I am kind of fed up with the “we want you to be rich” stuff that’s going around (yes, I am talking about the barrage of programs and books from The Secret to the latest Trump publishing endeavor). I think that that is the kind of propaganda that keeps illusions alive, and while we live in a world of illusion we are unable to change the reality of the world we live.
So let’s face it. The reality of the world is that 10% of the population holds 85% of the wealth. We are taught that such is the nature of world and that it can be changed. And let’s face it; the attempts to turn around the tables of wealth distribution seem to corroborate so far that hypothesis. However, in order to avoid what seemed historically to be the norm (the attempt to redistribute by means of violence the wealth produced by the whole of the society), we are educated into passivity and complacency towards the status quo.
All these books and ideas about becoming rich I think misdirect our energies towards unattainable and utterly useless goals. Let’s leave aside the unattainable part of it for now and let’s see why I think the goal of being rich is useless. Becoming rich essentially means moving from the lower 85% (55% if you happen to be middle class) to the upper 10% of society. It is not impossible, and now and then we will hear a story that keeps the myth alive. However, if we think in terms of the energy needed to attain that goal, you will see that it is a useless goal.
Let’s imagine that the whole population of the US forms a mountain, with 1% of the population at the top, 10% in the second tier, 55% in the third tier, and the rest forming the base. The people at the top are lawfully entitled to their wealth, and they are not going to give it to you, which create downward pressure. The second tier, not only have the same entitlement, but most probably also worked very hard to get there and will protect their place in society, creating even more downward pressure. Finally, if you are middle class, there is that small group of 165 million people who essentially share your same social background, education, and skill sets, and who are direct competition to you in your quest for reaching the top. Every day, you know it perfectly, you need to get out there and compete against people who can take part of your income, who want the same position as you, or who are direct commercial competition. We already spend a lot of money and energy just to stay in the middle class.
However, your task is not to remain middle class (which is already hard enough in the current economy), but to climb this mountain in order to reach, at least, the top 10% of the mountain (we are not even talking about the pinnacle). I don’t know if you ever climbed a real mountain, but even if you did some casual trekking in a mountain you will agree with me that climbing, even using known paths is tiresome and hard work. The obvious reason for it is that, when climbing, you are going against the force of gravity, and in order to defy gravity you need a large amount of energy.
Although in American society allows for upward mobility and rewards with social recognition those who make it to the top and remain there, it naturally posses a strong gravity force. We recognize this force as competition from our piers, lack of liquidity to finance a business, or just market pressures imposed by the desire of everybody else to retain and increase their wealth.
Now, I live in Florida, and I grew up during the Apollo era, so I have a love for everything related to space travel and I enjoy watching the powerful blasts of the rockets when they launch the shuttle. It amazes me and bothers at the same time the amount of energy we are freeing in order to send scientists and occasional tourists to circle the globe. As you know, launching space vehicles is risky business, and a small piece of debris can destroy a mission.
If you followed the analogy so far, that’s what the get rich schemes are: Rockets that try to negate the forces of social gravity to put you very high very fast. My question is, if NASA and the private industry, with wealth of scientists at their disposition to analyze every possible variable consider rocket launching a risky enterprise, why would anybody accept with blind fate that any plan for getting to outer space without effort may have any chance of success?
There are other ways to reach high altitudes that are not vertical launches, the alternative is parabolic flight. A parabolic flight is the normal flight of every commercial airplane. To clarify this, let me tell you that if a commercial airplane launched vertically from New York, it will reach Europe in a matter of minutes, not hours, and although it sounds tempting (above all if you are a frequent flyer), it will require an enormous amount of energy and probably special training of every single passenger. What’s more important, families with infants would not be able to travel (and, I know, if you are a frequent flyer you don’t think that’s a bad idea either). But you are starting to get one of my points, if you want to go very high with your family, you may need to chose a parabolic flight, longer and boring, but safer.
So, what kind of vehicle do you have to make it to the top?
You may have some inheritance, and that will help you. You may be particularly talented in a marketable skill. You may have an extraordinary inner strength an unflappable goal setting skills, and all of these things will help you. However, most of us are in a situation where our job can be performed by a machine, or by another worker in another country willing to work for a fraction of what we would, most of us do not have natural extraordinary skills (by definition), and most of us get distracted from our goal of getting rich by stupid things like love, friendship, parenthood or family ties.
After you know the vehicle you have, and you figure out how to improve it, you need to figure out the amount of energy you will need for the climb. Are you going for the mad rash? Are you going to take the scenic route? Are you going to try to climb a burning rocket jumping into every single new “get rich now” scheme to get burned with technology stocks of technologies you know nothing about, real estate deals that you hardly understand, or commodities that you never before heard of?
Let’s face it. You may not count with the right vehicle to reach the top, and you may not have the energy necessary to do it. And you know what? That’s fine.
Getting by sucks, and getting rich is overrated
The goal of making money should be to have enough to enjoy the social freedoms we attained. If you only make enough to get by, you lose on your freedoms. In a way, you are forced to give up on the possibility of exercising them because you are using most of your energy in trying to get by. If you are only getting by, you are at the steepest side of the mountain and you will have to make an extraordinary effort to acquire new skills that would allow you to enjoy more of your life. Forget for now getting rich and focus on how to get out the rut. After you achieved that, you may set yourself new goals, but trying to go from 0 to 100 uphill on a bicycle will only hurt you.
On the other hand, what’s the point of being rich? Do you really think it is going to bring you more happiness? Let me tell you, happiness and money are not related there is no connection between the two and there never was a connection.
Haven’t you had moments of happiness even you are not rich? Haven’t you perhaps been happy for a long time? For all I know, you may be a very happy person, and yet, for some reason, you want to risk that to be rich.
Maybe you have the illusion that getting rich will bring you social recognition. It is true. Society recognizes and idolizes people who become rich or just famous (which brings the immediate assumption of wealth), but also recognizes and idolizes people who do extraordinary things for others.
The whole idea of getting rich is overrated, overblown and is just an illusion that blinds us from changing those things we can actually change. Make our neighborhood better, contribute to social causes, raise a healthy functional family, or take care of the elderly. I do not know! You name it. There are so many things that require only a fraction of the effort that climbing the social ladder requires and that bring us so much more happiness that it is useless (for impossible) to enumerate them.
This article is part of the series "Redefining Riches"
Franklin @ March 7, 2008