Most of what we think we know about people with a lot of money – the enviable lifestyle of the rich and famous – comes from television, movies and novels. A lot of it is inaccurate.
Apart from the happiness that is showcased, financially well-to-do people have their own set of concerns – uncertainty over their relationships, anxiety about their children, fear of isolation and, of course, fear of losing their financial wealth.
In fact, I have known plenty of such “poor rich” people over the last few years, who have lots of money and assets…but not much else.
They are financially wealthy but emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally and even socially, bankrupt.
Imagine your own life. If you own one big house (or even five) but you live in an unhealthy, stressed, over-worked, sleep-deprived, over-medicated body that’s going to die twenty or thirty years too soon (as many do), are you really wealthy?
So maybe health equals wealth.
Or if you’re a millionaire but you live in an unhealthy marriage with a spouse you haven’t spoken (heartily) to for a year and kids who never see you invest time into their lives, are you really rich or do you just have lots of money?
So maybe time equals wealth.
Of course the answer is completely dependent on the criteria by which we personally evaluate wealth and therefore the answer will be different for all of us.
For the Love of Money
At the start of the last year of my job as a stock market analyst in 2010, my annual salary was Rs 2,200,000 (read again, and please calm down your “how-could-you-leave-this-job” feeling).
Compare this with my starting annual wage of Rs 144,000 in 2003 (I still remember my “but-I-am-an-MBA” feeling), and you know how your financial wealth can compound in a stock market job (my CAGR was 48%).
Anyways, I was 32 years old then, owned a house and a car of my own, and had no debts to repay – so overall, financially well-off.
But then, I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink – I was addicted. So, while a Rs 30,000 annual raise in 2004 thrilled me, I was disappointed in 2010 at receiving just a Rs 300,000 annual hike.
It was at a casual coffee meeting (sometime in 2010) with a financially well-off friend who worked as a relationship manager at a foreign bank that I realized the limitations of unlimited wealth.
“Why are you recommending this XYZ stock to your clients? It’s a dud business!” I told him after he showed me the latest research report his bank’s equity team had prepared.
He replied, “Boss, I don’t have the capacity to think about my clients. All I’m concerned with is how this benefits my company.”
“But what will you and your company lose if you don’t recommend such stocks to people?” I asked.
“A chance to make a lot of new money!” pat came his reply.
I felt as if that statement was a punch in my gut. “This man was afraid of losing money,” I asked myself, “…despite all that he had?”
This friend of mine was already going through a bad relationship with his wife and kids, carried an unhealthy body, and had gone alcoholic (it was maybe my 10th meeting with him to talk him back into a good life). But even this ended on a not-so-good note.
Thankfully for me, despite my little addiction for more money, I had a good equation with my wife and kids, kept okay (not great) health, and never touched alcohol (or any such killer addiction).
So this 10th meeting with my friend gave me a great perspective on how to look at financial wealth and its equation with things that were not material (esp. health and relationships).
And, as they say, the rest is history.
The Cost of Chasing Money
In chasing financial wealth, the cost people pay is, well, their own self. They seem to become their business, their titles, their money, their assets, and their achievements.
Their unquenchable quest for money and perceived status more often than not creates an abysmal situation in their lives.
What they do and what they earn and own becomes “who they are”. And as long as their identity is completely tied into their financial wealth, they will always be insecure and miserable because all that wealth is temporary.
Through all the senseless pursuit of money, relationships begin to suffer. Too much time is spent on working harder and harder to earn more. The loved ones are compensated with material possessions instead of quality time, nurture and tough love.
Yes, a big bank account can go hand in hand with these “other types” of wealth but so often, it doesn’t.
Maybe some of us need to change that criteria.
Luckily, I changed it with a cup of coffee in 2010. And now, I am wealthier…truly wealthier.