Last month, a friend said to me, “Not everybody wants to be the founder of a thriving business and own a Rolex.” Last week, the same friend said, “Of course we all want to be super rich. We’re just lazy.”
I’ve begun to think about what it is I usually say I want and how it is that I want it. Do I want it so that it can lift me up on a pedestal and cushion me with social status – a ticket that paves paths for me in this world? Do I want it because my wanting it is a symptom of a problem I have not yet worked through? Do I want it purely, simply because I do? Answering these questions may be a way to avoid undesirable long-term situations or even find solutions to things that pick at one’s energy. Or to prevent that disappointment or anti-climax that happens when we finally get what we think we want.
If my friend was a character in a book I was writing, I would think that –based on his usual characteristics and disposition- being rich is not something he wants. He wants nice things. He wants to be respected more than an average person ever could. He wants to be able to buy his little girl a pink tutu without thinking about his budget. He wants to go a lifetime without being shrunk by somebody in top management. But he doesn’t want to be super wealthy.
He doesn’t want to have to think about how to prevent paying large amounts of tax, how to go about life so that he incurs as few law suits as possible, how to have friends but not bring them too close because people become a liability and untrustworthy when you get to a certain level of wealth, how to keep jealous relatives from selling information they know about him, how to protect his children from kidnappers, how to talk as cunningly as possible since honesty comes at a high premium for certain people, hiring a trustworthy chauffeur to drive him around because he’s on the phone all day and is probably too tired to drive, how to budget his time so stringently that he gets the best out of his 24 hours, how to check if he has anyone in his life who would still love him if he lost all his money, how not to lose all his money, having a large or even decent-sized workforce under him knowing that they’re a crisis or a few bad decisions away from losing their livelihoods and it’s up to him to make sure that doesn’t happen, never spending nearly enough time with his children… And all the problems and stress that could possibly arise from owning and controlling a large amount of wealth. What (I’m guessing) he really wants is to be special and for everyone to know it.
I’m sure there are happy rich people out there, with loving families and friends. But it could easily go the other way. The thing is, certain types of people like to constantly deal with large amounts of stress. If you’re one of those people, then chances are you’ll do well as an ultra-wealthy member of society. If you’re laid back or sensitive or above a particular degree of empathetic, these things might have to be sacrificed in favour of a more logical, obsessively driven version of you – if your goal is solely to make ocean loads of money.
We don’t tend to look at the nitty-gritties of what we want. Every time I got myself into a situation I thought I wanted to be in but loathed by the end, I figured out that I didn’t want to be there in the first place. Somewhere in my heart of hearts, I knew that I would rather be in my element – or even just comfortable – than fight this particular battle. But I looked at all the approval I’d get from doing that thing and dived in based on those societal rewards. But the day-to-day of The Thing is what gets you or misses you.
If you don’t generally enjoy being what you say you want to be on a routine day, you will suffer. If you don’t thrive being what you say you want to be in the middle of a crisis, it was never meant for you. And you’ve invested more time play-acting a role that doesn’t fit you and less time perfecting the role that would have made you. Yes, doing what you’re meant to be doing can involve pain and suffering but all the trouble tends to feel worth it. That’s the mark of alignment or lack thereof.
That said, if my friend was a character in a book of mine, I’d give him a heartbeat. I’d give him a passion that makes his heart race every time he’s investing himself in it. If it was women, I’d give him plenty of adventures with women and make him a painter (cliché but let’s go with it, okay) –who likes to paint all kinds of women from different cultures and walks of life- or a poet who ends up making a lot of money from his hard-won talent. If it was money, I’d make him a ruthless capitalist. If it was fatherhood, he’d come up with a controversial but very potent system of raising kids who were the best versions of themselves –and he’d accidentally make money from his system. If it was being respected, he’d be a walking, talking version of How To Make Friends and Influence People –and he’d end up making a lot of money that way. Material wealth would be a byproduct of him getting what he really wants. If it was comfort and family life, he’d have a steady 9-to-5 and a few rental properties just for back up; he’d go to church on Sundays (maybe), take his sons fishing some Saturdays and try not to hardcore cheat with his work-wife on Mondays. Or he would live a self-sustaining, minimalist existence and have the kind of friends Seneca would have appreciated. And he’d absolutely love his life. In all of these cases, money is not the central element, with a human life revolving around it.
If my friend was a character in my book, I’d give him the courage to go after what he really wanted and to be content with it in a world that commercialises the concept of a good life.
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