I’ve been reading a number of personal finance blogs of late and it’s been a little bit dispiriting actually. I’ve seen many bloggers giving advice on how they worked for a few years and then retired to travel the world. Or how bloggers ruined their reputations or did unethical acts in the name of saving money. And in the end, reading most personal finance blogs, it seems like early retirement is the final end goal. The whole meaning of our life’s work is to travel the world and live like a dilettante.
I’m still drafting a personal finance manifesto but the first tenet is certainly – money is a tool, never the end goal. There should be so much more to your life than money. I honestly think there should be so much more to life than pleasure or happiness. There should be the constant striving to be a better person, to leave the world with more love, joy and happiness, to alleviate pain, to learn new things, to share new ideas, to take risks, to inspire others, and maybe, if we’re lucky, make something lasting.
I was reminded of this when reading the following passage in a book neither about finance nor character.
On November 14, 1985, Dmitri Belyaev died, surrounded by loving friends and family, and secure in the knowledge that his life’s work would continue. . . . He did have one regret. “He wanted to write a book,” Lyudmila says. “His greatest desire was to write a book on domestication . . . and the book was supposed to be popular . . . He wanted to tell stories, to tell the layman, anyone . . . what processes had underlain domestication.”
Respectful as all the speeches were, the staged, bureaucratic nature of the funeral left no time for friends and family to share their thoughts: they were not given any time to stand up and give their personal eulogies. . . . But after all was said and done, something happened that refreshed their spirits. A woman approached Lyudmila and those around her. The woman was weeping as she said, “You don’t know to whom you are saying good-bye for good today.” Lyudmila and the others were taken aback. “What do you mean we don’t know him?” Lyudmila said. “We have known him for more than 20 years!” To which the woman replied, “Perhaps you have known him for 20 years but, you don’t know what sort of man that man was.” And then she told a story that no one there ever forgot.
She had been a bank teller. Year earlier she had suffered from severe pain in her legs. One day, Belyaev was in the bank when he overheard a conversation between this woman an da colleague of hers. The teller was describing the pain in her legs, and how she wasn’t sure how much longer she could even keep her job in the face of this daily pain. What would happen to her and her family then? Her colleague told her that she needed to visit a doctro immediately. “I have been to all the doctors,” the teller replied, “but they are not helpful. I want to be put in hospital, but they say there are not enough beds. I don’t know what to do: no one does.” Belyaev listened, finished the work that brought him to the bank, and left. Two days later the woman received a call while at work. The voice on the other end told her that there was a room available for her in the hospital and that she should proceed there as soon as possible.
Shocked, the teller said: “That is impossible, I have been told many times there are no beds for me.” That might be, said the caller, but we have been contacted by Academician Belyaev and he has asked that we remedy this situation. The woman went to the hospital, underwent a successful series of surgeries, and soon returned to her teller job pain free.
Belyaev, as was his nature, never mentioned a word of this to anyone.
–How to Tame a Fox
I think it’s easy to tell people, oh just cut every corner until you have money. Don’t care about who you hurt or affect.
This passage reminded me of the life I want to live and, morbidly, the way I want to die. And it’s not about having people think well of me. It’s about my character and who I’ve become in the end. I don’t want it to be said that I reached the end and wow, I had a bunch of money and traveled to a bunch of countries. I think there should be more.