Saturday, September 17, 2005

What is “Rich”…..

Or riches, richness, wealth… How is it that we measure this? What makes one man wealthy, and another ‘poor’? The rest doomed to be lumped into the dreaded ‘middle class’?

Certainly by most all measures a person like Bill Gates is ‘wealthy’… I remember a few years ago there was a joke going around about how the government was going to revalue the national numbers like the budget, debt and so on in “Gatesian Units”. One Gatesian Unit would be equal to Bill Gates net worth. It would have sliced at least three “000’s” off the numbers and made them look better to all of the rest of us.

Most Hollywood heavy hitters, large corporate CEO types, successful business owners and such are also classified up there in the ‘wealthy’ group.

The problem I have with all of this is the ‘stick’ by which we measure wealth. The stick, as you know, is money. Either directly, or indirectly, we measure wealth in terms of how much cash, or tangible material products (purchased with cash), a person accumulates in their life.

I’m not so sure that money, or accumulated possessions, are really a good measure of the wealth of a person.

I’d like the chance to actually get inside the heads of some of the ‘wealthiest’ people on the planet and see what occupies their thoughts. Do they walk around in some sort of giddy, euphoric state? Are they simply unable to slip from their happiness high, because the all the cash, or the toys, abates the flow of sadness from their lives?

If that were true, we’d never see divorce, suicide, substance abuse, therapy sessions, shoplifting, drunken brawls, adultery or any of the other of these behaviors in these folks we view as ‘wealthy’.

So then, what good is all the stuff, (money, houses, cars, boats, planes and yes even trains), if it can’t shield you from these life ‘problems’?

I’ve said before, I’ve been dead broke, and fairly ‘flush’, at different times in my life. Several up and down cycles actually. All things being equal, flush is better than broke, in my eyes as having the bill collectors calling and living in fear of losing what little you actually have isn’t much fun.

However, with that said, as I look back over my life, it has never been money, or possessions that have made the difference. Sure, I love to dream about getting a Dodge Viper, or a big fishing boat, building a stellar hot rod where cash is no obstacle, or any of a thousand other dreams. In the end though, it isn’t the money, or the ‘thing’ that I really want, it’s the joy I associate with it.

Cruising the streets with my wife or one of my buddies in a righteous ride, is (or can be) a joy unto itself. More so for me, in something I’ve built, than in something I’ve purchased. I’ve often wondered, why that is. About the only answers I’ve come up with are these two. First, because I built it, it’s unique, mine, one of a kind (like me) and there will be no other exactly like it. Second, no creation like a ‘hot rod’ is ever the effort of one person (well none of mine anyway), it takes some help from some other folks as well. In my case that’s usually my friends.

So as I’ve pondered the ‘wealth’ question, and thought about what my view of ‘wealth’ is, and how to measure, for myself, how wealthy I am, these thoughts started to come together.

You see, I like to think of myself as, and take a bit of pride in being, a ‘self made’ man. Like a hot rod, crafted in a vision to be a standout, one of a kind.

The reality is however, I’m not really a self made man. I’m the result of decades of influence of some pretty amazing (in my mind) people. From my parents, in the very early years, through to today, every person I’ve have the opportunity to meet and interact with has changed me, a little.

Sometimes I saw behavior, or attitudes I didn’t like and chose to try and eliminate them from my life. In others, I saw things I felt had value and attempted to adopt (at times adapt) and fit them ‘into’ my life. In some cases I saw the possibility of something simply because someone else mentioned it, or was just verbally ‘dreaming’ and I took a concept and ran with it.

All of this is much like constructing a ‘one off’ vehicle. You take what’s out there, eliminate some, others are taken exactly as they are and then the rest are ‘customized’ (adapted) into the final product. Some of the finest vehicles I’ve seen are not from shops like Coddington’ or Foose’… but from individuals, who had an ever changing vision for continually modifying and improving their ride.

So that’s me, a human hot rod, crafted from the experiences and people in my life.

To me, ‘this’ is wealth. I’m my own person, purpose built to allow me to enjoy, as much as is possible the time I have here. To provide a smooth ride through the rough roads, fly like a bullet on the smooth straight-aways and handle the curves like I’m on rails.

Occasionally, I’ll over drive myself, and like that hot rod can slip off the road and get ‘dinged up’ if not driven with an eye on the conditions. However, like that hot rod I can get back on the road again as well.

I have been lucky. I’ve had (and have) friends and family with, and without physical impairments, some rich, some poor, hard workers, slackers, drinkers, non- drinkers, all sorts of folks, from all walks of life. It’s this fabric, this gathering of the human experience that’s shaped my life.
I may be a long way from any kind of ‘wealth’ in monetary terms, but, in terms of the value I place on what I have, the people I know, and the world as I look out through my eyes, I have no choice but to consider myself wealthy.

I’ve been fortunate to have a richness that goes beyond money and things. Riches composed of people, family, friends, and experiences that money simply could not have purchased. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.

I’ve spent some time over the past few months attempting to put into words the ‘story’ behind some of the people I’ve known (or still know).

I suspect I’ll be doing more of that, especially over the winter, as for some reason lately these folks are all on my mind.

Life changes when you no longer view money as the ‘measuring stick’, and instead pick some other, inner ruler, to measure by. If you do, you may find, as I have, that you have riches you never really tallied up. That your ‘balance sheet’ is much fatter than you realized.

So tell me, how is it that you measure the wealth in your life?


Beth said...

Wealth to me is a few different things. Knowledge and family are my definition though. I believe the more you know, the wealthier you become.

I don't have a lot of friends, but feel extremely lucky with my immediate family. Wealthy, yes.

Bill said...

GK - As you know, the vast majority of my friends. and family, do not live anywhere near me, while I've been enriched by their effects on my life, it's difficult not having them near.

