Yesterday, I had a conversation with a Simple Dollar reader named Kip, who brought up the classic novel Silas Marner by George Eliot (if you’d like to read it, here’s the entire text, or if you’d just like a summary, here are the Sparknotes). I was so inspired by the conversation that I dug my copy of Silas Marner out and re-read most of the novel in a single sitting.
Silas Marner is a tale of the ups and downs of the life of the titular character, Silas, over the course of his adult life.
The middle part of the book is the part that consistently sticks in my head. After being falsely accused of theft and basically run out of his town, Silas becomes a miser, hoarding every dime that he earns. He keeps the money under his bed and counts it every night and, because he has become a social outcast by a mix of fortune and choice, the money is the center of his life.
One night, the money is stolen – all fifteen years’ worth of it. Silas is completely shaken by this, as you can well imagine. He doesn’t deal with it well and eventually becomes completely hysterical, having a breakdown in his home. As he is passed out from this episode, a woman and her small child are walking in the snow near his home. The woman takes a draught of opium, passes out, and dies in the snow. The child, looking for warmth, finds her way into Silas’s cottage and falls asleep near the fire, almost exactly in the spot where Silas last left his money before it was stolen.
Silas awakens to find that his gold has been replaced by a golden haired child. Eventually, he adopts her and takes on the role of her father, which gives him an entirely new lease on life.
On the surface, Silas, in his miser years, is following good financial practice. He’s completely financially independent, he saves his money, he is an independent businessman (he’s a weaver), and he spends much less than he earns. This is often the very goal that many of us strive for.
Yet his life is so single-focused that one unfortunate event sent his entire life off of the rails, resulting in him having a breakdown in his home. In his pursuit of money, he failed to pursue a well-rounded life. It took the replacement of his money with the child for him to rediscover the beauty of life.
Never let the single-minded pursuit of wealth stand in the way of your life. The pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake is an empty pursuit, one that will leave you without the things you most need when the time comes.
Instead, seek wealth with a purpose. Why are you making the choice to succeed financially? Are you seeking to provide a stable home for your family? Perhaps you have a passion that you’d like to chase that doesn’t earn a large income. Perhaps you’ve got a philanthropic bent.
Whatever that purpose is in your life, that purpose should be in the lead, not the money. Money is merely a tool to help you do the things you want to do.
What do you want to do today?