A man of no ambition

A memory came to me this morning while I was walking the dog, a memory of those days when I was fresh out of college and just beginning to work for my father at the box factory.

A salesman had come knocking on our door. This was strange since the box factory was (and still is) located in a rural area. But somehow this guy had found us and he was there to make his pitch: He was a salesman who trained salesmen. (And, presumably, saleswomen although this wasn't part of the spiel in 1992.)

Dad, amused, introduced this fellow to me. “This is J.D.,” Dad said. “He's our salesman. Talk to him.” So, this guy sat down with me in a back room of the shabby trailer house that served as company HQ. (This was the very trailer house I'd grown up in. And trust me when I say it was a pit, a sty. It was just as bad as you're imagining. Maybe worse.)

“How would you like to make more money?” the salesman who trained salesmen said to me. He was an older gentleman dressed in a brown corduroy suit.

“I'd love it,” I said. Despite my father's nepotism in hiring me, I wasn't paid much: $16,500 per year and no commissions — about $35,500 in 2022 dollars.

“Let me show you what I can do for you,” the salesman said, smiling. That's my over-riding memory of this conversation: the guy's permagrin. It never went away. Even when he was resting, he had that shit-eating grin on his face.

Mr. Salesman spent the next ten minutes talking about his services, gently asking leading questions designed to get me to agree with everything he said. Standard salesman stuff. Then, after he'd set me up, he came in with his presumptive close.

“When can I schedule you for training?” he asked.

I sighed.

“You can't,” I said. “I'm not interested.” And before he could begin working through his canned rebuttals, I elaborated. “I'm not like most salesmen. I'm not ambitious,” I told him. “Yes, I want to make more money, but I don't want to be King of Sales. Your program sounds fine. Fine for other people, but not for me.” And I showed him to the door.

Dad was puzzled. He'd expected me to jump at the chance to improve my sales skills. Dad was the most ambitious person I've ever known. He didn't understand that I truly wasn't ambitious.

I hadn't been ambitious in grade school. I wan't ambitious in high school. I lacked ambition in college.

I got good grades, performed well on standardized tests, and excelled at a variety of club activities. (I edited the school literary magazines in high school and college. I competed nationally in Future Business Leaders of America.) But none of this was achieved out of any kind of ambition. It was achieved out of interest and passion and intrinsic motivation.

I didn't achieve because I was after achievement. I achieved because I was doing what I loved.

Allergic to Making Money

A couple of months ago, I made the trek to Orlando to attend Fincon, the annual conference for financial bloggers and YouTubers and podcasters and influencers. One morning, a group of us gathered around an empty conference-room table to kick around ideas and to share how things have been going for us.

This was a great group of folks, people who do good work in the world of personal finance and, more to the point, people who make a lot of money doing so. I always feel a little out of place when I'm with this group. They're all fine people, but they're also so much more ambitious than I am. They're successful (and rich) but they want to be even more successful (and rich). Our discussions are always about how to get more: more readers, more viewers, more publicity, more money.

Eventually the conversation turned to Get Rich Slowly and its status. I talked about how I wanted to convert it to an “online encyclopedia of personal finance”, a go-to destination where people can get reliable, actionable info unclouded by bullshit. I also mentioned that the site only makes $500 per month.

“I don't get you, J.D.,” said one colleague. “Why are you allergic to making money?”

“Look,” I said. “Here's the thing. I was born into a poor family. I grew up in a dirty trailer house. What I have today is already so much more than I ever dreamed I'd have. I don't possess the same ambition that you do. I don't need to be rich. I don't need to be famous. I think it's awesome what you all have accomplished, but I don't want to do it.”

This is the truth.

When I look at the world around me, it seems as if so many of our problems are caused by ambition. (Note that I'm carefully avoiding use of the word “greed” here. To me, “greed” implies malice. I don't think many people are actually greedy; they're just ambitious.) And when I talk about ambition, I mean a sort of selfishness that comes with a lack of empathy, a sort of willing blindness to the consequences of one's actions and the plights of those less fortunate.

I could make a lot of money, for instance, by pitching credit cards at Get Rich Slowly. If I were an ambitious fellow, I'd probably do that. But having suffered through years of painful credit-card debt myself, I'm unwilling to lure other people into a similar fate.

Sure, I know that credit cards are simply tools and they can be used responsibly. I also know that it's not my job to protect everyone from debt. But I don't like the idea of promoting credit cards to people who might damage their lives by using them. It's like offering whisky to an alcoholic, right? Not everyone who comes to Get Rich Slowly is an “alcoholic”, I know, but many folks are. So, I'd rather not have “whisky” on offer.

Similarly, I'm unwilling to write about the latest app or website or service that's appeared upon the scene. I'm unwilling to tackle the latest hot topic in the world of personal finance just because it's a hot topic. I'm unwilling to chase my stories that go viral with other similar stories in the hopes of recapturing some of that same audience. Doing these things is fine for other people, but when I do them it feels like I'm selling my soul.

Unclouded by Ambition

Fincon is an exciting place. It's fun to talk with people who are “crushing it”, people who have found a niche and who are reaching millions of people each month and/or making millions of dollars per year. How can I help but come away excited and invigorated?

After past Fincons, I'd return home wanting to put into practice all of the ideas I'd picked up at the conference. I'd want to do the things that others were doing to maximize traffic and revenue. I've always been drawn to measurable metrics, always been competitive (if not ambitious), so this stuff appeals to me.

But this time, I returned home more resolved than ever to exit The Game. I don't care about being the biggest. I don't need to have the most traffic. I have zero interest in capturing an audience, putting them through a “funnel”, and converting their attention into dollars. I don't like when people do this to me, so why would I want to do it to others?

Plus, this year has been heavy for me. My experiences in 2022 have altered my perspective. More and more, I'm convinced that I want to be doing three things on the internet.