As for knowledge... it's one thing I don't believe we can ever have too much of!

Nic said...

What a wonderful post, my friend! I especially like your description of yourself as a human hot rod. LOL. That's so you!

I measure my own personal wealth by the very presence of my daughter in my life - the most precious part of my life, the degree with which I feel peace, the love of family and how close my walk is with God. That's really all I need other than the basics - food/drink, shelter, clothing. Everything else is just fringe benefits - not French benefits as in that one FedEx commercial. LOL!

Bill said...

Nic - Yep... although "French" might be nice too...

I've taken to viewing all the material items as "just stuff"... I can always get more 'stuff'... it's impossible to replace people, friends and most importantly, family.

Kudos to you!

Karyn Lyndon said...

Hey, Hot's a sobering thought when you find out you are in the top 10% of the richest people in the world. I think what makes me feel rich is knowing I've done my best and I haven't squandered any opportunities--and knowing it's the journey, not the destination that's important. Speaking of journeys, I do wish I had more money to travel...maybe when my kids finally get OFF my

Bill said...

Karyn - I don't know (yet) what that feels like... unless of course you're measuring in terms of something other than money!! :)

I'm with you on the 'opportunity' issue though. They actually are rare, and it seems to me a shame to waste one when it's available.

I've wasted a few though, so maybe that's why I really know their value.

I love to travel, especially around the US, and more specifically by motorcycle... one of my old buddies and I have a deal, if either one of us ever hit the 'lotto' we'll hire the other one to ride with us full time!

Goodluck on getting the kids off the payroll! :)

Spirit Of Owl said...

I've been wondering how honestly to post this reply, but of course completely honestly is the only way: I found myself crying by the end.

That might and should seem weird. What the hell. It was close and moving to me.

It's something I'm very confused by. I don't know what money means to anyone, least of all me. It has very often broken down to a simple equation of food, cigarettes and beer. But I don't smoke any more, and I rarely drink, so what does it mean??? !!!

Although I instinctively understand you, I can't actually grasp it. I can't put it any other way. Wealth has always been something other people do, but your take on wealth moved me tonight, and left me feeling kind of strange. Um... thanks... !

Master of None said...

Business success is a big indicator to me (It's inherent that I am successful when it comes to my family life!). With business success also comes money, so that's just a bonus.

Comfort Addict said...

Nice post, Bill. It reminds me of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. What you call wealth, he calls happiness. He says that all people strive for it in life. He also tries to direct people toward a virtuous way of living instead of being fooled by illusions of happiness like lots of money.

When I think of what constitutes my happiness, family, friends, music, enjoying my interests, balance, learning and experiences come to mind. Like Aristotle, I also think that virtue is important. To me, that means acting morally and avoiding extremes (like the quest for monetary wealth).

In summary, happiness is what you make it but, to make it last, build it on a solid foundation.

Bill said...

Spirit - I hope it moved you in a good way... I once viewed money as the source of happiness, maybe, becuase I had so little for so long that I assumed having some would make me happy. (Wealth to me then was also something 'others' did)

While things are certainly better today, than then, I still have enough debt that no one is going to mistake me for 'wealthy', in monetary terms.

When I stumbled on this 'redefinition' of being wealthy years ago, it left me feeling 'strange' too... sort of like I'd found a problem with the 'foundation' and things were a bit shakey... eventually though, it brought me to a far better place.

MON - I can fully understand viewing success as a component of being 'rich' in life... it was a loss of business success that left me feeling pretty empty, as I'd defined my life by my success at various business ventures. It was during this time of 'taking inventory' of my life that began to change what I viewed as important, to me.

CA - A comparison to Aristotle is not a bad way to start the day!!

"I also think that virtue is important. To me, that means acting morally and avoiding extremes"

All things in moderation. This was a big lesson for me, as, at one time I did everything to extremes. I didn't know how to do anything 'a little bit' it seemed.

There are many components to being happy, and I think we all are constantly looking for ways to be, and stay, happy with our lives.

I think, what's really important in doing that, for me at least, is defining happiness in terms that internal, rather than external.

Man... I love these kinds of discussions!

Kim said...

The bills are paid, the kids are fed and it's Friday night and I have a bottle of good wine and a pack of smokes and am wearing my favorite henley and sweat pants...Can life get any better?

Bill said...

Kim - Relaxing in comfort, with your immediate needs resolved, for me is one of life's greatest moments.

About the only thing that might improve on that, depending on my mood, would be some friends and/or family around to share the moment.

Firehawk said...


Being happy more than you're sad is a good measure of if your life is good. There are monetary riches that can allow you to have a sense of security--a few small calamities won't really throw you for a loop--but I don't think the things we have are as important as the people we are.

Someone once said, "Money may not be able to buy happiness, but I'd prefer to suffer in comfort." I guess that's true. Flush is better than broke. Still, if you're free to be what you want to be and you're broke, that might be better than having no "satisfaction" and having a wad of cash in your pocket.

An interesting question...

Ilene said...

I am so rich and believe you me it isn't because I have money- and I can't even define it - but I know it isn't money - I think my blog yesterday points me in that direction though. I think contentment with who I am is a source of great wealth. Knowing myself and realizing I am a part of the Universal Whole - isn't that what it is really all about?

Bill said...

Firehawk - "Flush is better than broke"... I couldn't agree more!

Also, given the choice I'd also pick:

"if you're free to be what you want to be and you're broke, that might be better than having no "satisfaction" and having a wad of cash in your pocket"

We only get one chance at all of this, having a big bank account, and losing out on being *me*, well, that frankly would just cost too much!

Ilene - "I think contentment with who I am is a source of great wealth"...

Between that, good friends and loving family members.. in my view, it just doesn't get any better!