From the blog archives: This article originally appeared in October of 2018.
Wouldn’t you like to be a millionaire? It’s a very popular daydream. In today’s world, a million dollars (or RMB or other currency) does not carry the same wealth and power that it had for our parents’ generation. Still, it is undeniably better to have a million dollars than to not have a million dollars.
What would you do if you suddenly learned that, in the very near future, you would acquire a large sum of money? What would you change in your life if you knew you would be rich at the end of the next month? What would you do if you were to become an End of Month Millionaire?
One of the common characteristics many people share (and complain of) in our modern digital world is a sense of being overwhelmed. This is more than a feeling of physical exhaustion; it is being mentally unable to process any more information, unable to make any more carefully considered decisions, unable to respond appropriately to new input, or simply unable to feel good about how we are living. When carried on for long periods of time, it can totally ruin our quality of life, regardless of how high our standard of living has become. This feeling can be summed up in the phrase, “Crazy busy!” or, as I am prone to say, “I’m not crazy… but my life is crazy”.
I agree with the theory that we wake up and begin each day with a certain amount of “mental energy” to be used for our daily routines, work, learning, creating, and making conscious decisions. There are many parallels between our “mental energy” and our level of physical energy. Physically, we feel good and most energetic as we start our day; then, as the day progresses, we gradually have less energy left for our physical tasks. Likewise, we start our day with a certain amount of “mental energy” which is used up during the day until we have nothing left for making decisions or learning more or producing more quality work.
One of the world’s richest men, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, said that he never schedules activities or meetings of great importance for late in the day. In the afternoons or evenings, if something occurs which needs his undivided and sustained attention, he says, “Schedule a meeting for tomorrow morning. We will decide then.” He knows that he will be more capable of making wise decisions the next morning, not in the late afternoon, when he has used up most of his mental energy for the day.
For me, being free to do whatever I want would mean slowing down the headlong pace I have adopted, especially as I prepare to self-publish another book. In classic Missouri vernacular, I have “bitten off more than I can chew”. My other commitments, personal projects, family responsibilities, tasks that other people are completing and sending to me for my attention, and the endless need for identifying my preferences, options, alternatives, or subsequent decisions can be overwhelming. It seems that they start in the morning and get more demanding as the day progresses. Finally, I reach the point where I simply cannot do any more, learn any more, or make any more decisions. That is the time I wish our human brain had an actual on/off switch like a computer that I could throw to simply stop thinking.
Do you ever get the same sensations? Do you also have the feeling of being overwhelmed with the number of tasks and decisions and things to learn which we are facing every day? That’s when it is fun to take a short break and daydream of being rich and, by implication, free to do whatever we want without feeling any pressure to do anything.
So, what does this have to do with the title of this article, “End Of Month Millionaire”? Think about how you would feel if you got a message in the next minute that, by the end of next month, someone would place one million dollars in your hands? No conditions, no limits, no complications. Somehow, without doing anything, you are going to receive one million dollars at the end of next month.
Imagine that, in the very near future, you will become financially secure and feel no more financial pressure. This is an old psychiatrist’s ploy for getting people to visualize what they would do if they were totally free to do what they wished. The reason this works is that, for most people, financial restrictions or worries are the biggest limiting factors in making our decisions and setting our moods. By eliminating the money issue, the psychiatrist implies, “Now you are free to do whatever you want. So, what do you want to do with your life?
There are actually two questions to consider when we talk about becoming an End Of Month Millionaire. The first deals with our standard of living; the second with our quality of life. To save my own “mental energy”, here is an excerpt from my book, China Bound:
At this point, let me mention two terms whose meanings are sometimes mingled. As I was later to tell my students, there is a significant distinction between “standard of living” and “quality of life”.
To me, “standard of living” means how many comforts, conveniences, and services you have in your life. Food, clothing, and shelter are the first things we think of but access to other consumer products and services such as education, health care, communications, safety and security, energy in its various forms, and entertainment also fall under this heading. The more of these items you have, the higher your standard of living. In most cases, the items constituting a high standard of living must be purchased with money. Thus, we Americans usually associate a high standard of living with a high income.
In my mind, this differs sharply from “quality of life”. If “standard of living” measures how many goods and services we have, then “quality of life” measures how happy and fulfilled we are, an internal index. It is entirely possible to have a quite high standard of living while having a miserably low quality of life. Too many worries, too much work, unhappy relationships, too much stress, too much debt pressure, too much strife and confrontation, too few activities that are actually meaningful to us … all these things can accompany even a quite high standard of living and thus ruin our quality of life.
The first part, improving our standard of living, is the fun stuff. You get to answer the questions about what would you buy. What new clothes, new car, new computer, new phone, new house, new furniture, etc. would you acquire with your sudden wealth? Some people hate their job or their boss. They might visualize calling and saying, “I’m not quitting my job but I’m probably going to be coming in very, very late – maybe in December or January,” then gleefully hanging up. For others, this wealth/freedom might mean planning travel which had previously been impossible. “Let’s see… a few weeks of trout fishing in New Zealand, then a month or two of sampling the best restaurants in Paris, then, during their annual runs, I could compare the salmon fishing in Ireland and Iceland, then a few weeks in Hawaii, then… and then… and then…” And, although caution is recommended, becoming suddenly wealthy might mean ending a relationship: “I can hardly wait to see his/her face when I tell him/her that I am leaving.”
As I said, thinking of the things we would add or upgrade is the fun part. Perhaps the more important decisions require some quiet and calm consideration about what we would remove in order to improve our quality of life. For me, actively seeking to slow the pace of my life would be the highest priority. How can we enjoy all the benefits of a good life if we are so busy spinning in circles that we cannot recognize the opportunities? Forgive me but, to clarify, I will include another excerpt from China Bound:
I am currently reading one of the “Four Classics” Chinese novels, A Dream Of Red Mansions, and enjoying it immensely. One of the characters talks about what she thinks are the most important things for a person to acquire in life. She lists riches, nobility (of character), and leisure. She then notes that it is difficult to achieve any two of these accomplishments but only the rarest individual manages to have and hold all three. For me, these things are the most valuable qualities as well, rather than the single-minded focus on material success which seems to be the most popular viewpoint currently in America. To that list, I would add education and friends to share our experiences with. It is interesting to consider what we think are the most important things in life. The fact that I am living a life where I can discuss such issues with students over breakfast – instead of the latest celebrity scandal, invasions, and publicity stunts – tells me that I am in the right place.
And, ironically, I would also feel a little sad and apprehensive if I became an End Of Month Millionaire. In thinking about the probable cascade of effects of sudden wealth, such a windfall would be accompanied by the end of the simple life I have known for the past few years. (Think of Eliza Doolittle’s father.) With money comes new responsibilities and endless required decisions about opportunities which have not been available heretofore. Yes, it is entirely possible to maintain a simple lifestyle but now it has to be a choice in the face of countless temptations. Shopping brings very little pleasure when the purchase carries no discomfort, sacrifice, or lost opportunities. Possessions don’t mean as much if something can be immediately replaced with no effort. Plus, if you get a little money, you suddenly have innumerable friends and relatives with their hand out. Loaning money to a friend is the best way to lose a friendship. Finally, there is the trust issue: Who can I trust? What is this person trying to sell me? Are all these new people in my life friends because they like me or because of my money? Why don’t my old friends feel comfortable in my new life?
So, dear readers, what would you do, buy, or experience if you got that message that you would be an End Of Month Millionaire? What would you add or remove from your life if you suddenly learned that you were going wealthy? Your comments and discussions are invited.