  • First, I really do want to convert the bulk of the Get Rich Slowly archive into an online encyclopedia of personal finance. I want to publish definitive and trustworthy articles on the most important topics in personal finance, articles untainted by affiliate marketing and (when possible) political opinion. I want to show people the things that are known to work when it comes to improving home economies.
  • Second, I want to publish more personal stories. My own stories, sure — stories like the ones in this post! — but stories from other people too. I truly believe that people learn best through narrative. Theory is great, but nothing compares to lived experience. Stories bind us. They bring us together. They help us learn. They help us understand each other.
  • Third, I want to build a small community of folks who are like me: interested in self-improvement, eager to achieve financial security, but equally seeking to help other people make their lives better too. If this small community is five people, great. If it's 500 people, great. If it's 5000 people, also great. I'm less interested in quantity than I am quality.

I want to do these three things, and I want to do them in a way that's unclouded by ambition.

As I said a moment ago, I may not be ambitious but I am competitive. If I'm not careful, I can become too motivated by metrics. I can chase revenue and engagement and all of those other numbers that distract from what's actually important. But all of those numbers are a trap. Chasing numbers is counter to what I actually want to do with my life.

I want to spend my life telling stories and helping other people — both at the same time, if possible. And I believe that means doing things differently than my colleagues do them. That means casting aside the way things are “supposed to be done” in the world of blogging and YouTubing and Twittering, and it means forging my own path.

This Is the Way

Where does this path lead? I don't know. I don't really care, to be honest.

It may be that I spend the next ten years creating content for an audience of dozens and continuing to make a meager $500 per month. (I earned $486.60 from this site in October!) In reality, it'll probably mean I earn nothing for several years. Why? Because my current intention is to strip the site of all advertising by the end of December.

But I do know this: Wherever I'm headed, I'll be following a trail I'm blazing myself, not one that's been laid down by other people. I've been on that well-traveled path for a while now, and I don't like it. I don't like feeling pressured to create content that gets more views, more clicks, more engagement.

And as I blaze this path, I'm sure to make some wrong turns. I'll stumble upon some dead ends. I may spend months forging my way in a particular direction only to realize I've been going the wrong way. I'm okay with that. That time won't have been wasted.

So, to belabor this metaphor, I have the machete in hand. I'm ready to hack my way through the undergrowth. Technically, yes, I am on sabbatical until the end of the year. That hasn't changed. But while I'm “taking a break”, I'll be casually exploring my surroundings to figure out where I want to begin blazing a path.

Discarding the metaphors, what I think this means in terms of actual work is this:

  1. At my personal site, I'm going to roll out the “de-design” I've been working on. I suspect this means I'll begin publishing a few articles over there now and then to test things.
  2. Once I'm certain everything works, I'll implement the “de-design” here.
  3. After the cosmetic stuff is in place, I'll re-arrange some of the structural elements of this site. Part of me wants to scrap everything and start over from scratch, but my colleagues have convinced me this is foolish. I think they're right.
  4. When all of this is finished, I hope to begin a regular publishing schedule. But who knows? As a man of no ambition, this might be too much for me. 😉

Meanwhile, I'm sure I'll publish a few articles here at Get Rich Slowly despite being on sabbatical. In fact, I know I want to write up my most recent experiences with the exercises in the book Designing Your Life. Plus, I do have some thoughts to share about the death of my mother.

Returning to my metaphor, I'm pleased to have you on the trail with me. I'm not sure what we'll find down these unexplored paths, but I know I'll enjoy the adventure more with company than I would if I were going it alone. So, pick up your pack. Let's head out to see what we can find!

One quick postscript: I participated in two written interviews recently, and I think they're both interesting. The first is about my experience with financial independence. You can read that interview at The Fioneeers: Money Doesn't Magically Fix Our Problems. The second is a brief conversation about writing with Jacob from The Root of All. You can find that bit at the end of his article about Spending in the Time of COVID.

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There are 54 comments to "A man of no ambition".

  1. Iolaire McFadden says 02 November 2022 at 11:41

    Its sort of funny but this one “Third, I want to build a small community of folks who are like me: interested in self-improvement, eager to achieve financial security, but equally seeking to help other people make their lives better too. If this small community is five people, great. If it’s 500 people, great. ” sounds as if you are ready to offer a membership plan where for $/month you can be part of an exclusive group with exclusive access to your content. i.e. get rich quick with e-publishing… Given that’s probably not the offering it does sound interesting.

    • J.D. Roth says 02 November 2022 at 16:40

      Yes, I can see how you’d parse that out of what I said. But it’s not what I intended. I don’t mean that I want to build a deliberate, structured community of people. I mean that I want to do what I’ve always done, which is share what I’m thinking and feeling while giving other people a chance to do the same. I just want to do that in something more than the comments section on a blog. So, maybe set up a discussion forum or whatever new tech is out there that recreates a similar vibe. But I don’t want to host it on another platform, if possible. If the past decade has taught me anything, it’s that putting communities onto platforms you don’t control (read: Facebook) is a good way to not have a community at all!

    • Greg says 04 November 2022 at 15:11

      No shame in having values you stick too. The age of internet influencers has changed a lot since you started blogging, lots of new things to try!

    • imelda says 27 November 2022 at 07:34

      While reading, I was also thinking about financing models. JD may be able to go all-free because he’s already financially independent, but many of those other content creators at Fincon are thinking about financial security, knowing they CAN’T do this work without earning money from it.

      As far as I know, there are only 2 options — either users pay, or advertisers do. If you want a sustained space that’s free of manipulative advertising, then you have to ask people to pay. And like many news sources and magazines, maybe it’s worth it to pay.

      If you have a creator with the financial means to offer all of this for free, of course, then that is a blessing for everyone.

