Wealth Is An Illusion Of Happiness

Net Worth Illusion

Wealth is an illusion of happiness. If you are not aware of the illusion, then you might suffer from delusion.

One of my happiest memories was studying abroad in Chile for an entire semester.  I lived off beans and rice, and slept on a wooden plank bed.  At night, sweat would bead up on my forehead until it dripped down across my temple and into my ears.  It was that hot.  Yet, despite having no money, I was so happy.  Life was simple and the greatest pleasure I got was learning from others.

At the time, I told myself that if I could just earn $1,000/month and have my trusty camera, I'd be happy.  Well, I lost my way when McKinsey gave me a job offer.  Nobody turns down McKinsey, partly because nobody gets into McKinsey.  The curiosity of the job compelled me to take it rather than pursue my interests.

I recognize I've been blessed with the opportunity to work for a respectable company that may one day allow me to retire comfortably.  Yet, I wonder about that semester abroad in Chile all the time.  A couple years ago I went down to Chile and revisited the old AC-less dorm room where I used to live.  It brought back so many good memories.  Afterwards, my friend and I went back to our 4-star hotel, sipped on a Mojito and ate some ceviche.

It was then that I realized that despite living in a much nicer place on 100X the budget, my happiness compass pointed towards the dorm room of the past.


One of Sam's lines that hits me most is, “Ironically, it is the sympathy that Lyndon seeks, which makes him only hang out with people of his same socio-economic class.  He understands that most of America won’t understand him so he shuns most people.

It's hard to read, but it's true. Many won't empathize with me, simply because only a minority of people in America make $300,000 a year. I expect people to throw mud and make fun of the situation while calling me a cry-baby. 

Further, I realize it is equally ridiculous to try and garner sympathy, hence I don't try. As a result, I keep quiet. I keep to myself because otherwise, you'll think I'm arrogant when I discuss buying a European automobile, or discuss last night's symphony.

Yes, most of my friends are all working stiffs who make six figures and lead relatively decent lives.  We don't expect anybody outside of our circle to understand the grueling hours required to make our income. We don't expect people to understand that ever since we were kids, we were told we better succeed or else. 

Many of our parents are doctors and lawyers and politicians. Yet, how many people on earth can become successful doctors, lawyers, and politicians?  Not many, and that is why the pressure is immense.  We are not our parents nor do we live in our parents' generation!

You'll have to forgive me, and people like me for seeming callous and insensitive towards others.  The truth is, we fear backlash and insensitivity by you, which is why we keep so closed off. 

In fact, perhaps this is why there are so many congregations of ethnic communities in big cities, the Chinatowns, the Little Italy's and Harlems, etc. Maybe we all fear a certain type of backlash, and just want to feel safe. The feeling of security is why investing in real estate is so common for minorities.

The Wealth Just Came

I didn't ask to make the money I make. Income growth just comes with longevity. Longevity is due to performance, which ultimately means value creation for a company.  A person makes $1 million a year because he probably generates $10 million a year in revenue for the firm.  There's nothing really fancy about income.

What I don't quite understand is if people want to make more money, why not just join an industry that pays well?  Why not be a banker, lawyer, doctor, consultant, trader, engineer, Internet guru, Brittany Spears, professional athlete, or politician?  OK, it's hard to become successful at one of these professions, but that doesn't mean you can't try.

Photography is my passion, but I realize that I'd have a better chance at becoming the President of the United States than making a living doing what I love. Yet, I still long for it, and practice every chance I get. 

On weekends I scout locations for my next photo shoot. I've got a website where I'm actively selling my services.  I've even planned out my next three vacations to remote locations so I can capture that rare brilliant shot.  I won't stop trying.

The Decision To Leave It All Behind

The bonus check hit the bank account the other day and I've made up my mind.  I cannot leave McKinsey to follow my dreams.  Someone in the comments section wrote so aptly, “Once your hobby becomes your job, it stops becoming your hobby!”  I'm afraid that if I become a professional photographer, I'll begin to hate the entire industry.  I'll start being overly critical about my own work, and scoff at others who've been accepted.

I love photography too much to risk not loving it anymore. When Sam wrote about my situation, I was at the darkest stage of the year where I worked for 11 months without knowing what my bonus would be.  Now I'm in the brightest stage of the year where I've worked for only one month and have the year ahead of me.  I'm under no illusion that come March next year, I'll have a part of me that will wonder whether I made the right choice.

