Before you start reading, think carefully about this question: if I offered you a winning lottery ticket, that would provide you with more money than you could ever spend, would you take it?
OK - we know most people would say yes, but the key thing I'd like you to think about is why. Why would you take it? Why wouldn't you take it?
No. I said 'think carefully' - that was like 5 seconds dude, come on.
Right, that's more like it.
I remember having one of those long, deep conversations with a friend at university about this very topic. We were in our final year at the time, both working hard to get the grades we needed in order to maximize the chances of securing our dream jobs; but also both very entrepreneurially minded. I’d dabbled in social trading, and was doing quite well from that – he had already published a few books. We’d had a taste of a non-conventional route in life and started to question the conventional way things 'should be done'.
One of the things that struck me at the time, was how good we all are at getting completely engrossed in whatever our main objective is at the time, and completely forgetting the bigger picture. And by ‘bigger picture’ I don’t mean the next milestone down the road, or your future career – I literally mean: ‘I have one life, how do I want to spend it, why am I doing what I’m doing?’.
This led me to a worrying realisation: most of us study hard for 20 years or so to get a good job, we work hard for most of our lives to be as ‘successful’* as possible, and then we get to enjoy the last 20 years or so of our lives, but with a big caveat – we’re old.
*Success is very subjective, of course. In this post I'll be focusing mostly on the financial side of things. Firstly, because this is the measure of success for many people. Secondly, even if you don't really care about getting rich for yourself, it's usually instrumental in achieving many other kinds of goals.
Here is a light hearted take on the ideal way to live life (by Woody Allen), which I just had to share with you:
“In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people's home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!”
So going back to the bigger picture question, how do you want to live your life? What's the ideal scenario? I think most of you would agree that, if you had the choice, you’d rather spend large parts of your lives travelling the world, or doing whatever it is that you love – pursuing your passions, being happy, spending time with your loved ones – not being stuck in a grey office. You’d also rather be able to do that when you’re young. So let's call that the average person's life goal.
Now let's take a look at the conventional wisdom on how to best achieve this goal: when you’re growing up, what do you learn? Concisely, it's something along these lines: Study hard, you’ll get into a good University. Study hard some more, you’ll get a good job. Work hard. Work hard some more and you'll be 'successful'.
So how does this turn out for the vast majority of people? Probably somewhere between 'meh' and 'not too bad'. It's an outdated approach - we're in the 21st century.
Surely there is a better way to increase our odds of success at life?
The optimal way to make, and then spend, your money.
If we want to be very analytical about this (we do), I realize that essentially there is a trade off in life, and there are two currencies: time and money. We only have limited time, and we trade it for money. Money is what we need to do/get the things we want. That, on a simple level is it’s only purpose. So assuming that money is just a means to an end (after all, it has no intrinsic value) why once you have enough money to live the life of your dreams, would you keep working (assuming you are working to earn money)?
If your work and the life of your dreams are one and the same, then lucky you.
The point is that the majority of people forget that they studied in order to get a good job, which in turn was a way of making enough money to do whatever they wanted. People keep on working, hoarding money. But you can’t take that stuff with you.
So on a very basic level, the optimal way of living your life would be to earn enough to cover the expenses you would have for the rest of your life and then die exactly when you have £0 left (ignoring wanting to leave money as inheritance etc.). This is because if you die with say, £10,000 left in the bank, and it took you a year to earn/save that money – well that’s money you can’t spend (you’re dead – remember?), so you would have been much better off spending that year doing the things you wanted instead of working. You traded too much time for money.
I feel like on a basic level, we all get this. And that’s why most people would agree that they want to get as rich as possible as soon as possible. That’s why everyone plays the lottery – right? So why do we not follow this logic in everyday life?
The problem is that most people forget the big picture. We focus on our day to day, and as humans we like to fit in - we're social beings. Therefore, we follow the convention - study hard, work hard. But most people never earn enough money to reach the threshold where they can stop working (until retirement at least).
Update: I first wrote this post in May 2016. It's now February 2017, so I've succeeded in wasting another year of my life in an office. I've just quit - follow me on what I hope will be a life-changing, paradigm-shifting journey :)