Many people who have their finances under control have some pretty strong personal finance goals. They want to retire quite early, a goal that for most people requires an amount well north of a million dollars in the bank. Maybe they have other visions, like starting a business of some kind or doing something else that requires substantial risk, and they want to have a financial net in case it doesn’t work.
The thing underlying all of those visions is that a significant increase in one’s net worth will solve a lot of a person’s problems. They will be able to do away with many of the challenges that face their life right now and instead bathe in a pool of opportunity.
The painful reality is that things don’t always work out that way.
As some of you may know, Markus “Notch” Persson was the founder of Mojang, the company that unleashed the computer game Minecraft upon the world. Anyone who has had a child between the ages of eight and thirteen in the past few years – or anyone who plays computer games regularly – is familiar with Minecraft. The word “hit” doesn’t even begin to describe the success of that game.
About a year ago, in September 2014, Persson sold his company to Microsoft for around $2.5 billion, making Persson a billionaire.
Roughly a year after this sale, Persson posted a series of very interesting tweets (on Twitter) regarding his life since the sale of Mojang that I think make for a great foundation for a discussion about wealth, personal goals, and personal choices.
Rather than just embedding the tweets into this post, I’m saving them for posterity in their original text as well as linking to where they originally appeared on Twitter. This way, if Markus were to ever delete them or if Twitter goes down, this discussion will still make sense.
Here’s what Persson had to say.
“The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance.” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 4:48 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
“Hanging out in ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I’ve never felt more isolated.” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 4:50 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
“In sweden, I will sit around and wait for my friends with jobs and families to have time to do shit, watching my reflection in the monitor.” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 4:51 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
“When we sold the company, the biggest effort went into making sure the employees got taken care of, and they all hate me now.” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 4:52 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
“Found a great girl, but she’s afraid of me and my life style and went with a normal person instead.” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 4:53 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
“I would Musk and try to save the world, but that just exposes me to the same type of [jerks] that made me sell minecraft again.” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 4:59 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
There is a more hopeful note at the end:
“People who made sudden success are telling me this is normal and will pass. That’s good to know! I guess I’ll take a shower then!” – Markus Persson (@notch) at 5:16 AM – 29 Aug 2015 (link)
It’s pretty easy to see from these posts that Notch’s wealth is not bringing the joy into his life that he expected.
His wealth has eliminated most of, if not all of, the goals he held for himself, leaving him adrift without any goals. He is having difficulty maintaining personal relationships because his schedule is radically different than those he was once close to. Many of the people he once worked with and trusted perceive him very differently than they did before simply because of the dollar amount attached to his name, whereas he still feels like the same person who is now just being treated radically differently by people he was once close to. Many people have tried to make connections with him that wouldn’t have spoken to him before simply due to his wealth.
The increase in wealth caused his goals, his personal life, and his professional life have all moved in challenging new directions, directions that are not ones that have filled him with happiness.
Why? In the end, money can’t buy happiness. You can’t buy personal relationships. You can’t buy privacy (though you can buy isolation). You can’t buy personal goals and dreams, either. Money often makes those things more difficult, as in the case of Notch.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these kinds of issues. How does a person maintain a joyous life full of the things one cares deeply about even when one’s personal wealth grows and changes? I’ve come to a number of conclusions that I think everyone should adopt, whether they have a negative net worth at the start of their journey or they’ve already accumulated some wealth.
Strategy #1: Have Mentors
A mentor is simply someone who is more experienced and more knowledgeable than yourself that is willing to help guide you through personal and professional challenges and offer advice and suggestions. They can often also be a role model in that you choose to emulate some aspects of their behavior. A mentor that you respect due to their personal character and achievements is the perfect person to ask for advice as your financial and personal situation changes.
How do you find mentors? Anyone that you respect in the communities you participate in, including your workplace, your physical community, or your online communities, can be a potential mentor. Look for people that you respect and simply ask to take that person to lunch one day and ask that person for life advice.
Quite often, mentors are flattered by being asked to help in that way. Sure, sometimes you’ll find that mentors are quite busy and sometimes don’t have perfect availability or time for the things you might want, but people who show respect and reverence without asking for direct aid are often going to be quite valued by mentors.
