Money is meaningless. Really – money only has value as far as it enables you to live out your desires (or prevents you from realizing your dreams). Money has power only because it’s the vehicle that allows you to move forward. We all like dolla dolla bills, but do enough people pause during the daily trudge of working 9-5 and saving some arbitrary amount for retirement, to understand whether they’re using their income to empower their lifestyles? I recently read Tim Ferris’s 4 Hour Workday (full disclosure – I only got through about half because I currently don’t have the desire/inclination to launch my own business). Tim’s thesis was that most people have a miserable existence, working unfulfilling jobs to save money for a time when they’re too old to enjoy it. He advocates filling life to the brim with whatever adventures you want to take on, by having ‘mini-retirements’ throughout your lifetime, and dedicating minimal hours to work. The best way (and his way) of doing that is to start your own business, then automate it so that you’re superfluous—raking in the profits without having to put in a ridiculous amount of time.
So now feels like a great moment to pause and appreciate all of the travel I’ve had the opportunity to do since graduating from college almost exactly a year ago (sniff sniff). I went to Russia for a few weeks to visit relatives, stayed in Maine with my parents for a week, saw an old friend in New Haven, moved to DC, gambled in Atlantic City for a weekend, skied in West Virginia, traveled to New Orleans, am going White Water Rafting over memorial day weekend, I’ve seen a few musicals (NYC & Pittsburgh), tried out countless new restaurants, have a trip planned to the Greek Islands in September, and so far have been to Pittsburgh, New York, and Kansas for work.
Sometimes I feel like I’m going through a worksheet: Do I have a job? Then rent an apartment. Check. Open an IRA? Check. Now focus on building up liquid savings to cover six months of expenses (or start a fund for grad school/buying a house/moving/getting married/whatever). It’s easy to feel like there’s a never-ending checklist of where you money has to go, or what the ‘right’ way to live is. But really it should be the opposite – it should be “yay, I’m moving forward by putting money to retirement because then I can live by the lake in my old age and feed ducks every morning!” or “yay, I’m putting aside money to buy a frickin awesome house with space for a garden!”. Because your money’s just … there … serving the purpose of getting you closer to what you want. I think that’s why it’s so important (and so hard) to think about what exactly it is that will make you happy. There’s an auto-pilot route that I see some people take (and I do recognize that with today’s economy, we should all feel lucky to have the option) – work, have kids, buy a house, buy lots of shiny things & take vacations, continue working hard, and then retire. Perfectly fine to do that – but are people doing it on their terms?
I am supremely envious of people for whom things just seem to work out with no stress – namely, in my case, people who end up in the same city after college with their partners (I wish your life was mine). But I also marvel at people who started their job search late, or didn’t drive themselves half-crazy like most of us did, and wound up with fantastic careers. I don’t begrudge the success, but I do know that I’m not able to be like them. And so instead of hoping for the best with my job or with my life, I try to plan or at least think through the possibilities of what I want or what could happen. I don’t even know if this is productive – shouldn’t I be at my job for more than like, 9 months before I start thinking about the option to work part-time after 2 years? (I think the answer is yes, and I’m just crazy.) But there’s probably a happy medium between me & average Joe that assumes you can’t much influence the course of life. That’s why I love thinking about money – because I’m thinking about what I can do with that money.