The Surprising Lesson a Six-Figure Salary in My 20s Taught Me About Wealth
If you do a Google search for the phrase, “how to make more money,” you will get a search result of over 1,660,000,000.
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If you did another search for the term, “how to be fulfilled,” you’ll only get 64,600,000, which is a difference of 1,595,400,000.
Now, I’m not making a case that life should be determined by the search queries of the almighty Google, but I think I can safely suggest that it demonstrates the fact that people are pretty obsessed with the idea of making more money.
Even here on BiggerPockets, a lot of what we see focuses on the topic of making more money in order to gain “the freedom” and “the lifestyle” we want. Today, I want to challenge this by getting you to think about the whole concept of “money” and asking yourself if you are sacrificing true fulfillment to achieve a higher net worth.
My experience has shown me that though most of us believe that money will bring true freedom, satisfaction, and fulfillment, it never does.
Growing Up, I Wanted to Be Wolf-of-Wall-Street Kind of Rich
When I was 23 years old and fresh out of college, I had gotten a teaching degree, but boy, was my heart set on being a businessman!
Back in my day and age, the term “lifestyle design” hadn’t been coined yet, but being naturally more of an entrepreneur, I unknowingly came up with my version of the concept.
I remember I sat down and created something I called a “lifestyle chart.” It was essentially a collage of all the things I wanted to achieve in the different areas of my life. I remember putting pictures on there of a silver Dodge Viper, three different mansions, a luxury motorcycle, and an engagement ring the size of a Ring Pop (I wasn’t married but had hopes to lavishly spoil my future wife).
Everything on there pointed to my desire to make a lot of money and have luxury material possessions. At that time in my life, like most people, my entire view of life was measured by how many zeros were in my bank account. Even though I dreamed of being rich, I was actually dead broke back then, and I simply lived for the next 100 dollars to get me to the weekend.
I remember being on a first date, and my debit card bounced! How embarrassed I was to have my date pay for our dinner. Yes, I was that type of “broke.” I remember feeling “less-than” a lot back in those days. I used to think a lot about what it was that made rich people rich: What made them so successful?
I wanted to be as confident and cool as they were. I wanted to have the biggest house on the block, drive the fanciest car, and be the guy who walks in the room and people turn their heads to see. At that time in my life, I remember saying to myself, “If I could just get $5,000 in the bank, then everything would be different!”
I came up with this number because my parents were both teachers, and I remember my dad saying that he didn’t remember when his bank account ever had more the $5,000 in it. So in my mind, $5,000 was a lot of money!
So I set my sights on that goal. At first, I tried a number of different things. I flipped cars, stereo systems, bikes, you name it. I tried a couple of different network marketing businesses, which I completely failed at. I even started a DVD business that ended up a disaster.
Eventually though, all of my entrepreneurial efforts did lead me to achieve that goal of $5,000, and that turned out to be the money I used to buy my first real estate deal. Once I had reached my goal, it wasn’t long until I realized $5,000 doesn’t go as far as I thought it did. So, naturally my goal changed.
I went from wanting to have $5,000, to wanting $10,000, and then $15,000, then $20,000, to eventually having a long term goal of having a net worth of a million. It was never enough! The more money I made, the more money I felt I needed.
Well, real estate was very good to me, and I was able to reach a decent level of wealth within a few years. I had made it to that big “six figure income” that you read about on “Yahoo” articles and other places online. For me, that was BIG money. I was in my late 20s and had the big house, the nice car, and the big boat on top of it.
I wore all designer clothes, had a live-in girlfriend at the time, and man, I felt like finally I had really made it! But you know something?
It wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be…
Money in and of Itself is Empty
At that time in my life, I was working seven days a week. My girlfriend had become pregnant with my first born and because I was working so much, I wasn’t really able to be there for my family. Work was constantly on my mind, and now there was something else weighing on me: money!
You see, a lot of people think they want to make a lot of money so that once they have it, they never have to worry about it again. But for me, once I had money, that’s when the real worrying started. I had to manage it and make sure people weren’t taking advantage of me. I had to “make sure” I didn’t lose it, and this worry was always on my mind.
A lot of the time, even today, I find myself thinking WAY too much about growing and protecting the money I have. But you know what’s funny? When I was broke, I never really thought about money because, well, I didn’t have any. It’s interesting to me how sometimes people with little financial support can be so wealthy in other ways. Honestly, I have seen some of the poorest people actually be far happier and stress-free than I have been myself.
So getting back to the story, at this time in my life, my business was flourishing, and if someone on the outside were to look in, they’d probably say I was successful and doing really well for myself. But the truth was, I was broken, and my family life was falling apart.
To make a long story short, my girlfriend ended up leaving me, and on that day she left, I remember sitting in that big house, with that big boat and fancy car, alone with my two-year-old, feeling 100% helpless and miserable. I had the money, but at what cost?
This was not the “success” that I had dreamed of.
The Turning Point
This became the turning point in my life and my faith journey, and over the last several years, my perspective has really changed. The truth is, money doesn’t bring you freedom. Money doesn’t bring you success. Money doesn’t bring you meaning or make you happy.
All that money does is amplify the stuff going on within you.
Another story that I think demonstrates this point well is the tale of Roy Raymond. Roy founded the store Victoria’s Secret in San Francisco in the latter part of the 1970s. Over the next few years, he expanded the company to six stores, a 42-page catalogue and an annual gross income of $6 million.
Due to some marketing efforts that were causing the company to lose money (he was targeting men as his customer base instead of women), Roy ended up selling the company in 1982 for $1 million. As you know, the company ended up turning around and becoming one of the largest retail stores in the U.S.
In my opinion, for Roy to sell his business for $1 million is a great accomplishment. Financially, I’d say he was at the top of his game. But for Roy, it was different. Tragically, after a number of failed attempts at different business ventures post his sale of Victoria’s Secret, Roy ended up broke and depressed, ultimately leading to his suicide in 1993.
Now, I don’t know if the money had everything do with Roy’s decision about taking his life, but I would ask the question, “If Roy never had made a million dollars and lost it, would his life ended up different?”
I have seen many stories of money being a blessing, but as in the examples I have shared, money can also be a curse for some people. My goal behind this post is to bring us all back to our “why.”
Why are you pursuing a business in real estate?
What is the real reason you are doing what you are doing?
If your ultimate goal is simply to have a lot of zeros in your bank account, I have to tell you that once it’s achieved, you will feel empty, and there will be no end to your toil. You don’t come into this world with money, and you definitely don’t take it with you when you leave.
Money, business, this life, it’s all temporary!
I want you to humor me for a moment, and I want you to imagine that you are many years in the future. You are old and on your deathbed. What will you be thinking about right before it’s your turn to pass?
Will it be how much money you made? Will that really matter then?
What will really matter is the relationships that you had and the impact you made on those around you.
Now, before we finish up this week, I want to be clear that I don’t think that money is in and of itself a bad thing. The fact is, money can be a huge blessing and a power to bring a lot of positive change to the world.
Now that I have my “why,” all the money that I make should be directly tied to it.
However, if you live and breath for the growth of the zeros in your bank account, I want to pose a challenge to you: What is it that actually brings you freedom, fulfillment, and joy? What is your purpose in life?
Whatever your personal answer is to these questions, it is that thing, that should be the ultimate goal of your life.
[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]
What are the aspects in your life that drive you to be a successful investor?
Let’s talk in the comments section below!