It’s also worth noting that mentors might – and, in fact, probably will – change throughout your life. The mentors you have during your college years, for example, likely won’t be the same mentors you have during your late professional life. I had a great mentor during my college years, another great mentor near the end of my college years and the start of my professional life, and yet another mentor during my transition to entrepreneurship and self-employment. All of them were powerful and extremely helpful influences during those challenging periods in my life, offering great personal and professional advice.
Find a mentor. Meet with that mentor regularly. Ask for advice and life ideas from that mentor. Pay that mentor back by offering what help you can, doing things like paying for the lunches or helping with smaller tasks or favors that your mentor might ask for. Don’t hesitate to have multiple mentors, either.
What you’ll find is that as your wealth grows, your mentors will continue to have valuable advice along the way and you may find yourself with access to new mentors that will help you with the new challenges in your life, too.
Strategy #2: Find Value in Accessible and Low Cost Things
It’s easy to get caught up in desiring and focusing on experiences that are only going to be available to you when you are wealthy. Taking expensive vacations, staying in resorts, having expensive cars, and having a big home are all dreams that people foster when it comes to the “someday” part of their life, and when wealth begins to come, they often grab for those things.
The thing is, those things don’t really bring you happiness. Sure, they bring you a burst of pleasure when you have them, but they don’t bring you lasting happiness.
I’ve been as dirt poor as you can imagine in America. I grew up poor. I was the epitome of the poor college student. From there, I moved on to a high paying job and then as the head of a small business that I later sold and now I’m well on my way to complete financial independence.
I’ve found that only three things have brought real happiness in my life. One is a vibrant and curious internal life, meaning that I think about the deep questions of life and try to answer them for myself while also trying to live the best day-to-day life that I can. Another is lasting relationships, meaning relationships with people where we have an understanding of each other. The other is meaningful experiences – things that cause me to become closer to some aspect of the world or understand it better.
I was able to access both of those things when I was financially destitute. I am able to access those things now. I’ll be able to access those things no matter what my wealth level. Regardless of my wealth, I can read things like Ecclesiastes and The Confessions of Saint Augustine and A Theory of Justice and they will still make me think and reflect, though they may make me come to different conclusions, and they will bring me solace as I feel that I understand the world a lot better. Regardless of my wealth, I can still build relationships with people much different than myself, I can still exercise my mind and body to exhaustion, I can still visit places and do things that change my perspective on life. Regardless of my wealth, I can still find people with which to build and continue with strong relationships.
Strategy #3: Have Some Internal Goals as Well as External Ones
First of all, let me explain what the difference between an internal and an external goal is. An internal goal is one that you have complete (or mostly complete) control over, like choosing to exercise each day or meditate each day or study a particular topic. An external goal is one where you have less control but still have some impact, such as business or career success, relationship success, and so on.
It’s a good idea to have at least a goal or two on each side of that coin because there are times where you will feel out of whack with your external goals and you can rely on internal goals and vice versa. I’ve also found that sometimes external goals can feed internal goals and vice versa, so often when you feel out of whack on one side of the coin, you can rely on goals from the other side for a while and it will help things balance out and help you find new initiatives.
I’ve found that when my professional life has been in flux in the past, internal goals helped me to ride through the storm. I found a lot of solace in exercising or meditating or regular reading or choosing to reach out to friends and acquaintances.
Similarly, when my personal and internal life has been in flux, external goals have helped me get through the changes. I found solace in focusing on my career or my businesses and helping others in my life achieve their own goals.
Each time, however, I found it valuable to re-establish new external or internal goals after the period of change. I am generally happiest when I have a balance of both types of goals, but having only one time can be good enough during periods of change.
Notch seems to be in a situation where he had focused greatly on external goals for a very long time without much attention to internal ones and then achieved all of those external goals rather rapidly, leaving him without direction. That is a situation where internal goals can make a massive difference if you have them.
Strategy #4: Re-evaluate Your Goals Regularly
Often, we can get hung up on one or two particular goals that seemed overwhelmingly important and vital at one point in our lives, but have actually become a lot less important over the years. A person might still be working toward a big goal they had five years ago, but the fire has gone out and they’re working toward things they no longer care so much about.
That’s why honest re-evaluation of your goals on a very regular basis is such an important thing. Without that constant re-evaluation, you can find yourself on a treadmill of goals that no longer have any central meaning to you.