  2. d c says 02 November 2022 at 14:08

    have been considering this often. ambition and drive and greed have such a strong gravitational pull in our society and while inherently i am a person of no ambition as well, it’s tough to avoid getting sucked into the feeling of wanting to quantify/measure success, comparing to others, etc. i remember when i ended up selling a garmin bc my runs had turned from a relaxing, mind-clearing experience in nature to a statistical nightmare chase. anyway, nice to have this read reaffirm my core feelings on these matters.

  3. Chris says 02 November 2022 at 15:42

    J.D. I have been following you for many years now, and didn’t know about your personal site until today. I think I have been reading since 2008. When you sold GRS, I followed you on MoneyBoss. I will continue to read whatever you post here, because I can relate to what you write. I feel like you write for regular people like me, and that is a real need in the FIRE community. Not all of us are like the “hot shots” and that is ok. My husband and I will be able to retire with dignity in the next year or 2, and we are in our mid 60s. Our families did not teach us about personal finance and we lived in a high cost of living area for the first 14 years of our marriage. I was from a working class background and hubby similar, but his mom was a nurse. We played catch up for many years, but it will be ok in the end. GRS was part of how I learned about personal finance, building on what I had learned from books in the library and Larry Burkett, who used to be on Christian radio. So, the part of your post about wanting to have GRS being an “encyclopedia” about personal finance resonated with me.

    The other thing I wanted to mention is that 2022 has been a hard year for you with the deaths of your cousin, Duane, and now your mom. I hope you are giving yourself a lot of grace. 2 major deaths like this of people you love who were close to you is really hard. I could tell this from the tone of your post. I will continue to offer you in prayer as I think of you this holiday season. I am sure Kim is a great comfort to you as you grieve, and when the time is right, I hope you will consider trying a grief support group and see if it is helpful for you. I know sometimes they can be, and sometimes not.

    I don’t comment often, but felt I wanted to say these things, and that I will be here when you come back.

    • J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 07:53

      I hope you are giving yourself a lot of grace.

      Yeah, this is an issue. It is clear that I am grieving, but that’s manifesting itself in much the same way that my depression manifests itself, so it’s tough to tell the two apart. As a result, I’m deliberately trying to fight this instead of allow myself to work through it. But maybe I just need to surrender to it, let it flow through me, then wait to come out the other side. That’s part of why I’m on sabbatical. But on a day-to-day basis, I’m not giving myself that grace. I should.

  4. Susan O says 02 November 2022 at 18:46

    I really enjoy your writing and relate very much to what you say in your articles. I like to hear your personal stories as well as articles about finance. I especially loved your post on how to write a mission statement. My sister and I worked on our mission statements together and found it
    enlightening, and fun. My sister is a therapist and she recently told me she often refers her clients to that article. I’ll definitely be joining you on the trail.

  5. Liz says 02 November 2022 at 19:17

    Wish you the continued best! I don’t need a Chase card or Personal Capital membership.

  6. Steveark says 03 November 2022 at 05:28

    I most definitely do not get you. To me self improvement and ambition are synonymous. Yet you’ve somehow managed to position them as opposites. Ambition is just the will to succeed in however you define success. It in no way lessens someone’s empathy or makes someone blind to the consequences of their actions. That’s a terrible straw man construct, in my opinion. It’s fine if you don’t want or need to make money. I get that, I turned down a seven figure offer to go back into the corporate world after I retired because I have enough money and valued my time more than a few more millions. I was very ambitious in my career but I was also kind and loved mentoring younger engineers and helping them succeed more than anything else I did. There are selfish people who are ambitious and there are generous people who are ambitious. Those two character traits are uncorrellated.

    • J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 08:02

      To me self improvement and ambition are synonymous. Yet you’ve somehow managed to position them as opposites.

      Well, I should point out that I didn’t think deeply about the semantics of the different words — ambition, greed, self-improvement — when I wrote this piece. I was in a mood and wanted to express that mood, so I wrote. That said, I don’t actually think self-improvement are synonymous, but I can get why somebody would argue that they are.

      To me, ambition goes beyond the self. When I think of self-improvement, I think only of my self and what I want to achieve for me, regardless of what other people are doing. Self-improvement isn’t competitive. It doesn’t consider other people or outside metrics.

      Ambition, on the other hand, does consider other people and/or outside metrics — at least in my consideration of ambition. Ambition is about being the best, right? But you can’t “be the best” without knowing your relative position to others. And when you end up comparing yourself to others, you either excel or you fall short. If your aim is to be the best, then mostly you fall short. With ambition, you’re generally measuring your performance by outside metrics too.

      I don’t want to be the best — the most traffic, the biggest earner, etc. I want to produce Quality. These two aims can often be aligned, sure, but they’re fundamentally different, I think.

      I really like your comments on ambition and generosity and the relationship between the two. I think you’re right that they’re independent traits that aren’t necessarily correlated. So what is it I’m trying to avoid, then? Is it greed? I don’t know.

      Anyhow, I appreciate your thoughts, as always!

      • Charlotte says 28 November 2022 at 19:00

        Have you read the “Psychology of Money”? He wrote a lot about these things.

        • J.D. Roth says 30 November 2022 at 11:45

          I have NOT read “The Psychology of Money” yet. But I should. And if the universe gives signs, this is one. I just spent ten minutes reading a series of Morgan Housel’s essays at his site. Anyhow, I just pulled the book from my shelf and put it in my to-read stack. Thanks for suggesting it.

  7. veronica says 03 November 2022 at 06:01

    This piece really resonated with me. I am not only not ambitious, I’m also not competitive. By every (North American) metric I am a Loser. I’ve made my peace with that.

    It’s precisely because your writing is so authentic, personal and has no hidden agenda (to make money off the readers) that I read it. The bloggers with listicals, courses, generic ‘advice’ are read only once, if that, and never bookmarked.

