I play tennis mainly at two different locations.
The first location is a public park in the Parkside district of San Francisco. Every Tuesday and Thursday there’s Tai Qi from 8:30am – 10am. Every Wednesday, there’s Zumba blaring in the background from 10:30am – noon. And every Friday there’re beer cans and cigarette butts strewn all over the court, just waiting for players like me to clean them up. The graffitied walls are a nice final touch. It’s the price for being free.
The second location is my tennis club. To join requires a main sponsor, four letters of recommendation, plus a one month vetting period during which any member can black ball you for any reason. The club has an initial member fee of $12,000, after which you pay monthly dues of about $225 – $500, depending on consumption.
The courts are pristine, there’s no noise pollution except for the occasional excessive grunt. Decal chairs adorn the sidelines along with neatly folded towels next to always full water coolers. After a match, players will often get a drink at the bar, play some dice, and then head to the sauna before showering.
It’s obviously much nicer to play at my club than at the public courts. However, I play on the free public courts twice as often. Why is this? Simple. Most people at my club don’t have time to play!
In San Francisco, the best time to play tennis is between 10am – 3pm. The morning dew has evaporated by then. The temperature is warmer. And you never have to wait for a court because most people are working. Unfortunately, very few people at my club can play during these times.
Even my wealthiest friend can only play before 9am because he has to be at work by 10:30am. Come on buddy. YOLO! If I was the big boss, with mega bucks, I’d ban meetings before 11am and keep them to no more than 15 minutes.
Here are profiles of four players I recently played tennis with at my club:
1) Top 5 undergrad, Top 3 MBA, entrepreneur, son of a high ranking government official. Age 42. White. 4.0 USTA rating.
2) Big state school undergrad, Top 3 MBA, ex-head of a Private Wealth Management division for a top investment bank, currently a private wealth manager at a smaller shop. Age 52. White. 4.0 USTA rating.
3) Top 3 undergrad, Top 20 MBA, and entrepreneur. Father was head of a private equity business that killed it in the late 90’s. Age 46. White. 4.0 USTA rating.
4) Top 3 undergrad, Top 3 MBA, co-founder of a VC that invested early in the likes of Uber, Airbnb, and Slack. Age 44. White. 4.0 USTA rating.
Clearly all of these players have outstanding academic and professional resumes. Their kids will have incredible advantages and I don’t think any of them will ever have to worry about money. More importantly, they’re also humble and friendly people to hang out with. They have the same problems as everybody else when it comes to relationships, hopes and dreams for their children, doing better at work, etc.
Despite them all working way more than 40 hours a week, I’m always suggesting we play at a more reasonable 4:30pm to avoid the after work rush. But I never succeed because nobody can actually get there by 4:30pm! Even if they commit on rare occasion, there’s always at least two who arrive 15-30 minutes late. By the time we warm up, we often don’t get started until 45 minutes later.
Here are the player profiles of guys I recently hit with at the public park:
1) Didn’t go to college. Works as a wheelchair assistance operator at San Francisco International Airport. Age 43. Filipino. 4.5/5.0 USTA rating.
2) Didn’t go to college. Retired at age 52 after working for 20 years as an IT help technician at the largest retail bank on the west coast. Bought a four unit building 25 years ago and lives off the rental income. Drives a 1986 Nissan 240Z. Age 62. Indian. 4.5 USTA rating. We literally played 32 matches last year.
3) Didn’t go to college. Works as a cook at a Chinese restaurant. Hooks me up with some free dumplings every time I visit his work. Age 38. Chinese. 5.0 USTA rating.
4) Went to a local state university. Teaches elementary school. Age 39. Half White, half Chinese. 4.5 USTA rating.
Guess when we are always playing? Between 10am – 3pm! None of these players make more than $65,000 a year, yet they get to play during the best time of the day because they are either retired or have a late shift.
Further, seldom is anybody ever late. We are constantly playing for 2 – 3 hours a session because we don’t have anywhere urgent to go. Also, notice how all their USTA ratings are higher as well, probably because they get more time to practice.
At my club, the average playing time is only about 1.15 hours because after rushing to the club from work, the players have to rush home to see their families, attend some work related event, or go to some fundraiser party.
“My wife is going to kill me,” is a common excuse I hear for folks jetting early. Most of the public court players also have families, but their kids are usually in school while they play. Or, their kids are playing in the playground next door to daddy. By the time they finish, they still have plenty of time to run around with their kids and eat dinner.
Which Is A Better Lifestyle?
You can have all the money in the world, but if you have no free time to spend it, what’s the point of being rich? The public court players aren’t poor, they just aren’t very wealthy. Yet their lifestyles are pretty wonderful if you ask me. The private club players also have nice lives, they are just time constrained due to their jobs.
For those of you who are obsessed about getting rich, think really hard about trying to kill yourself so that one day you can live the lifestyle that everyday, middle class people get to live right now. And for those of you who’ve already achieved a comfortable level of wealth, what are you really trying to prove? Making more money when you already have so much more than most people is so meaningless. Take a step back and think about creating more purpose instead.
Here’s what happens when you get richer:
- You pay a larger percentage of your income to taxes.
- You’re accused of not paying your fair share even though you pay way more taxes than the person accusing you of not paying your fair share.
- You’re subject to retroactive taxes voted by people who don’t have to pay more taxes.
- Rich politicians pandering for votes demonize you while also asking you for campaign contributions on the side.
- The media also demonizes you, even though journalists often come from relatively well to do families, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford joining a structurally declining industry.
- Expectations of you increase to levels of unreasonableness.
- People start liking you for your money instead of your personality.
- Somebody always wants something from you.
- The demand for your time goes way up.
- You can never play in the middle of the day because you’re just too important or too busy.
- You can never drop off or pick up your kids at school, let alone hang out with them after because you’re always traveling for work.
- You get so wrapped up in your work that you forsake other relationships and interests.
As a high earning corporate employee for 13 years and then as an unemployed writer for five years, I’ve seen both sides of the fence. I can say with 100% certainty life is better earning less! Not poverty level less, just enough to have all your needs and some wants covered.
I don’t miss the fancy meals or business class trips to Asia because at the end of the day, it was still work. I am totally content eating a $2.60 In N’ Out cheeseburger instead of a $80 wagyu steak as well. Further, I couldn’t give a baboon’s ass about prestige or power. Being the Vice President of a company whose main goal is to get you hooked on a sugary drink isn’t very honorable. Running a company that tries to get you to sign up for another 24.99% APR credit card you don’t need is filthy.
The best combination is to probably be rich and free. But even that lifestyle is not much better than that of a regular income earning person who is living a purposeful lifestyle. Appreciate what you have right now. Being rich is not an amazing panacea. Being free with the consistent ability to help other people is.
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