On Wealth

Published: Sep 8, 2023

What does it mean to be wealthy? What does wealth look like? Is it just being rich? How do we know when we’ve achieved wealth?

As I move toward purchasing my first home, this is something I’ve been reflecting on in recent weeks.

Cultures around the world are abundant with stories of characters on the pursuit of wealth who don’t quite get what they bargained for—King Midas, for example. Over the years I myself have gone through bouts of chasing “wealth”, pouring everything I had into startup businesses, scraping by in hopes of eventually making it big.

We’ve all been taught that you can become wealthy if you work hard and earn enough money to buy your financial freedom, thereby amassing an amount of money sufficient to afford the freedom to use your time to do the things you want to do in life. But if this is the goal, then the money is only a means to get us what we really want: freedom and self-sufficiency.

The pursuit of wealth from a purely financial perspective is a fool’s errand if driven by ambition alone, and with no defined end goal. Ambition, as the Stoics wisely recognized, is itself a form of slavery. If we’re always unsatisfied and seeking more, what we already have will never be enough. One can easily lose sight of what’s really important (our families, passions, etc.) by becoming blinded by unmitigated ambition.

True wealth is an internal outlook as much as an external holding. It’s all about perspective.

Wealth, then, is more than a simple dollar figure. It’s about recognizing your needs and values, and working toward those; or perhaps, recognizing when you may already have them.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

I’ll leave you with a short story I read several years ago that’s informed my philosophy on this topic.

The Parable of the Fisherman

A smartly-dressed enterprising tourist is taking photographs when he notices a shabbily dressed local fisherman taking a nap in his fishing boat. The tourist is disappointed with the fisherman’s apparently lazy attitude towards his work, so he approaches the fisherman and asks him why he is lying around instead of catching fish. The fisherman explains that he went fishing in the morning, and the small catch would be sufficient for the next two days.

The tourist tells him that if he goes out to catch fish multiple times a day, he would be able to buy a motor in less than a year, a second boat in less than two years, and so on. The tourist further explains that one day, the fisherman could even build a small cold storage plant, later a pickling factory, fly around in a helicopter, build a fish restaurant, and export lobster directly to Paris without a middleman.

The nonchalant fisherman asks, “Then what?”

The tourist enthusiastically continues, “Then, without a care in the world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun, and look at the glorious sea.”

“But I’m already doing that”, says the fisherman.

The enlightened tourist walks away pensively, with no trace of pity for the fisherman, only a little envy. (Source)

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