I’ve written about what I learned from suddenly becoming a multi-millionaire at twenty-seven, and what I learned from gradually spending all of it in mid-life retirement. I have many friends who have a lot of money, mostly in the tens of millions range, but some with hundreds of millions, plus the odd billionaire. I also coach and mentor people, and I help those who suddenly come into vast wealth deal with the challenges that brings.
It can be difficult to know what to do with all that money, including how to take care of it and make sure that it grows and becomes sustainable wealth. However, based on my own experience and also on conversations with many others, the hardest thing to deal with is the threat to identity, the sudden freedom, and the loss of meaning.
Most people spend their lives focused on mundane objectives such as putting food on the table, paying bills, and raising children. These demands fan out into other areas of life, such as setting and meeting education and career goals, living within a budget to save and invest, and working on gradually paying-off a mortgage. Often when the kids leave home, couples can have identity crises because their time, money, and attention is freed up. Sometimes the couple remembers that they had a relationship and then all the deferred hurt suddenly bubbles up to be looked at. When folks don’t have the capacity or courage to face this un-lived past, marriages often end.
But what happens when you’re in your twenties or thirties and you’ve worked hard to develop a professional career when suddenly millions of dollars are thrust upon you? This often happens when people work at start-ups and their stock options blossom overnight due to an IPO. That’s what happened to me. Once the shock wears off, and some fancy toys have been purchased, depression often sets in.
The first shocking discovery is that money doesn’t actually remove any of the real, deep suffering, the depression, the anxiety, and all the complexes. Money doesn’t do what it says on the tin. The deeper problem is that there is no longer any excuse to defer examining all the painful stuff from childhood: the wounding, the grief, and the interwoven limiting beliefs. And we all carry this stuff. Anyone who tells you that, “I had a perfect childhood” is either lying, in denial, or deluded. All of sudden, you’re able to do whatever you want, to buy almost anything you like, and to have almost any experience you choose. Now here is the ultimate paradox of choice. Do you quit your job (as I eventually did)? Do you change career? Do you end your marriage?
There’s often an overwhelming amount of confusion that people feel when their train-of-life suddenly runs out of rails. Nobody else is now telling you what you should do. All those messages from parents about how you should live your life don’t have the same power anymore. Often there is a crazy cacophony of conflicting messages that need to be carefully held and teased apart.
This is where I recommend slowing right down. The first thing to do is to make sure you’re getting your basic human needs met. Eat healthy food. Sleep nine hours per night. Exercise every day. Start meditating if you don’t already (here are some basic instructions I made). Have some social time every day. Sign up for, and attend, a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. Work with a quality coach and/or therapist. If you’re in relationship, as well as spending more time with your spouse or partner, consider getting therapy for couples. Continue working, but take some time off to relax. Start journaling; I recommend morning pages, which wrote about in How to Become World-Class at Anything.
When unpleasant sensations arise, we all have a tendency to take action in an attempt to make the unpleasant sensations go away. Don’t take any sudden actions. This kind of action is usually not only very non-adaptive but we also miss the opportunity to naturally develop the capacity to soothe ourselves when strong emotions arise without using mood-altering substances or experiences (e.g. alcohol or shopping).
The ultimate discovery is that nothing fundamentally changes when you have a lot of money. You still have relationships. You’re going to be doing some kind of work, even if it’s as an investor. What is confronting is that you’ve lost the illusion of not having virtually unlimited choice. So now you have to face the fact that you’re in control of your own destiny and that you get to choose what you want. This is actually true for everyone, but it’s hard to deny when you have essentially unlimited cash. Now there’s an opportunity to discover what you really want, to discover your truly authentic desires, desires that were buried long ago underneath mountains of other people’s choices for you.
But I’m not recommending that you leave your loving wife and have bottle-service orgies with dozens of full-breasted vixens. Although I’m sure it would be momentarily fulfilling, its hollowness would quickly be revealed to have simply been the acting-out of a social stereotype of what a young millionaire should be doing. Forget about other people’s ideals; what is your highest potential?
You might be thinking, but I’m not a multi-millionaire, so how does this relate to me? Well all of this relates to you. Why wait until you’re rolling in money to discover that you’re not living your authentic, fully-empowered, best life? Why not start digging-in now? Go on 10-day retreat. Go to therapy. Even though you don’t need millions of dollars (nobody does), I guarantee that the fear of freedom is pushing that possibility away from you. We all feel safer to be trapped in our imaginary prisons.
Do the hard work now so that you can welcome freedom. Don’t wait until you’re inconveniently lumbered with millions, or billions, of dollars.