The pain of becoming wealthy
This post by Dave Winer about Sean Parker's post about his wedding echoes a story I talk about in the extended version of my talk. I got contacted by someone who had gotten a huge acquisition offer, and stood to gain all the wealth he'd been dreaming of his whole life. And it made him feel completely empty inside. Which was when he reached out to me.
Here's the relevant part of Dave's post:
A few years later I got hit by the Silicon Valley money truck. I had a big bank account, house, long driveway in the best neighborhood, and was young and beautiful, had everything one could possibly hope for, in terms of possessions, the things money can buy. And then the bottom dropped out of my life out at exactly the moment you would have thought I had it made. I realized I had believed in something that was wrong. That wealth would lead to a feeling of happiness and security. Almost exactly the opposite was true.
As long as I was poor, I had something to struggle for. A reason to justify my unhappiness. Once the struggle was over, how could you explain the empty small feeling inside? That was all that was left after the struggle.
Our feelings, including happiness, worth, aliveness, pride, has almost zero to do with wealth. But wealth is a very common and socially accepted excuse to postpone those feelings to some point in the future.
When I ___, then I ___.
When I'm rich, I'll be happy.
When I'm rich, I'll write that book.
When I'm rich, I'll love myself.
When I'm rich, I'll feel loved.
When I'm rich, I'll feel worthy.
It's all bullshit, almost regardless of what you put on the first or the second blank.
But it's very, very human. We all do it, all the time.
The pain of becoming wealthy is that it makes us finally realize that the belief that our entire existence was based on was fundamentally flawed. That's great if you're willing to do the work of putting something more true in its place. It's life threatening if you're not.
In Ted Turner's autobiography, he writes about his dad experiencing exactly this.
Ted Turner's father rose from nothing to quite wealthy, motivated by the dream of owning his own house and perhaps a boat or something, I forget the details. Big, but in no way huge.
Once he'd accomplished that, and then some, his life no longer had any meaning. The struggle for these things were his entire existence. Shortly after, he shot himself. He wasn't able and willing to dig underneath the pain.
His advice to his son: Make sure your dreams are big enough that you'll never achieve them. That's not playing to win, that's playing not to lose.
You can do better. And you don't have to wait until you're rich to do it.
Have the courage to practice organic happiness today and every day. You don't need a reason to be happy. You can allow yourself to be happy right now, for no reason. You can love yourself, right now, for no reason. You don't really need anything else.
I'll be the first to say this isn't always easy. It's been extremely hard for me, it's taken me many years, and I still have lots of difficulties, especially with the happiness bit. But I'm willing, and I'm practicing, and I know that I don't need permission or any outside reason to be happy and loving.
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