You don’t really want a million dollars

This morning, I was feeling a little stir-crazy from being cooped up in my office, so I decided to stretch my legs and go to the cornerstore down the street. I got a bag of chips and while paying, asked the guy behind the counter how he was doing. He responded with a heavy sigh and said “Tired, man. I need a million dollars and i need to travel. Things are bad right now, man.” He made a tired half-joke about how maybe he’d win the lottery scratcher this week.

He didn’t offer any more info and I didn’t want to pry, so I told him that I hoped things would pick up for him, paid for my chips, and left. Walking home, I couldn’t shake a feeling of sadness about the conversation. I know what it feels to have life kick you in the teeth, and feel like you just need to get away from everything. How many times have I thought to myself “If only I had a million dollars.” However, I’ve come to realize that the wishful desire to have an arbitrarily large amount of money is a reflection of lazy thinking.

That sounds harsh, I know. Don’t get me wrong: I sympathize with this guy and I’m not trying to be dismissive of his situation. And I don’t even know what his situation is; maybe he really does need a million dollars for medical bills or something. But I doubt it. What’s more likely is that he’s just down on his luck, struggling through a rough time, and sees a large pile of cash as the solution.

In The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss talks about an investment banker friend who was working 80 hours a week for a big payoff in ten years, when he’d be making several million dollars per year. When Tim asked what he’d do with all that money when he got it, his response was “Take a trip to Thailand.”

The sadness of this answer is profound; too many people have come to believe that it will cost them millions to really live the life they want. How many people do you know who wish they had a million dollars? Probably more than you think. But the sad part is that most people don’t even want a million dollars; they want the things they think a million dollars can buy.

The biggest thing on that list: freedom.

But freedom doesn’t cost a million dollars. You can change, learn to live on your income, save money, travel on almost nothing, live abroad, follow your dreams. The world is full of more and more possibilities every day. More and more people are discovering freedom and opportunity beyond what they really thought was possible. Gary Vaynerchuk does a fantastic job of detailing these opportunities in Crush It!.

I spent months traveling around southeast Asia on a shoestring budget. I work for myself, when I want, where I want, on what I want, and I’m not wealthy by any stretch. Ironically, I’ve seen huge increases in my earned income, passive income, and net worth in the three years since I took the risk of breaking free and trying to create the life I want instead of waiting for it to come to me.

Here’s the reality: if you’re not the type of person who can create freedom without a million dollars, you probably aren’t the kind of person who will get a million dollars. Because both take a certain kind of ingenuity, discipline, and proactivity that most people seem to lack.

If you’re really interested in knowing what the journey looks like, check out Crush It! and The 4-Hour Work Week. You might not find everything in these books to be useful to your situation, but I guarantee it will spark some curiosity and new ideas in you, no matter who you are. I think I’ll give a copy of each to the guy around the corner next time I see him.