Friday, May 7, 2010

Broke Does Not Mean "Stupid" or "Lazy"

One of the great titles in the self-help genre is the 1989 Do What You Love, The Money will Follow. It promises an almost mystical connection between right livelihood and wealth. Follow your heart, and riches will come to you. Defer immediate security for a grand payoff down the line. It is a title that encourages you to take risks.

I agree with the first part of this title. Do what you love: seek out your right livelihood. Most people find themselves fighting for a place in a system that was created by someone else. Why should you be resigned to that when you can make your own way in the world? But I would have to amend the title to say you should do what you love whether the money follows or not. (Is this why I am not a best selling author?)

Expect buckets of money and you’re sure to be disappointed when they fail to come quickly enough or abundantly enough. Harness your dreams to make money and you’re looking at things completely backwards and inside out. If your goal is to have enough money to accomplish your dreams then you’re probably on the right track.

We harbor some strange ideas about ourselves and about money. One assumption is that the smartest people must, by definition, be the best paid people.

Money was an absolutely tremendous invention that allowed us to more easily get what we need. As a universal exchange medium for services and goods it serves a great purpose. It doesn’t do nearly as well as a measure of abstract things like intelligence, progress, satisfaction or creativity. But because we think of money as a measurement of value, we find it hard to imagine that anything that is not lucrative could have any value at all.

We find this attitude illustrated in articles like If I'm So Smart, Why Aren't I Rich? posted on Big Bright Bulb:

Well, for one thing (I tell myself) what’s with the presumption that being rich is a natural consequence of being smart? I’ve met smart people with little money and rich people as dense as a brick. So I don’t see this direct correlation between intelligence and wealth. Which satisfies my logic, but for days afterward my psyche rides waves of defensiveness and anxiety: What is ‘rich’ anyway? What does it even mean? Why would I want to be rich? But…why aren’t I rich?

I was taken with the first part of this article, in which the author mused on his/her (sorry, I can't read the signature) feelings about the assumption that intelligence should naturally produce money, and seems to debunk the wealth/smarts equation.

But I was disappointed in the end, where the author comes to conclusions about his/her money-poor status, chalking it up to a "fear of money" and relying too much on emotion rather than logic. The underlying assumption is that if a person is smart, he should have lots of money unless he has made a terrible mistake.

Financial wealth is not a sign of intelligence or industriousness. It is only a sign of how successful a person has been at amassing money. That's it.

If you focus your intelligence on money as a goal, you may (or may not) become rich. If you choose to focus your intelligence on something else, you may reach a tremendously worthy goal, but it may not turn you into Richard Branson.

It is, in fact, possible that the smarter you are, the less you are interested in money. Mensa, the organization of people with genius level IQs, did a survey of its members and discovered that they rank only at median levels when it comes to financial well-being. In an interview with Money magazine, the executive director of Mensa explained it thusly: “They could probably make more, but they tend to do what they like, not what pays best.”

Another assumption about money, which study after study has debunked, is that unless we were motivated by cash, we would all just sit around doing nothing. Therefore the most industrious must be the best compensated and hard work must ipso facto result in financial wealth. ("If I am working so hard, why aren't I rich?")

Yet we human beings are actually not particularly content when we're sitting around doing nothing. We're happiest when we are productive and working towards goals. The happiest are not the best paid, but those that are most actively engaged in a love affair with their labor.

Good Magazine ran an excellent article today called What is Work? which once again illustrates this concept.

...the more engaged you are at work, the more satisfaction you have in life, lending more credence to the adage “do what you love.” A recent Gallup study found that there are three types of workers: engaged, not-engaged, and actively disengaged. When asked if they had gotten the things in life that were important to them, more than half of engaged workers said they had while only 9 percent of actively disengaged workers said they had. Happiness, too, is tightly intertwined with work when it comes to figuring out how to get satisfaction from life. Eighty percent of engaged workers said they felt happy at work compared to 10 percent of actively disengaged workers. (Note to employers: the happier a person is at work the more productive they are.)
If you thought you could assume a “broke is beautiful” identity so that you can swing on a hammock all day, I’m sorry to have to disabuse you of this notion. A truly satisfying pauper’s life is not the life of leisure, but a life spent working with complete abandon on something that is in line with your dreams and values. “Broke and Beautiful” means being cash poor, and work rich. If you are broke because you’d rather lie around with your feet up than put in an honest day’s labor, well, you’re just lazy.

Portions of this article were excerpted from the book Broke is Beautiful by Running Press.