    I would love to be part of your group. I think I even have a machete lying around somewhere…..

    Please take care of yourself. Show yourself the same kindness that you would extend to another if they had had the same difficult year that you’ve experienced. I say this somewhat selfishly, because I want to continue reading your thoughts for a good long time to come.

  8. Financial Samurai says 03 November 2022 at 06:02

    “What I have today is already so much more than I ever dreamed I’d have.”

    I feel a similar way. When I started Financial Samurai in 2009, I told myself I would like to one day make $1000 a month and be happy doing in writing whatever post-work. The site ended up surpassing my wildest dreams, so everything feels like gravy.

    At times, I wish I had more ambition. But high ambition is unsustainable for me. For example, for two months August/Sept 2022, I did my best to market my new book that took two years to write and edit. I wanted to make Buy This, Not That a bestseller because why not. After two months of making the WSJ best seller list, I have lost 98% motivation to market it anymore. If people want to read it, great. If not, also great.

    But I realize some thing pretty important, which I wouldn’t have realized until I became a parent to a preschooler. That realization is a certain amount of status is important to not get excluded from opportunities.

    For over 10 years, I have tried to stop playing the status game and just do my own thing. But once my son got rejected from so many preschools, and another friend’s kid got into all of them (even the lottery admissions one), it was a big wake-up call that a minimum amount of status matters.

    It’s been over seven years since I went to Fincon. I’m sure it’s fun. But I don’t have that drive to maximize revenue and build an empire either, which is partially why I stopped attending.

    • Anne says 08 November 2022 at 07:43

      My jaw dropped at the idea of applying to preschools and getting rejected. I thought it was someplace you just sent your kid to get them socialized before kindergarten. What is acceptance based on? Why do you think your friends kid was accepted to all of them whie your boy was not? What traits could a 3-4 year old have that makes them desirable to a school?

  9. Jim Blankenship says 03 November 2022 at 06:18

    Thanks for sharing, JD. I can certainly relate to much of what you’ve said here. I’ve been in the blogging space since 2004 and have never had income-generating aspects on my site, ever. I also have never had “crushing it” traffic numbers, which is ok with me. What I do is very similar to what you’re talking about, producing encyclopedia-like content without bias (where possible). The difference is that I’m not much of a story-teller – something that you excel at.

    Best wishes to you as you continue on this journey.

  10. Brittany says 03 November 2022 at 07:30

    I think this post pretty much sums up why I have been a reader since 2007/08 (can’t remember exactly when I first found you; just that I was an undergrad). I would always check GRS and The Consumerist (miss that site!) daily during slow times at my student worker office job! I even remember one of your guest(?) staff(?) writers Honey–her writing resonated particularly with me at the time because she was in a similar place in her life.

    I grow weary of those trying to create a following or brand. It feels odd and almost cult like to me and has only gotten worse with the “influencer” culture. I can trust that your posts will be unbiased, which is quite refreshing when most everywhere we turn these days, someone is trying to sell us something.

    • J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 08:05

      Thanks.

      I’m sure my posts have bias. I mean, all writing has bias, right? As humans, we have beliefs and those cannot help but be present in the things we write. But I do try to be aware of my biases, when possible, and to keep them out of my writing.

      RE: brands/influencers. Those parts of this site that feel least authentic to me right now, the parts I hate the most, are those parts where it’s clear I felt the need to position myself as a brand/influencer: big self-centered splash page, etc. With the de-design, I’m trying to remove most of that. Some of this stuff needs to exist, I think, so that new readers can get info about the person writing, but it doesn’t need to be the focus.

    • Honey Smith says 24 November 2022 at 11:22

      I’m still here! I have offered to return as either a guest post or a staff writer on numerous occasions, but JD doesn’t seem interested in that for whatever reason. I believe he’s removed all my old posts as well.

      • J.D. Roth says 25 November 2022 at 09:27

        Honey, none of this is personal. We’ve removed a lot of old posts, including hundreds of mine. We evaluated every article on the site to see whether it aligned with where we want it to go, and we removed those that didn’t. Had zero to do with the authors and everything to do with the content itself. If an article was removed, it’s because it doesn’t fit the future of GRS.

        That said, I’m always open to guest posts. If I haven’t replied to you to say that, again it’s not personal. It’s just that the email got lost in the mass of other messages.

  11. Luke says 03 November 2022 at 07:45

    If one’s ambition requires their followers & readers to opt-in to the machine (new product, services, etc.) and consumer more, against their best interests or in a way that creates new risks for them, for you to generate greater profit, it’s a potentially zero-sum ambition. Further, ambition in the context of the “Personal Finance Advice Industry” is a conundrum because you need to offer more and more paid products/services or advertising to people you are also telling to be conscious of what they consume and the financial risks they take. Ambition isn’t always bad, but i agree that your colleagues are facing a moral dilemma you choose to opt out of, and its important to remind people they have that option, too.

    I know you’ve gone through a lot recently JD, and for me, those experiences can be both crystalizing and propelling, as well as pushing me towards a tendency to nihilism. Maybe we can experience both at the same time?? In any event – your openness while experiencing difficult times does create wisdom for everyone, and I appreciate that.

    Some unrelated questions, if you have time:

    1. you mentioned elsewhere your crusade against Google. I use Gmail and also Sheets for my personal finance management… feels like a good product and I’m not being pushed for additional services… is it a data privacy thing? A commercial product thing?

    2. As a long-time follower seeing your Personal Blog for the first time, I must say it was a joy. I always enjoy your writing – and its cool to consume your work outside the context of finance. I would like to journal. I find the process of writing cathartic and energizing. But every time I try to start, I ramble through one entry and that’s usually where it ends. It feels directionless and I struggle with that. It ends up being a stream of consciousness which feels good the first time, but provides no clear path to build on from there. In your personal blog you manage to find a way to draw out and expand on specific subjects based on your day to day experiences. How do you catalog those ideas, as you go through life, to remember to return to them and write about them in greater detail?

