“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso
How does the idea of amassing a fortune to retire aged 30 and sit on a beach for the rest of your years sound?
This is an idea Chris Guillebeau poses in his book The Art Of Non-Conformity, which I’ve been reading over the past week or so. He reasons that whilst we may dream about retiring at 30 and sitting on a beach, there are only so many days we’d enjoy sunbathing and drinking margaritas before asking “is this all there is?”. We would soon come to realise that there’s more to life.
And personally, I agree. My younger years were spent reading about titans of business, people who by western standards many would consider the most “successful” in modern history. And I found a rather curious thing: the most wealthy people in the world often decide to give it all away.
If you don’t believe me then check out The Giving Pledge. Founded by two of the wealthiest people in recent history, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the pledge encourages wealthy people to donate some or all of their wealth to philanthropic causes, either in their lifetime or upon their death. As of 2016, the pledge reportedly had 139 signatories, pledging $365 Billion dollars.
Looking a bit further back, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, who are said to have influenced Bill Gates’ philanthropy, and are said to be the two wealthiest people in modern history, both donated their fortunes to philanthropic foundations within their lifetimes.
Now, it’s not all about money, however, when many of us start out in business we are at least partially driven by it. What I hoped to show with these examples is that yes, money may be important but it does not lead to contentment.
So why is this the case?
Maslow’s theory of human motivation, amongst others, postulated that us humans are driven by a hierarchy of needs. Once we meet our basic needs for survival such as food and water, and safety, we strive for higher needs such as intimacy, friendship and esteem. Much of which may be satisfied from holding a position of authority or amassing a fortune.
In the end, however, the theory states that we cannot be content until we reach “self-transcendence”, which is to work towards something that is bigger than ourselves, hence the number of billionaires giving away their personal fortunes to charitable causes.
Unfortunately for some, this realisation comes on their death bed. As the saying goes, nobody spends their final moments wishing they had earned more money or worked more hours. People do however regret being selfish and choosing not to bring happiness to others when they had the chance. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Fortunately, you have a choice.
You can choose to be motivated by fame and fortune but you might just find yourself reaching the top of the mountain only to find it’s an empty place. Or you can choose to prioritise helping others and you might just find yourself deeply content, whether you end up a multi-millionaire or not.
So, what are you going to work towards that is bigger than yourself?
P.S. On the topic of modern billionaire philanthropy, I’d recommend reading Titan: The Life Of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. I’d also recommend this book about Chuck Feeney, who, within his lifetime he amassed a fortune and then gave it away without hardly anyone knowing about it.
P.P.S. When it comes to the uber rich and philanthropy, the words “tax avoidance” are often not far behind. It’s hard to argue that there’s something fishy about being able to donate your assets to a foundation, which you’d also control, and reap tax benefits. It does, however, seem to be a model that sees private fortunes of the few being channelled back into society to help the many. For that reason, I propose we need not concern ourselves too much with this matter.