As of right now, I'm happy again because I know what I must do. It's important I create a realistic exit strategy and live below my means.  You're right.  A $4,000/month two bedroom apartment is fixable.  I'll be looking to get a more “reasonable” 1-bedroom $2,500-$3,000/month apartment in Manhattan instead.  A spreadsheet is open right now pro-forming my financial life over the next 10 years.  All I know is I want to be done by the time I'm 40.  Knowing this, means figuring out a financial plan to get there.

Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate every single one of them. Thank you Sam for letting me gain more perspective and finding a solution!  Wealth is an illusion of happiness, but don't let me stop you from trying.

For happiness!



* This post is a response to the community after writing, “The Curse Of Making Too Much Money And Not Pursuing Your Dreams“.


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99 thoughts on “Wealth Is An Illusion Of Happiness”

  1. Wealth is a social tool and hardly any value comes from it personally beyond the social power it provides. Consider if you were the only person on earth and you had all the wealth of the entire planet at your disposal. It would not mean so much to you at that point and I am sure you’d be willing to give it all up to have another person to talk to. A person who values wealth above those they share it with is delusional. Once a person’s needs are met, life is about people, friendship, and shared moments. These are the things that matter most. Wealth is one way of attracting highly interesting people into our lives so that our experience of living is sweeter. The most valuable thing is a real friendship and real love. How many people have sacrificed that which matters most, in order to attain money, only to find they already had the means to be happy before they became wealthy? It’s our friends and family we value most. We might be upset about losing several thousand dollars but we can make more. We are devastated when we lose a friend or family member because they cannot be replaced. The loss is very great. I am certain that by living in a world of competitive money making and consumerism, we have lost sight of this simple and obvious truth and have begun to work against our own happiness and joy. The irony of this is humiliating.

  2. Lyndon I can sympathize with you. In reading your post I was in the same mental state. I always dreamed of being FI and traveling and set out to do just that. I want to warn you about something that many don’t think of. I always wanted to travel and we are in the position, DH retired, I could do my job anywhere (own business) but that dream came to an screeching halt one day when my mother had a stroke. Now she needs 24/7 supervision and who is in the position to do it and pay for it. You guessed it, me. She does not have the finances to support her needs nor do my brothers and if you have money the family looks to you. I know they don’t prefer to and she never took a dime from me before but we don’t have a choice. So I pay out the *** in taxes, take care of two households and my dreams are put on hold. That said, I’m glad she is still with us but I just wanted to warn you. Make sure there is a plan for your parents because this can be in your future.

  3. Sam, great site! I’m a big fan.

    Hard to believe it’s been 5 years since Lyndon wrote this. It’d be very interesting to see an update halfway through his 10 year plan. Think that could happen?

    1. Hi Paul,

      Time flies huh? I know that Lyndon remains independent, and no longer working for corporate America, just like me.

      Taking a leap is much less scary in reality!

      Best, Sam

  4. “What I don’t quite understand is if people want to make more money, why not just join an industry that pays well? Why not be a banker, lawyer, doctor, consultant, trader, engineer, Internet guru, Brittany Spears, professional athlete, or politician? OK, it’s hard to become successful at one of these professions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.”

    Good grief–does this not sound like the asinine thoughts of Romney? Remember the debate recommendation to just have your parents mortgage their home so you can go to college? This sounds quite comparable on the out-of-touch meter.

    I’m sympathetic to the fact that you don’t like your job but perhaps you could resist the urge to condescend to those many many “lucky” Americans who do not make six figures because they could not figure out how to pay for a university education in a country that offered them the option of taking out exorbitant loans, taking up arms for military actions they may or may not agree with or not getting an education. Not everyone is the child of a doctor, lawyer or politician, so maybe you could come down to earth and realize that the ticket for someone to try his hand at being a “banker, lawyer, doctor, consultant, trader, engineer, Internet guru” as you so flippantly recommend is simply not within everyone’s reach.

    As you wallow, try to avoid being so asinine and out of touch. Perhaps if you were a little more realistic toward and sympathetic to the situation faced by those lucky people who don’t make a lot of money, they would be a little more gracious to you as well.