Sometimes, you do have to accept some of the limitations of your life, but that’s one of the big advantages of financial independence. As you approach financial independence, those limitations go away in many respects. Sure, there are new obstacles (which we’ll address below), but having financial independence greatly broadens the scope of potential realistic goals you may have for yourself.
So, how does one re-evaluate goals? My practice is to re-evaluate them weekly. I keep a central list of the things I’m working on and working for in my life and each week I examine that list from top to bottom and look for things that no longer feel right. When that happens, I spend a lot of time trying to understand why, and that has always led me to new and better goals.
Strategy #5: Maintain a Handful of Core Relationships… But Accept That Only Some Will Survive
At any given time, I have about a dozen key relationships in my life that I know I can rely on. These are people that I can call up and have a conversation with about things that trouble me, ask them for advice or help, or just simply do something fun with them. All of those things are always on the table, day or night.
Over the years, that count of relationships has gone up and down for various reasons. I’ve come to accept that many of the relationships I value right now won’t necessarily last. Some relationships are there for a day, others for a season, and yet others last for life. That’s just how it is.
Once you have that kind of relationship, maintain it. Don’t take it for granted. Stay in contact with those people very regularly. If you don’t have anything to say, just ask how they’re doing. For many of these relationships, the contact may be daily; for others, it should be at least weekly.
Whenever I feel those numbers starting to dwindle, as in the number of relationships and frequency of contact, I put effort into building new strong relationships. Often, these relationships appear naturally in the patterns I have in my life at the time, as my goals and other things I’m involved with will take me into contact with new people, which brings me to my next point.
Strategy #6: Accept That Many Other Relationships Won’t Necessarily Last
There are many people in life who will establish relationships with you simply because it’s convenient at the moment, and the moment it becomes anything less than convenient, the relationship will abruptly end. There are also many people in life who will establish relationships because they want to extract more value from those relationships than they’re willing to give (a healthy relationship has a roughly equal balance).
Those relationships won’t last – and that’s okay. Don’t ever feel bad about letting a relationship like that end. Instead, make sure that you spend your time maintaining the good relationships that do last and do provide value for you as well as cultivating new ones all the time.
The only way to maintain healthy human contact is to constantly work on cultivating new relationships and maintaining the ones that are already strong. Even for people who are introverted (myself included) who value a lot of solo time, those relationships provide a great deal of the beauty and value in life.
Strategy #7: Focus on Making the World Better and You’ll Come Along for the Ride
No matter what situation you’re in, you have the capacity to make the world a better place. Whether it’s something as simple as offering smiles to the people around you or doing a great job at work serving customers and helping others or something as big as launching a charity or developing a product that will genuinely help others, you have the capacity to give of yourself to make the lives of others better. You always have that capacity.
The thing is, when you use that capacity, it feels good. Few things lift me up more than knowing that I have put energy and effort into something that is going to genuinely make the world a better place, whether it’s through something I write, a charity I help, a person I interact with in a positive way, a child I raise, or anything else like that.
If I can go away from something that I’ve put effort into and know that the world is somehow better because of it, I feel better about myself. I feel better about the world around me. I feel better about everything.
Try to do at least a few things each day that make the world a better place, whether it’s something as simple as letting someone with one item in their hand in front of you in the grocery store line or something as intense as serving as someone else’s mentor and giving it your genuine effort or something as big as spending a bunch of time working at a charity or devoting some genuine attention to your child. It feels good when you do it and it continues to feel good when you watch the positive after effects ripple out from that effort.
In some form or another, these principles made life tolerable and enjoyable when I was broke and had nothing to my name. These principles make my life better today as I reach for financial independence. I see no reason why these principles won’t continue to help no matter how much wealth I have.
Yes, the specifics of each principle will change over time. I won’t have the same goals in ten years as I have now. I won’t have at least some of the same relationships. I will have different ways of helping the world.
However, wealth and time won’t really change the core of these principles. No matter what I have in life, I will still have mentors. I will still seek and work toward internal and external goals. I will still maintain old relationships, cultivate new ones, and be okay with some relationships fading away because they weren’t meant to last. I will still try to make the world a better place.
Those things work whether I have a dollar in my pocket or a billion.