    • J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 08:25

      those experiences can be both crystalizing and propelling, as well as pushing me towards a tendency to nihilism

      Yeah, that’s an issue haha. I’ve never been a nihilistic fellow until this year. I’ve always had a fundamentally positive outlook on life. Without going into too much detail, I found myself literally identifying as a nihilist after my cousin’s death and it was crushing. Now I’m experiencing something similar after Mom’s death. The way I pulled myself out of the pit after Duane died was to focus on the work of Viktor Frankl, who basically says, “Life has no inherent meaning, but you can give it meaning, so do it.” Maybe it’s time to revisit his work yet again.

      To your other questions.

      RE: Google.
      My feelings on Google are so complicated. I was an early advocate of them back in what, 1998? I remember raving about Google to family and friends. I loved Gmail when it was released. I was a fan of their “don’t be evil” motto. I was excited when they bought YouTube. But over the years, Google as a corporate entity has changed drastically. They quietly removed their “don’t be evil” motto and have moved toward, well, being evil. They are an advertising behemoth and they’re motivated to shove more and more advertising down our throats. What they’re doing with YouTube is ridiculous. (Yet there are no good alternatives.) There’s more to it, but that typifies why I’m frustrated.

      Yet, as you say, Google Docs is pretty darn awesome. From a selfish personal perspective, I don’t want to give it up. And I don’t want to give up YouTube because there’s a lot I want to watch there. I’m torn. It’s complicated. For nearly three years, I’ve been writing an article about my frustrations with Google (and Amazon) but I’ve never finished it because my feelings are so complicated haha.

      RE: Cataloging ideas.
      First, let me be clear: Most of my writing is stream of consciousness also. For nearly every piece, I sit down and just write what’s on the top of my head, then see where that leads. I did that with this article. While walking the dog, I thought about the Salesman for Salesmen from thirty years ago. That led me to thinking about the conversation at Fincon, and that led me to thinking about my goals with this site (and in life). When I got home from the walk, I sat down at the keyboard and just did a stream-of-consciousness braindump. This article was the result.

      Usually, though, whatever I write “goes to waste”. Probably 90% of what I write never sees the light of day. I’m okay with this. I’ve learned that writing is how I process my thoughts and feelings. I think it’s because writing forces me to focus and to slow down my thought process, counteracting my ADHD. So, even if I write for an hour and end up deleting what I wrote, it’s not wasted energy because it’s helped me to figure shit out. Does that make sense? But I only share maybe 10% of what I write in any public way. Some gets published here. Some goes on my personal blog (although that’s been much rarer in recent years). Some goes on Facebook. Some goes on Reddit. Some goes on Metafilter. It just depends.

      As for ACTUALLY cataloging ideas. Well, historically that’s been chaos haha. I don’t have a good system. Sometimes (as in the case of my aforementioned work-in-progress where I rant against Amazon and Google), I know I’ve started a document, so I just dump all further thoughts into that document. But often, I’ll end up with three or six or sixteen files on my hard drive that cover the exact same concepts. (It’s funny to go back and review these files too. Often, they’ll contain similar ideas and phrases that I’ve developed independently months apart. When that happens, I know I’m onto to something.)

      Over the past few months, though, I’ve been working to create a system for capturing ideas. In late August, I found Dave Perell and Tiago Forte. I really, really like their concepts and systems around creating systems to gather personal knowledge. (Forte calls it “building a second brain”.) I’ve been slowly implementing their ideas in a J.D. way. That is, I apply their broad concepts using tools that work the way I do and in a workflow that matches how I function. I actually intend to write a larger article about all of this eventually, but the core ideas right now are: shove ALL web reading into Instapaper to read in the evenings, capture highlights from Kindle and Instapaper into Readwise, use Apple Notes to collect non-knowledge based info (such as webpages, stuff to buy, chores to do, etc.), then use another note-capture app (Evernote? Notion? Obsidian?) to collect the knowledge-y stuff. I haven’t implemented that last step yet, which is why I haven’t written an article about this yet.

      Anyhow, I’m not sure I’ve answered your questions there despite having typed a ton haha. Let me know if you have follow-ups.

      • Luke says 03 November 2022 at 09:15

        I think you have and haven’t, haha.

        Sounds like Google/Amazon are complicated with pros and cons… I hate what Amazon (Bezos) now represents but the service they provide is probably the best in the world for most retail consumers… so maybe its not a surprise they became what they are today.

        As for your journaling/writing style – simple case of, what works for you might not work for me. I think a takeaway for me is related to cataloging – that I can’y expect to go through life and recall, on demand, interesting thoughts/concepts later that day/week/month. I have to at least track them somewhere (perhaps just a quick note in a list… listening to your list of tools exhausted me lol) of what they are as I initially happen upon them. As for the actual writing part, I’ll keep on searching, and my next stop will be to learn about David and Tiago… so thanks for that!

        Stay up, friend!

        RE Victor Frankel – I read Mans Search for Meaning many years ago – heavy stuff, but I suppose life can be heavy too. Maybe I should dust it off as well.

  12. GRC says 03 November 2022 at 08:20

    I guess you are missing a point… Ethics… It is not bad for you to earn money.. you just need to have some clear ethical guidelines so that you don’t give “whisky to an alcoholic”.

    It took a time to punch me in the face. I was also born into a family that lacked some stuff while growing up… The truth is that it is OK to make money, it is OK to monetize a hobby. Perhaps GRS is not a business, perhaps it is purpose-minded as a charity… But if you can make some bucks out of it without trespassing on your ethics… go ahead!.