    1. Have you lived in an emerging market? We are very lucky in American compared to 90% of the world.

      You have to believe in yourself Leah. Stop blaming other people for your misfortune. I decided to make no money in 2012, 2013 to work on my writing. Now after A LOT of sweat and effort, I’ve finally started to make more money than my job as a Director in finance in 2012. But it wasn’t easy. It took heart.

      I’ll add “writer” to the list that you don’t believe in. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. Being out of touch with reality is not seeing the world and the suffering all around us. Being out of touch with reality is only speaking one language and thinking it’s only your way and no other way.

      Take control in 2015!

  5. nice read. wonder what Lyndon is doing now.

    I graduated from a good state university top of my class and used a recruiting service to land my first job. First at a prestigious asset management company ($200bn AUM) and then as a professsional sports agent. It didnt work out because I was not prepared to be yoked like an ox.

    spent my 20s traveling the world…60 countries and counting. then met my wife and had kids and ended up doing a bunch of weird jobs in strange parts of the world.

    i found my way in the end. not quite the mckinsey way but financially i probably didnt take all that much of a hit compared to if i had stuck to my blue chip career…howeever, in terms of overall happiness, all the sights i have seen, the books i have read, and the quality of friendships i got…the road less travelled, while being far riskier, is indeed the one with the higher upside

  6. Yeah – great “plan”, but what if you die today or tomorrow? You’ll have toiled your life away doing something you don’t enjoy, never having truly “lived”. While it’s true that we can’t live with the assumption that we’ll die today or tomorrow, it will happen sooner or later. Then what? Will you look down from heaven (or above or wherever you might go) and say, “I wish I’d worked even more hours”? I don’t think so. Instead, you’ll realize how you selfishly wasted what a great opportunity “life” is in pursuit of the all mighty dollar. How pathetic!!

  7. Wow, this is a great post, I appreciate your sharing.

    I don’t make remotely close to what you make. I make a modest salary that is comfortable for a single person to live on (in an average size town) and spend a little. The job comes with good benefits (good job security, medical, dental and a defined benefit pension plan). I have been with my current employer for ten years. I started off at a very entry level position and worked my way up to where I am today and there are still opportunities for progression. This past year I have been feeling very unhappy about my job. I dream of moving back to my home town permanently one day, become a teacher teaching subjects I enjoy and travel in the summer when school is out. The issue is I need more financial security before I do that. Though I have been working at my current company for ten years, I was never good with saving money before and my dream life style has only formalized recently (I thought about becoming a teacher for a long time but have never visualized the lifestyle I want to live). The biggest issue is I have aging parents that I want to help out with financially so I need to have financial security before I pursue a job I think I might like a lot more.

    Regardless it’s inspiring to hear your story!

  8. That was a really good post- I remember the original post but I hadn’t seen this reply.

    Lyndon- are you taking pictures? Why don’t you show us some of them!

    Life is short- live it the way you want. Don’t live behind a mask, don’t live behind your riches. Do what you enjoy and be authentic.

  9. It’s been a really long time since I read the original post, but what hit me in this follow up post is that you’re happy because you received your bonus. I realize this post was written almost a year ago. Are you still happy, Lyndon?

    1. I think it’s pretty standard these mood cycles as his industry along with many others have a huge percentage of their total compensation in a form of a bonus.

      November, Dec, January are generally the most dark months as a result bc one could get fired and get nothing! Ouch.

  10. Lyndon, I know it’s been ages since the original post – and reading through it, I think it’s not a black and white situation…It’s a matter of inspiration. DO you believe you can make as much money as you would like, doing something that inspires you?
    Is there a way to have the work at McKinsey be inspiring? Selling the clients that inspire you?
    As the new year approaches, it might be good to reconsider some of these beliefs… Best of luck! M

  11. I only just commented the previous post, and this responded to many questions I had. I wish you all the best. And I do think you might want to think about the sabbatical, just to see what you’re aiming for. Remember: retiring does not mean stopping the motion ;) Good luck!

  12. Hey, that was so nice. I couldn’t stop reading. Thanks for sharing your story.I know, it’s difficult to leave your job, but you should follow your dreams somehow, this is the most important thing, otherwise obtaining happiness is impossible. good luck.

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