Is there a perfect amount of money we need to be happy? Why are people with plenty of money so scared of “losing it all”? And why can’t money do the tricky job of helping us create meaningful and purposeful lives? I brought all of these questions to my friend, Carl Richards. He’s a Financial Planner, NYT columnist, author, artist and entrepreneur – a total polymath. Here’s a moving conversation with Carl around his latest project, Wizards of Enough.
1. Why is “enough” so elusive?
“It turns out figuring out how to have enough is suuuuper hard. Like super, super hard.”
It’s hard to find people who truly have a sense of enough in their lives.
It’s harder to find a billionaire who lives with enough than it is to find people who have almost nothing but feel they have enough.
“[Money is more likely to show up when you] live your life based on what lights you up.”
2. What’s the “next dollar” worth?
Here’s how the marginal utility curve works: it’s very steep at the beginning and you’re living paycheck to paycheck just surviving. Then as it curves you’re building up savings. You’d notice if your money got halved, but you’re definitely comfortable. Then you get to the flattened part of the curve. There, even if your savings got reduced by 50%, you’d probably still be fine. Maybe you wouldn’t even notice.
Most readers are probably in the curve. But they’re SO scared of falling back down. You f**k up a presentation? You’re fired. Stock market goes down? I’m going to lose my house! People have this catastrophizing fear that they’re one bad decision or market move away from losing it all.
“It’s always the same thing. I’ve done it – sold the business, inherited the money, I earn $1M a year, whatever. I’ve done it. The thing everybody told me I was supposed to do. I’m 45, 50, 35, whatever – is this what it was all for? Why don’t I feel better? Why am I still laying awake at night worried that it’s all going to go away?”
3. Why is money so complicated?
The problem is that we expect money to do a job it does not do. If you’re insecure – if you’re having feelings of insecurity around money – more money will never solve that problem.
Why do we put so much of our self-worth into these fears? Like, what if you screw up that presentation? What if you make a bad trade? What if you invest $150K into a mountain bike company that goes bankrupt?
The answer should be “ouch”. And…so what? Let’s brush ourselves off. But it’s not. It’s way deeper than that.
I’ve gotten way better about not catasrophizing. But right now is a tough time – equity markets are down, I’ve got leverage in different places, the business is experiencing some headwinds. This is the moment for that insecurity to flare. How can I make it an “ouch” instead of a “we’re all going to die!?”
Inner child work. Looking at yourself – really looking at yourself and asking “where does the fear come from? what’s motivating me?”
It’s not that your fear is irrational – it’s just inappropriately placed. It was perfectly rational at the time, and the moment that made you scared was real. But it’s inappropriately placed. It no longer serves us. You can thank your fear for protecting you and give your younger self a hug. You don’t need to keep looking for lions in the bushes. You’re safe now.
So many of us fall into the “when-then” trap. When I hit six figures, I’ll be happy. Then when I hit seven figures, I’ll be really happy. The moving of the goal post is this futile chase towards some stationary thing that will never actually deliver enough.
We have these unmet needs and we think we can fill them with money. And that never works. You just become an asshole with more money.
“If you’re insecure about money, more money will not solve that problem. If you’re unhappy, money will not solve that problem. That’s a job money doesn’t do.”
4. How do we find meaning?
Money doesn’t guarantee meaning. But practice does.
The way you practice is you start to pay attention to what really lights you up.
You watch Kobe play basketball and you feel lit up and you think it means you want to play basketball. But really, you’re relishing in watching someone do something that lights them up. And you want to be lit up too.
The feeling isn’t that you want to play basketball – it’s a feeling we get when we see somebody else “do their thing.” We think, “hey, you have a thing!”
How do you find “the thing”? You pay attention to the things that light you up a little bit. Carl calls it “dancing with dragons”. Just dance with that thing. Then take that little thing, and ask yourself, “what’s the next smallest step I can take towards the thing?” And see what you learn.
You don’t have to turn everything into a business. 100M new YouTube followers. Likes. Money. Fame. What if you just chill and do something you like? Maybe it’ll turn into new followers, but you can’t start with wanting new followers as your desire. New followers isn’t what you really want.
Everyone tries to be consistently heroic.
In baseball, there’s this desire to get a home run every time you set up to the plate. But the real secret to life, joy and progress? Be heroically consistent. Just get on base.
“Little tiny micro actions compounded over the course of a lifetime? Of course you’ll find meaning. It becomes inevitable.“