For half an hour, I had forced myself to listen to something I cared nothing about. Hal and I were talking about some new technologies for capturing real estate sales leads from our website. He’s the owner of the realty company where I work and we talk about technology quite a bit.
But this time, the discussion was purely based on finding sales leads and automating the sales funnel to turn leads into clients. The technology is powerful and realistic. I suspect it will work for us. There’s a very good chance it will be profitable.
But the truth is that I simply didn’t care.
Hal has a sales background. In fact, he’s probably the best salesperson I’ve ever known. He enjoys the process. In fact, he gets excited about it.
But as we talked — and I tried to make myself care about what we were talking about — I suddenly had a moment of clarity.
I don’t care about making money, at least for its own sake. I care about ideas. I care about causes. I care about fighting a good fight for something I believe in. When that makes money for me, it’s a nice benefit.
But I’m never going to care about making money as an end in itself.
All of a sudden, I understood something about my past (and my present) which had seemed to escape me until now.
I used to make a nice living. I wasn’t wealthy, but I made a nice income. When I worked in politics, I made between $100,000 and $150,000 a year, depending on the campaign cycle. It was nice money and I had a good time, because I was competitive and I thought I was doing something good.
I had to get out of politics because I no longer believed in what I was doing. For the last few years I was doing it, I stayed with it merely for the money. What had once been exciting and enjoyable became drudgery. By the end, I wasn’t even calling potential clients back — when they called me first. I just couldn’t force myself to keep doing work that had come to feel so dirty and wrong.
For most of the last decade, I’ve struggled to figure out how to get back to the income I once had. For the last four or five years — I’ve lost track of the exact time right now — I’ve been in real estate. The opportunities have been very good, but I’m nowhere close to making the money I had expected.
Tonight, I understand why.
When I owned a couple of small newspapers — many years ago — I often worked between 100 and 110 hours a week. It was a grueling schedule and my body couldn’t keep it up forever, but I did it gladly, because I was doing something I loved. I was doing something which seemed important to me.
I was going to build a great newspaper and then make other great newspapers, building a company that I thought would matter — to me and to my readers. I knew that would make me wealthy and powerful, but that wasn’t my purpose. It was a side effect.
When I think back on my life, every time I’ve been successful at something, it’s been because I thought what I was doing mattered. Those things were often mixed with ego gratification and the desire for power and success, but I was fueled by the desire to do something great, not by the desire for money.
And that’s my real problem in real estate. There’s a lot of money to be made in real estate, simply by bringing buyers and sellers together. There’s nothing wrong with the business, but it simply doesn’t matter to me. I don’t feel as though I’m doing anything that a thousand other people couldn’t do just as well.
I might as well be selling soap. Or shoes. Or whatever.
I’ve often been told, “Do what you love and the money will follow,” but I’ve come to see that as very simplistic. When you do something you love, money might follow — if what you love happens to coincide with what can make money. But if your passion is for painting seashells or stage acting — or writing, for that matter — that passion might bring you absolutely nothing.
Here’s what I suspect is true. If you want to be at peace with yourself — in the long run — you have to do something which you truly care about. That might or might not make you affluent.
It’s also true that you must provide a minimum level of income to support yourself and whatever family counts on you. There’s no way around that. But if you can make that minimum amount you need to meet your needs, you’re better off doing something you care about than you are to do something you hate that makes 10 times the income.
I need to refocus on the things I care about. When I went through a miserably destitute period — about seven or eight years ago — I got so scared by the experience that I started focusing too much on the chase for money. And that hasn’t worked out well for me.
I need to refocus on things that matter to me. And if doing those things happens to bring serious money with them, great. I’m not going to pretend that having a nice income again wouldn’t make my life better. But if I return to chasing the things that matter to me, I’m going to be OK if I don’t make a six-figure income — just as long as I can do well enough to honorably support myself and anybody I care about.
Money isn’t a bad thing. Being wealthy can be a great thing, in fact. But loving money — and setting life up to be a big money grab — probably isn’t going to make you happy. It might not even bring you money. Doing it that way hasn’t worked for me.
Earlier this week, I saw this somewhere, but I don’t know where it came from: “Money is a terrible master, but an excellent servant.”
I think that’s true. Back when I used to make a good living, money was my servant, because it wasn’t my goal. But once I had trouble — and started being afraid of my lack of income — I allowed money to be my master. And I was miserable.
I’ve been thinking for the past few months about some changes that I need to make — and I’m going to talk about those things soon — but what I’m saying here fits right in with that longer-term thinking.
I can’t spend my life doing things which aren’t important to me, even if I fear that not having money will cost me relationships I might want. I have to get back to doing things that matter to me, regardless of the cost.
I hope that pursuing higher purposes will bring me fame and fortune and power. Those would be nice. But if they don’t — if I live a modest life in obscurity instead — I will be much happier than I am today.