    One of the lessons read here is.. play great offense and defense with your money… It is weird to read that you are quitting offense.

    Regards!

  13. Ben says 03 November 2022 at 08:22

    I appreciate the integrity and building exactly what you want. If you want to look at monetization patterns that don’t require advertising/a universal paywall I’d encourage you to use Patreon. I support a few podcasts that are free to listen to, but have a Patreon so that people can support them directly.

    • J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 08:28

      Yep. Patreon is #1 on my list right now for possible ways to monetize Get Rich Slowly. It feels perfect. If people want to contribute, they can. But no requirements. Love that idea. I’ve been sending $50 a month to Bitches Get Riches via Patreon for many years. I also contribute to Women’s Personal Finance (although I don’t recall the amount or frequency). I like supporting these two projects through Patreon.

      • Christy says 07 November 2022 at 12:11

        I wonder if Substack would work for you?

    • Rachel says 18 November 2022 at 05:19

      +1 for the Patreon idea – I would love to directly support growing this lovely community I’ve been following on and off since 2011 when I discovered personal finance blogs 🙂

  14. J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 08:31

    Another thing to note: As you might be able to tell from the comments section on this article, I intend to participate more in comments going forward. That’s part of me wanting to build the community. I’ve always stayed relatively distant from comments as a matter of policy. I didn’t want to artificially inflate numbers, etc. But you know what? That’s dumb. I like that the comments section can be a place for all of us to explore these ideas further. For instance, I really appreciate @SteveArk’s comment above telling me why ambition is a good thing. I feel like discussing points like this can only make all of us smarter, right?

  15. Melissa Cafiero says 03 November 2022 at 10:52

    I can totally relate to this article and your feelings, JD. I have way more in my life today at 39 than I ever thought possible when I was younger. I also grew up with less in a family where college wasn’t the norm. I vowed to do better and promised myself I’d never have to worry about money. At the same time, school, good grades, etc. came easily to me. I didn’t have to try very hard, so I didn’t. Still don’t. And it’s led to a similar lack of ambition. I’m completely content with my effort vs reward today, so why try any harder? (Part of me also wonders why I should ever try harder if there’s a chance there might be no reward for it.)

    After losing my mom 8 years ago, I also felt a sense of … disconnect? apathy? anhedonia? I just wrestled with the notion that we’re all going to die in the end so what does anything matter? And who cares? Over the years I’d like to think I’ve righted myself and approach life with the goal of making the most of the time I have here. “Most” has a variety of definitions and changes day-to-day. Most money (for me), most fun (for me), most enriching experiences (for me), most connection (for me).

    As for your income and money-making philosophy, I totally get it. Reading through the comments, I’d say +1 to the Patreon or even a paid version of your weekly newsletter. I subscribe to some bloggers who send paid-subscribers-only content that’s more in depth, helpful, and/or more personal musings they otherwise wouldn’t share publicly. I love getting “exclusive” access.

    Another thought I’d recommend considering is the bias people have around *free* things. If something is free, we tend to assume it must not be good. Whereas we assume something has an inherent quality if we have to pay for it. So, while you may balk at charging for access or the like, consider that you might be conditioning part of your audience (or newcomers to your info) to disregard your content, insights, and expertise.

    As a long-time reader, I’ll read everything you post and would be interested in paying a fee to access your knowledge and good thinking (ESPECIALLY if advertising goes away–removing ads is certainly worth a premium in my consumer mind).

    Not sure if any of this is helpful, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts. I’d also caution against making any big decisions after this tough year you’ve had. Death has a way of helping us both to crystallize and confuse our purpose and path forward, so it’s important to dream, sit with the ideas as you work through the pain and loss, and then decide what really matters without the cloud of grief getting in the way.

    By the way, it sounds like you might be a Rebel according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework. 🙂 This book might be of interest to you as you explore your “lack of ambition” and want to figure out what’s next. https://gretchenrubin.com/books/the-four-tendencies/

    • J.D. Roth says 03 November 2022 at 11:53

      Not sure if any of this is helpful…

      Mellisa, all of that was helpful! In the Olden Days, I could flag comments (or parts of comments) as “greatcomment” by adding a single line of code. If I could do that today, I’d highlight this:

      After losing my mom 8 years ago, I also felt a sense of … disconnect? apathy? anhedonia? I just wrestled with the notion that we’re all going to die in the end so what does anything matter? And who cares?

      That’s kind of where I was after Duane died. And it’s exactly where I am today. Like I say, it feels sort of like depression but without the self-loathing that I usually experience from the latter. I’m not beating myself up over anything. I’m just…drifting. It’s as if my life were on pause. I could sense I was headed that way soon after Mom died, which is why I opted for an explicit sabbatical. I could see that I was going to need it.

      With each passing day, though, a bit more motivation returns. Today, for instance, I’m feeling motivated to get that Penny Short de-design installed at my personal site. While I’m not inspired to write about money lately, I do have lots of thoughts on other subjects, and I think I’d be more inclined to publish at Folded Space if the design were implemented. So, off I go to work on that…

  16. email says 03 November 2022 at 12:51

    I supposed I disagree with your terminology here.

    While I agree you may not be ambitious, I think what you’re describing here is that you have ethics, you care about doing the right thing, you aren’t greedy, and you understand what ENOUGH is.

    I know these were your friends at Fincon and you probably ought not say bad things about them, but I’d describe them as greedy (maybe also ambitious, but the things you described are greedy). Being highly motivated to earn way more money than one reasonably needs is always – at least partly – based on greed. Marketing harmful financial products to earn more money (when one is already rich) is harmful. Mindlessly marketing any new shiny thing that pays you is greedy. Our planet is melting due to greed and never-ending consumption, and the people you wrote about are at the cusp of this.

