticed two things:

    1. Before I left, I was working 12+ hour days because I was so concerned with things going smoothly while I was gone, and…

    2. Everytime I was deep into my vacation, I thought “why did I care about my work again?”

    Once that happened enough times, I finally caught on to the pattern. You know, the definition of insanity and all that…

    After that realization, the next challenge is figuring out how to make it happen. You’ve got it figured out, and thats why I enjoy reading your posts.

  4. eric
    Posted August 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Another great post Mike. Thanks for sharing all your thoughts.

  5. Posted August 9, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    I’ll echo Brave New Life’s comment. Your self awareness makes for a good read.

  6. Rich
    Posted August 9, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    The thing that grabs me is your self-awareness. Most aren’t aware of what really makes them happy… and so they never manage to achieve it. They “chase after the wind,” to use the biblical phrase from Ecclesiastes 4:6 – “Better is a handful with quiet than two handfuls with toil, and a chasing after wind.”

    Thanks for sharing this aspect of your life with all of us. Now if only we could convince you to post more than once a month. :)

  7. Meadowlark
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Love reading your thoughts – this is one of my favorite blogs. I love these moments when we see exactly what enough looks like for us. For me, in this instant, I am watching my snoring dog, knowing my son is safe tucked in his bed, reading your words, and I feel enough also.

  8. J. Norway
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Great post.

    I often do this kind of calculations my self just for fun. Personally I lean towards a lifestyle where I have a lot of free time and control my own day, but will do a project like refurbishing a house/apartment once or twice each year or another project witch does not last too long. I guess I value the freedom from not having a job a lot, but still find it interesting and fun to make money from time to time.

  9. Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Mike,

    I get that temptation as well from time to time. I’ve come around more and more though to your natural mindset, which just entertains this whole getting rich thing every blue moon or so. I used to fantasize about it all the time, but lately, it hardly ever happens. I like it better this way. I don’t want to be tempted to move in that direction. It’s an endless race and is never won.

    Take care,

  10. Spoonman
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    The same thought crosses my mind from time to time, but I always reach the same conclusion you do. I just don’t see myself submitting myself to that many extra years of office BS. I also worry what another 5-10 years of being a cubicle drone would do to my health, it simply isn’t worth it.

  11. Posted August 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Mike,

    Couldn’t agree more.

    To me, the hamster wheel and cheese just doesn’t do it after a while. Some people like to keep running faster and faster on the hedonic treadmill, thinking that the faster they go the quicker they’ll get that cheese. They fail to realize that the cheese was inside of them all along.

    I think we all have a natural amount of happiness inside of us. We may vary below or above that level temporarily from time to time, but inevitably all reverts to the mean. Yachts and penthouses, as you put it, will likely raise your happiness above that base level for a little while and then you’ll adapt. And you’ll be right back where you started from. Except you won’t be right back where you started from. You’ll be less the 10-20 years it took you to get that yacht and penthouse.

    Great post!

    Best wishes.

  12. Posted August 17, 2013 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    It definitely depends on your personality. I want to be financially independent but only so I can freely focus my productivity on my own projects, not someone else’s. There’s really no economic need for those projects, they’re just personal goals.

  13. Posted September 29, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I figured that the traditional path–go all-in on a career, emerge out the other end with retirement savings (we hope)–is well-traveled, so it was worth exploring alternatives. If you have the opportunity and the fortitude to explore the less-traveled path, you practically owe it to yourself and to other people.

    That’s why I made the leap and started my at-least-5-years experiment with semi-retirement a year and a half ago. =) Since most people can only dream of what they would do if they didn’t have to worry about their expenses, I should go and learn as much as possible so that I can help make that jump easier for people and so that we can explore all these other interesting questions that most people can’t.

    As it turns out, discretionary time is real wealth. The deeper I get into this experiment, the easier it is to let go of the temptation to build monetary wealth–and the easier it is to follow the temptation to be rich in terms of time. =)

    Good luck!