I have a good friend and mentor who retired independently wealthy at 42. He then became one of the nation’s most successful investment analysts. He’s now a bestselling author, too.
I’m talking about Alexander Green – someone who knows a thing or two about wealth.
Today, he reveals the very best of his secrets – out just this week – in a new blockbuster, Beyond Wealth. Since I’m in New York City, attending the MDB Capital Conference, I’ve included an excerpt from Alexander’s book below. I suspect you’ll find it a very worthwhile read while I’m gone.
~ Louis Basenese
One of the Highest Forms of Wealth
By Alexander Green, Oxford Club Investment Director
I recently bumped into an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. “Are you still managing money?” he asked.
“No, I write investment advice now,” I said.
“Well, it must not be panning out too well,” he said with a wink, “or you wouldn’t still be working!”
I’ve heard variations of this line over the years. And while it’s always offered in jest, it hints at a particular mindset: Why would anyone continue to work if he didn’t have to?
I’d be bored to death without a job – and even more of a pain in the neck to everyone around me, I’m sure. (Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – two gentlemen who have a few dollars – apparently feel the same way.)
Yet according to over 40 Gallup studies, three-quarters of us are disengaged from our jobs. The most recent U.S. Job Retention Survey found that more than 60% of employees are currently searching for new employment opportunities.
It’s odd that we spend most of our waking hours at work – in occupations often chosen by our younger selves – and yet seldom ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations really mean.
When we meet someone new, for instance, the question we most frequently ask – after discerning where they’re from and whether we have any common acquaintances – is what he or she does. Our work, to a great extent, defines us.
It wasn’t always this way.
Three hundred years ago, Voltaire argued that work exists to save us from three great evils: boredom, poverty and vice. But as a society, we’ve since put our belief in two great ideas: romantic love and meaningful work.
Historically, our faith in these grew up together. We started to think that we should marry for love at roughly the same time we started to think that we should work not only for money, but also for self-fulfillment.
These are two beautiful ideals, but rarely does either go long without hitting a rough patch. And the pain can be immense. When we are without work – as 29 million Americans are today – we lose more than income; we’re cut off from an identity. We can’t explain any more what we do – and hence who we are.
It’s always a shame to see a person’s talents wasted. And that’s just as true for those who are employed, but disengaged.
Ideally, your work should allow you to take the best of what’s in you and express it to the world. It should give your life dignity and meaning, whether you’re writing software, fixing teeth or just raising happy, productive kids.
No matter how you spend your days, you have a clear choice. You can think of your work entirely in terms of responsibilities and obligations. Or you can view it as a contest, a challenge, an opportunity. Because if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, there’s little chance your work will please or impress anyone else.
I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of folks who are unhappy at work tend to equate a “good job” entirely with money, benefits and security, rather than whether it allows them to express their talents.
Big mistake. Yet even those who recognize the dead-end nature of their current position are often reluctant to change. Why? Reasons vary, but some are so caught up in the pursuit of status, display, and material possessions that they’ve put themselves in a bind.
Choosing meaningful employment often means accepting at least a temporary pay cut. But that isn’t always possible if you have a big mortgage, hefty car payments or a lifestyle that keeps you two payments from the edge. Ironically, giving up the dream of “having it all” is often the first step in the right direction.
The other reason so many remain stuck in unsuitable work – whether they admit it to themselves or not – is fear.
Fear whispers that even if you reduce your overhead, you won’t be able to make it work financially. Fear betrays you, insisting that you’re being unrealistic, that you don’t have the heart, the talent, or the discipline to see it through, that doing work you love is reserved for someone else.
It’s not true. One of the best prizes that life offers is the chance to work hard at something worth doing. Think enthusiastically about how you spend your days and you’ll put a touch of glory in your life.
This is true for retirees, too. A life of meaning generally comes from finding a way to either increase the pleasure, or decrease the suffering of your fellow humans, whether you’re compensated for it or not.
If you’re still in the workforce and – due to circumstances – tied to a job that is less than fulfilling, there are still ways to use your talents in meaningful ways.
A few years ago, for instance, the AARP asked some attorneys if they would offer basic services to needy retirees at $30 an hour. They said no. But then AARP’s program manager had a brilliant idea: He asked the lawyers if they would offer their services to needy retirees for free. Overwhelmingly, they said yes.
How could zero money be more attractive than $30 an hour? The original offer seemed insulting to some, a request for legal services at below-market wages. But when the request was reframed as volunteer work – and therefore meaningful – most were happy to oblige.
In Zen and the Art of Making a Living, Laurence G. Boldt writes:
“Without self-expression, life lacks spontaneity and joy. Without service to others, it lacks meaning and purpose… Conceiving of ourselves as artists in whatever work we do gives us a metaphor for a life of integrity, service, enjoyment, and excellence… I know of no better nutshell statement of the path to finding one’s true calling in life than the simple formula given by Aristotle: ‘Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.’ These two, your talents and the needs of the world, are the great wake-up calls to your true vocation in life. To ignore either is, in some sense, to lose your soul.”
You’ll find that the happiest, most engaged individuals are those who are deeply involved in their workplace or community (or both), even if their time is unpaid.
Work is the natural outlet for our energy and enthusiasm. What could be more enjoyable than to love what you do and feel that it matters?
After all, the highest reward for your work is not what you get, but what you become.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to read more of Alexander’s thought-provoking essays and tips for enjoying a richer, more successful, more fulfilling life, pick up a copy of his new book, Beyond Wealth. You can do so right here.