    Ambition can be a FABULOUS thing. I’m grateful that some people are ambitious about saving the environment, inventing better solar power, working to reduce sexual assault, expanding reproductive rights, disseminating vaccines, helping homeless dogs and cats, etc, etc, etc. We need ambition to save the world. What we don’t need is unbridled ambition focused solely on earning more money (and all that comes with that – more followers, more power, more clout).

    Also, a suggestion to adjust your thinking about “I don’t need to be rich. I don’t need to be famous. I think it’s awesome what you all have accomplished, but I don’t want to do it.” You are rich, JD! 🙂 Remember that and be empowered by it and grateful for it. By any metric (American or global), you are rich. You have every need met and most luxuries you could want. It’s important that we keep perspective and not think that “rich” only applies to those who have way more than us. But, you’re a rich person who understands what ENOUGH is, which is a superpower. You’re wise to know that chasing more money just for the sake of having more money won’t make you happier. You’re wise to know that you now have enough, so you’re even more liberated to just focus on doing good and helping others (decoupled from making money off those efforts). You realize you have enough, so you don’t have to be a vector for advertising just because you can be. It’s a beautiful thing. The world would be way better off if everyone stopped focusing on amassing more wealth once they have enough.

    I’m exciting to keep reading whatever you write. You have a gift of authenticity + good writing. I hope you remove all pressure on yourself to monetize anything since you’ve got all you need. Start just doing whatever brings you joy and helps the world. It’ll be liberating.

  17. Lori C says 03 November 2022 at 16:03

    I happen to be a brand new reader and this was a great post! I’m in for the ride and look forward to diving into your site to learn more about you and explore the encyclopedia.

  18. Corey McComas says 03 November 2022 at 17:40

    JD,

    I have been following you around your various blogs since 2007, when I was a Junior in college. From your travel blog during the RV trip, Folded Space, Money Boss, podcast episodes you have been on, etc. I value your blog and content for its voice, your voice. My background is similar to yours family wise, grew up very lower middle class from an income perspective. My wife and I both are the first generation to attend college and have worked very hard to put our family on a different path. Keep writing in what form that suits you. I and many others will follow whatever format until you decide to no longer participate. Thank you for everything over the years!

  19. Travis says 04 November 2022 at 11:20

    Thanks for the article JD. I found this one particularly relatable. I share many of your views about money and wanting to help society. Also, I am not very ambitious and it almost cost me my enviable job (competitive) a long time back. Still working there. Now I am 38 and within a few years of being FI. And I am looking to help people get where I am at (or equivalent).

    I have an urge to help others but don’t have a handle on how to do that exactly. I don’t feel I am a great advice giver to be honest. I don’t think I sell people on my point of view very well. But I would be interested in whatever “community” you are thinking of.

    Mock JD: “Yeah, lets bring in Travis. He is terrible at giving advice, is not a leader, and has no ideas how to help people.” Okay, so maybe not. 🙂 Best of luck to you!

  20. FM says 05 November 2022 at 03:30

    The older I get, the more I know, that this german sentence is true: “Der einzige Weg zum Glück ist der eigene.” That is why I completely understand what you wrote in your post, J. D.

  21. Louise says 05 November 2022 at 05:40

    You are awesome, I’ve been reading your stuff for years and it is consistently thought-provoking, layered, and existential- just like life!! Personal finance is an incredibly important enabler of a good life but there is more to life than relentless goal orientation, as you well know. That is what I take from this article. From where I sit, you keep doing you, and I will be a happy reader. I am very sorry for the loss of your loved ones. Please take care.

  22. Janette says 06 November 2022 at 06:12

    You remind me of my Dad. My dad lost his mother at 18 months and his father became entrenched in making money to cover his grief. Although Dad was very wealthy, he turned to philosophy after he had enough for our family. He died after giving everything, he personally owned, away.
    He loved this verse from Fiddler on the Roof. “If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray
    And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall
    And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned
    men, several hours every day
    And that would be the sweetest thing of all”.
    Philosophy is a lost art.
    That is what is in this lyric- not really religion, but philosophy.
    I cannot/do not conjure words as others who are in this discussion with you, but I do understand/follow the philosophical discussion. You are seeking those who wish to discuss, but, unfortunately, discussion is no longer cherished or promoted. The “idealistic” have moved into the upper class and lost their sense of wonder of “what if ——- could help the world.” Google is an excellent example. May your journey help promote real intellectual discussion again. I’d love to be a paying member of that platform.

  23. Anne says 08 November 2022 at 08:08

    I absolutely love today’s offering and can’t wait for more. My husband and I have also not struggled for “more” material possessions or funds, although they are certainly fun to have. Without sounding too saccharine, we work at living a purposeful life.

    But, amusingly, I have found I have a large chink in the armor of my moral superiority. My brother-in-law has always held us in a slight disdain as the poorer country cousins because he has always spent to impress. Twenty years ago, it was $55,000 on well stocked pick up truck that he didn’t like to drive because it used so much gas. We simply didn’t operate that way. So, outwardly, he always looked like he had more money than us. For the last 15 years we have not associated with him, but the six year old inside of me wants to call him up and brag about how well WE are doing in retirement, about our many around the world travels and mention our net worth.

    Yes, I’m a work in progress, maturity wise.

  24. Tyler Karaszewski says 10 November 2022 at 14:11

    Not sure if emailing you is better, but J.D., want to go out to lunch sometime soon? I’ll buy.

  25. Rachel G says 10 November 2022 at 14:30

    J.D. I found you while working in financial education at a university- we made all our student mentors start building their financial knowledge foundation with your book, Your Money the Missing Manual that thing was so dog eared and marked up. I don’t know why we didn’t buy more copies! All this to say I love the idea of a financial encyclopedia free of any promotions or influences, NerdWallet used to be great for that but they too have fallen into the advertising trap.

