Why do you want money?
“There’s no final resting place - short of death - where you can stop having to earn what you want.”
-Harry Browne, How I found freedom in an unfree world
My Dad asked me the other day, “Why do you want money?” It’s an interesting question to say the least. I mean, I - and I imagine most, if not all people - are constantly thinking about what they want. Isn’t “want” what drives all action? “Want” being interchangeable with need of course. It’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning, because there is something we want. It’s why we move, because we are pursuing something that requires action.
But why on earth do I want money? I know it’s unfashionable to admit out loud that you want money, but truth be told, I do! In all fairness, I suppose money isn’t the end goal of all my wants and desires; it’s just a critical aspect of achieving them. To answer the question though, I don’t, at this particular moment in time, know why exactly I want money.
Money is on my mind all the time: how much do I need to stay in the place I live? how much will the new badass computer I want cost? how much will I make for doing this thing called work for 8 to 10 hours a day? and is it worth working my current job for how much I make? There are dozens more questions I ask myself every day about money without even making a conscious effort to. In some ways it’s like the software constantly running in the background of your laptop or phone, maybe good, maybe bad, but definitely there.
So when I question money a little bit deeper than the surface level comforts and needs it helps me acquire, I find myself a little bit shaken up. The phrase “eat shit and cash checks” comes to mind, and it makes me think about why I spend most of my waking hours the way I do. Why do most of us spend so much time doing something we generally don’t like? Do I eat to go to work or do I go to work to eat? Perhaps it’s an unanswerable question, nonetheless it makes me wonder. Sometimes it feels like I go to work to pay for my car which I use to go to work and make money to pay for things to keep living so that I can go to work the next day, and then continue repeating with a few fun weekends scattered in the midst. I know that’s drastically over simplified, but think about it: the average workday for most Americans is 8.8 hours. Add on that the average commute to work is close to 30 minutes one way, and then say it takes a modest 30 minutes to get ready for work in the morning. That’s almost 52 of your 112 waking hours a week devoted to work.
It’s not that this is in itself a bad thing. Perhaps what you do for work is your greatest love, or perhaps it allows you to do new things you otherwise never would have. Maybe it gives you a sense of purpose. All of these are absolute benefits. But what about the people who don’t feel these benefits from their work? What about the plumber or accountant who dread going to work the next day, or the people who feel as though they are trapped, not by the job itself, but by the money that it provides which they need to live? 46% of their conscious adult lives will be devoted completely to something they hate, a means to an unrelated end. In other words, they spend half of their lives eating shit and cashing checks.
Luckily this isn’t quite me. I have aspirations to make a living as a philosopher and writer, but I currently work in construction. Out of the many different day jobs I’ve had in the past (Certified Nurses Assistant, Busser at a restaurant, retail, operating a mechanical bull, and fast food) this is the only one so far that hasn’t made me resent going to sleep, only to wake up for another day of work. There are perhaps several reasons for this that don’t directly involve construction; one such reason being that I work for one of my best friends, and because of this, my schedule is a bit more loose. But still, why do I do it if it’s not my passion or my end goal?
I’ve thought about this a lot, and one of the the answers that I’ve come to is mortality. Because I am mortal and need loads of different things to live (food, water, clothing, shelter, and companionship to name a few), I have to find ways to obtain them. Sadly these things exist in scarcity and therefore have to be cultivated in order to make enough for ourselves, and excess to trade or sell for other necessary goods. People specialize in certain areas like farming, transportation, oil, and manufacturing in order to create the things we need and want. With people specializing instead of just trying to fill all their needs and wants them self, we need someway to trade goods for goods.
Barter was one of the first ways this was attempted: say I have strawberries and you have shoes. However you don't want strawberries, but I do need shoes. I would have to go out and find someone who wants strawberries and hope that whatever they trade me is something you will then want in exchange for the shoes. Horribly inefficient, and needlessly complex.
This is why we made money; so that we can have a medium of exchange. Something that represents the value of the products we are producing but can be universally exchanged.
I go to work so that I can obtain money to provide for my physical and psychological needs. Fine, that’s been established.
But does it really take 46% of my waking adult life to do this?
I don’t think so. We live in a time of unfathomably abundant wealth; the poorest in America and many other first world countries are generally richer than most of the world has ever been - amazing! So why do we still spend so much time doing something we often hate, or at least dislike, doing?
This is where I think there are some legitimate critiques of capitalism. Capitalism as an economic concept is a machine of industry and innovation, and while it has immense capacity for freedom and happiness, I would say that it doesn’t necessarily incentivise it. Perhaps this isn’t even a result of capitalism - maybe it’s just human nature trying to make sense of a world without lions and tigers trying to eat you. Either way, it’s a struggle that we see arise frequently in wealthy nations. We are in a consistent loop of wanting bigger and better, and it seems to me that we overstep the innate desire for progress from time to time, and work our lives into oblivion - but for what?
“Why do you want money?”
This is a question we ought to be finding answers to in daily life. Why do you spend nearly half of your days at a 9-5 that you maybe don’t even enjoy? When you’re on your deathbed, will you be able to smile back at a life well lived? One of pleasure and fulfilment? Or will the days have all melded together in a soup of indifference and missed opportunities?
"Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time."
- Jim Rohn
Work is not a bad thing, but ask yourself why you work, and ask yourself why you want money. And then do with your money what is worth the most to you. Perhaps these means working less hours to do more meaningful things with your precious time, or perhaps it means taking a lower paying but more fulfilling job. That decision is upon each of us to make. This isn’t something that I have in any way perfected yet, but it’s something I’m working on.
If your life is truly yours, then treat it that way. Give no decisions away because it’s what’s expected of you, and give no time to those things that in the end will yield nothing of importance to you. By all means, work hard, but work for what you want, not for the sake of working.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
- Steve Jobs