If you read biographies of successful people, the beginning is often very tragic (and sometimes the middle and the end, as well).* I remember reading about Mission Chinese Danny Bowien’s early years as a cook at a fancy French-Japanese restaurant where they threw pots at his head and hazed him mercilessly. He made so little money that he ate scraps. And you think, of course he kept going because he became a wild success later. But he didn’t know that was going to happen and how hard it must have been to go through the abuse. The poverty. For years. Always doubting if he was on the right path. All because he had a passion and a dream. He endured because he had this glimmer of hope that it would work out.
In Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, it’s a lot worse than that. But the happy ending is survival.
As a quick summary, Frankl recounts his years being tortured at a concentration camp and he finds that what sustained the survivors, what sustained him, was having an ultimate purpose. For him, he lost his life’s work, the manuscript that comprised his life’s research, upon entering the camp. He needed to stay alive in order to recreate his research. Throughout the book, he echoes the quote by Nietzsche:
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
Frankl sees the modern problem** as:
people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.
I see this lack of meaning always underlying today’s blogs and articles about saving money. I can see why it’s hard to think “stop buying coffee and avocado toast, save for retirement!” Because retirement is when people die. Also it’s a long time away. Why would you delay your happiness for death (or 40 years, whichever is sooner).
You should live now. And I don’t mean live recklessly on drugs and rock and roll (or whatever the kids are doing). But if you really loved something or had a dream to do something with your life, it would be a lot easier to say, I’d rather put the latte money towards that dream. I’d rather find ways to cut corners so I have money to help me on my dream.
I think most of the time we have no idea what to save money for. That’s why we just fritter it away towards things we think are meaningful but have no overarching purpose. We work to have enough money to chase the lifestyle we want. We don’t work to chase a dream. But if we did, I think a lot of the wastes of money would just dry up.
It’s a lot easier to give up the lattes if you have a reason to give them up.
For the super short term, it could just be a little thing that you want. For the short term this might mean a great vacation. For a longer term, it might be getting rid of debt, quitting your job and writing your book or starting a business. It could be donating to charity or starting a family or seeing your family more often. It could be whatever your amazing ridiculous dream is, and it’s very likely that money will help you achieve it.
What about you? What’s your meaning in life? (ooh big question).
*They’ve done studies where successful people with tough childhoods drew strength from their hardships. It’s not just that it makes for a better story but it could be a secret to their success.
**Don’t worry – he puts in a caveat that some don’t even have the means. Also note that Frankl died 20 years ago but his assessment of modern problems are still relevant today.
***A good book re passion and finding your purpose.