For most of my life I've worked under the assumption that money buys happiness. It didn't matter how many times I heard critics preach to the contrary, it seemed simple: money will allow me to buy the things that make me happy. Over the last three years my perspective has shifted.
One day I sat down and made a list of all of the things I wanted to do in my life. I realized I'd never put much thought into it, so I wanted to see what would come out. Some of the things — like “Compose a spectacular HDR photo” — were pretty simple. Others items — such as staying at the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai — were going to be a bit of a challenge. Then there were a few that were downright impossible (go on a Virgin Galactic space flight, for instance).
When I created this list, I had a solid job as a financial analyst. I was making good money. I'd written these things out, but didn't really plan to cross many off anytime in the near future, simply because I didn't have the time. After all, it was probably going to take more than my two weeks of vacation to prepare for my Galactic space flight.
To make matters worse, it was March of 2009 and the stock market was at its lowest point in years. Everyone was telling me how lucky I was to have a job, but I'd just received a 20% pay cut, morale was down, and there was no end in sight.
I had one revelation that was worse than any of that, though: I didn't have any good stories.
My life consisted of heading to the office, running around the Willamette River during lunch, working some more, and attending the occasional happy hour. Rinse and repeat.
It didn't matter if my salary doubled; the routine would stay the same. Sure I'd probably drive a nicer car, move into a bigger place, and have a bigger TV than my friends, but that wasn't helping me accomplish anything of my new-found goals was it? It took awhile but I realized that experiences and stories were much more important than any of the material items.
Six months after creating that list, I quit.
Since then I've crossed off 28 things on my list, and have plans to knock off a bunch more.
- I smoked a cigar in Cuba.
- I've built a successful online business.
- I've lived on a tropical island.
- I've run a marathon.
- The list goes on.
If you handed me a million dollars and told me to have fun, I wouldn't do anything different than I'm doing now. I'd keep working on my list. But has it taken me a million dollars to do the things I've really wanted in life? Absolutely not.
Were the experiences worth millions of dollars? I'd like to think so.
Whether it was staying in a three-bedroom Balinese villa for free, or skiing for free in Vail, I've simply done what most people wait until retirement to do — for a fraction of the cost.
It's not hard to create opportunity for yourself, regardless of your current situation in life or background. All it takes is a little creative thinking.
What Do You Love to Do?
We've all heard the same cliché advice about following your passion and doing what you love. So I'm not going to go there. However, in order to create cool experiences you have to think about what you really enjoy doing. Why? Because when you genuinely enjoy something, it's easy to build rapport and relate to others in a position to help you out.
I was once asked what my “dream job” would be. I've realized that it would be to review luxury hotels for Travel and Leisure or a similar publication. Pretty difficult to get there right? Not if you reframe what that looks like and create the opportunity yourself.
Through my blog Location 180, I've built a community of people that are passionate about entrepreneurship and travel. By leveraging that asset and audience I can appeal to PR and marketing departments at these properties and get afforded many of the same opportunities that a more highly regarded journalist might receive.
If I didn't truly enjoy that type of work though, it'd be difficult to build the rapport necessary to land those opportunities. Think about how you can help someone else simply by doing something you'd want to do anyways.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
When was the last time you went out on a limb and asked for something you wanted? Most people never do.
A while back there was a sold out concert that all of my friends were going to — but I was too slow and didn't buy tickets. Three hours before show time I called up a couple local radio stations asking if they were going to give away any more tickets. The DJ for the second station responded “Can you be down here in 30 minutes? If so, I've got two VIP tickets with your name on it.”
The tickets would have been 75 bucks apiece. Not only did I score two expensive tickets, but I now have a cool story to go along with it.
Get Rich Slowly
For the longest time my sole focus was simply figuring out how to make as much money as I could, in as little time as possible. As soon as I realized I was already doing the things I really wanted, my perspective shifted.
Yes, I still hope to be rich one day and enjoy the security that money can provide, but I'm no longer in a hurry. The vast majority of all the things rich people do, are attainable for just about anyone, it just might require a little more creative thinking.
I've had the pleasure of getting to know J.D. pretty well over the last year. I've never seen him happier than the times where he's talking about learning Spanish and spending time traveling through South America.
Anyone can do that. In fact, if you get creative enough you can work remotely and save money in the process.
The point of all this? Take a few moments today to stop thinking about getting rich, and start thinking about what you would do if you were rich. I'm willing to bet that whatever your answer entails is quite a bit more attainable right now than you expect it to be.