    I can’t wait to see what you create even if it’s only episodic, have enjoyed following your personal journey over the years and all your financial insights too!

  26. Joe says 14 November 2022 at 09:04

    I’m not overly ambitious either. We’re comfortable financially and I just want to do my own thing. That’s part of the reason why I don’t go to FinCon anymore. It’s just too much for me.
    Your personal stories are great. You’re one of the most relatable writers I know.
    Good luck!

  27. JoAnne Jenkins says 15 November 2022 at 11:33

    This is why your blog is the only “financial” blog I read, and have read since 2008. I never feel pressured, just pointed in the right direction. I’m not ambitious, and I’ll never be rich, but thanks to you I do have some money saved for retirement, and I have no debt. And that is a great feeling. Thank you.

  28. The Crusher says 18 November 2022 at 03:53

    JD – very thoughtful post, thank you.

    As I read through it (twice), I found myself respectfully disagreeing with you. You are ambitious as heck and should be proud of it. You are simply defining your personal success differently than the majority of people. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact everything right in doing so. Kudos!

    As Shakespeare once penned “This above all: to thine own self be true”.

  29. Stephen says 18 November 2022 at 04:58

    On the advertising front, watch your metrics, especially since your goal seems to be to get reach to share the useful information you have.

    Google say that having adsense doesn’t impact traffic and search placement but I found the opposite. After adding adsense to some pages on a site I manage, traffic doubled the following few months, then doubled again. More annoying is the adsense tends to give better metrics and feeds back to the search console better since it results in better site checks, so much so that I stopped even looking at the analytics site and just use search console now.

  30. SP says 18 November 2022 at 11:48

    I’ve read GRS off and on since 2006 – mostly off after the sale, admittedly, though that was also because blogging as a whole morphed away from what it was in the hey day. I still have a half-hearted 2008 style blog, but rarely update.

    I’m really looking forward to what comes next here and have always enjoyed your writing and the community you had created in 2008. I also read your recipe of FINcon, and would be super excited to see some sort of collaboration of SOMETHING with Tanja. Her blog is also famously undermonitized, and always excellent.

  31. The Old Sue G. says 18 November 2022 at 17:10

    Bravo JD!
    “More” is not always better and it’s an ambiguous and unreliable finish line.
    When you sold GRS, I was not interested in the new format. I followed you to Money Boss and you then back to GRS.
    What we seek is a unique voice (yours) being transparent (authentic) about personal finance. Thank you for so many years of insight.
    I look forward to what you have to share in the future, whether large or small volume.
    Best regards!

  32. RO says 18 November 2022 at 23:44

    I’ve been following you for years JD. Since 2005 I think.
    This article really touched me. I was born in Fiji…been working since I was 11 years old. My family moved to Oregon 25 years ago. I worked through high school, pushed myself through some college while working. Held jobs for 10 years, built a successful business that I started 10 years ago. I come from a poor family so all I know how to do was to work hard, so I never see those days again. But these last couple of years have been an awakening…
    Why the heck do I work so hard? What do I do all this for? I’m too busy to spend money that I make. I’ll never be that poor again. strange how most folks just want to always advance, make more money, drive nice cars, live in fancy homes, meeting quotas etc etc. I just want to give up the corporate life someday soon and maybe go be a cowboy! Back to the basics, enjoy more free time, take naps after lunch…..the list goes on. I like what you said about ambition. I’m with you! Im somewhat successful…do you feel we think this way because we’re looking at life from a privileged point? In other words we don’t care about monetary things because we’ve made it. We could do it all over again. Now we just want to reach the next generation how to do it right.

  33. Honey Smith says 24 November 2022 at 11:47

    I have always thought of ambition in terms of a higher calling or an ultimate achievement. You know, like this startup / nonprofits/artshow is my life’s ambition. Or, having a family is my life’s ambition. Then I am using it as a noun whereas you are using it as a adjective and a verb?

    I’ve gotten a divorce, bought a house, paid off over 68,000 in student loan debt, and become disabled. Disability is my ambition.

  34. Travis says 26 November 2022 at 16:17

    JD, I’m not sure if I’ve ever commented before but I’ve been following for a few years since finding you via Reddit. It’s one of the few personal blogs of strangers I follow these days, because besides being an interesting guy your “lack of ambition” translates to sincerity and having nothing to sell. I’m here for all 3 of your Things. Just don’t lose the RSS feed!

  35. Donna Freedman says 28 November 2022 at 22:47

    Me, too, also. I find myself slowly backing away from the work-work-work model that I grew up with, and edging toward more quiet time with my partner and my BFF.

    What I value far more than money is TIME — and they’re not making any more of that.

  36. Sandi Kay says 29 November 2022 at 12:47

    J.D. – you’re (as usual!) too hard on yourself. One of the things that makes you unique in the blog-o-sphere is your philosophical bent, and your ability to connect larger thoughts to your daily life, with small, incremental improvements – and a focus on BALANCE.

    I’ve been reading here for nearly two decades (!!) – through the early days, the purchase of your first Mini, the separation and divorce, and the happier days with Kim in recent years. In fact, I think you are the only blogger I read regularly.

    If you’re looking for engagement and community, I would urge you to consider re-launching the GRS forums. *That* was a community. We set out goals, tracked our expenses and net worth, challenged one another to meet our ambitions, discussed savings strategies and tax traps…it was golden. People who coalesced around common values and world views, and supported one another.

    Whatever you do, I will follow along, and happily read. Be good to yourself, we want you around for another two decades. 😉

  37. Heather says 29 November 2022 at 15:44

    This was super refreshing to read. I also lack ambition beyond having “enough”, and I get a little tired of the influencer culture rampant among even very good financial bloggers.

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