It Would Be Great if Millionaires Would Not Lecture Us on 'Living With Less'
There is something about achieving great financial success that seduces people into believing that they are life coaches. This problem seems particularly endemic to the tech millionaire set. You are not simply Some Fucking Guy Who Sold Your Internet Company For a Lot of Money; you are a lifestyle guru, with many important and penetrating insight about How to Live that must be shared with the common people.
We would humbly request that this stop.
Meet Graham Hill. Graham Hill became a multimillionaire at a very young age when he sold his internet company in 1998. Good for him. We would not be telling you about Graham Hill at all, except for the fact that he wrote a remarkable op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review yesterday in which he instructs you, the common man, on the virtues of "Living With Less." He bases this prescription on the wisdom he has learned on his own personal journey, from millionaire with a big house and many material possessions to millionaire with a smaller house and fewer material possessions, but just as many liquid assets. And what did it take for this millionaire to learn that his 3,600-square-foot Seattle home, personal shopper, and cars and furniture and other expensive baubles just weren't worth it?
For me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less.
Aha! All it takes is a leisurely decade or so of world travel with "Olga, an Andorran beauty" to come to the conclusion that less is more. Make a note, average Americans.
I followed her to Barcelona when her visa expired and we lived in a tiny flat, totally content and in love before we realized that nothing was holding us in Spain. We packed a few clothes, some toiletries and a couple of laptops and hit the road. We lived in Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Toronto with many stops in between...
The relationship with Olga eventually ended, but my life never looked the same. I live smaller and travel lighter. I have more time and money.
By jet-setting around the world with Olga after already becoming wealthy, Graham Hill found himself with more time and money. What is your excuse for not doing the same? Simply sell your house, get rid of your possessions, and take a few round-the-world excursions to get a good feel for the importance of experiences over possessions. Anyone can do it.
The problem here is not the message. The problem is the messenger. More specifically, it is the messenger using his own life as supporting evidence for the message. Were Graham Hill to simply write a fact-based essay arguing that Americans should cut down on material possessions in order to save the environment and gain peace of mind, he would doubtless hear a chorus of support. But for Graham Hill, a young millionaire who was fortunate enough to sell his "pre-Netscape browser" at the high point of the internet bubble, to say to the average American, "My journey through the perils of great wealth has bestowed me with wisdom that is directly applicable to you" is simply false. It is no wonder that Hill loved the recent TED talk by millionaire musician Amanda Palmer, in which she argued that it was perfectly fair for her to, for example, accept a free night of lodging in the home of poor Honduran immigrants and not pay them for it, because the beauty of her music is payment enough. Both are insulated enough from the realities of personal finance to forget about them entirely.
A millionaire does not have the standing to tell regular people that money is overrated. Graham Hill moved into a smaller apartment and sold some of his stuff. But he sure as fuck didn't empty his bank accounts. It's easy not to have material things when you can just buy whatever you need, whenever you need it. " My space is small. My life is big," writes Hill. Of course it is! You can buy anything and go anywhere at any time, thanks to your vast wealth! The fact that a millionaire's "life is big" offers little valuable wisdom to the common person. The presumptuousness is akin to a fat food critic walking out of a restaurant after a huge meal and telling a starving beggar on the curb, "Trust me—you don't want to eat at this place."
Money doesn't matter at all, as long as you have too much of it.
[NYT. Pic of Graham Hill in his humble abode via Gizmodo/ Vimeo]