The Choice: Experience or Material
I think the choice we all must make as our priority is Experience or Material. No matter what this is a huge paradigm choice most people make and sadly many make it without realizing it. I find that most people who are in a normal financial scenario make the choice between experience or material. I chose to live an experience based life, but I still like to have nice stuff. I also know plenty of people who chose material, but they are still trying to have good experiences.
The reality is we can have it all, but I find this particular axis to be an interesting one. It is riddled with many complexities of human ego and insecurity. Let’s dive in.
I can’t say what drives the material people but I have some ideas that I will share. I can speak about what drives me as my main emphasis in life is health and fitness. I personally value those two things more than any material possession.
I have a completely functional apartment in Union Square, which is a great area of Manhattan, but it is nothing special. It is a simple one bedroom apartment with a living room, small kitchen, and a restroom. I have to do my laundry at my gym which is right around the corner.
My gym is also nothing special. It is about 1,800 sq ft. We have two restrooms, mats, heavy bags, striking pads, woodway curve, concept 2 rower, assault bike, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, kaiser functional trainer, weights, elastics, plyo boxes, medicine balls, airtrack, rings, parallettes, stick fighting equipment. This is where I keep most of my stuff and all of my stuff serves a purpose. As the long term members of the gym know I remove what is no longer of use to me. I really get angry when things get cluttered in my life.
My life is about the process of living rather the goal of getting to the top of the imaginary mountain. I definitely set goals for myself and just like anybody if I could afford it, I would upgrade my stuff. However many people who are material oriented don’t understand that once I upgraded my stuff, I wouldn’t keep pursuing stuff. I would simply enjoy the upgrade and continue on my way.
I think we all have our priorities in life. For me it is to do what I love to do and each year do a little better so I can work a bit less and make a bit more. I really plan to be able to retire by the time I am 40 years old, although I will probably to my work until my death. For some people this next fact about me is out of their mental reach. Even if I did make 5 billion dollars, I would change very little in my life. In reality I would just do an upgrade and help as many people as I could with my financial influence.
I don’t care how much money I make as long as I can maintain and improve upon a certain lifestyle. I like to fly business class on long flights. I like to eat really good food that has yet to be cheap anywhere I go in the world. I like to take lessons in subjects like martial arts and fitness with experts and they aren’t cheap. However most of what I enjoy doing is free of charge. I like training my skills, spending free time with friends and family or in conversations with interesting people, reading books, watching documentaries and videos, taking long walks, and I have recently taken a real liking to writing.
For me all material is really about enhancing my experience. I was in Shanghai for a couple of weeks this summer. It was a great trip. I stayed at the wonderful Mandarin Oriental hotel and I had two amazing hosts. They are well off but very down to earth. Some days I would be picked up in a $500K Bentley, while other days a regular cab. It all depended upon which one of them needed the car. Of course riding in a chauffeured Bentley is nice, but the cab served the same purpose. The point of this isn’t to brag about my luxurious moments but to explain how it really didn’t matter much to me, but if given the choice I will take the Bentley all day.
Also in regards to the wonderful hotel. They had everything you could want to eat at the breakfast buffet. Yet most days I would have coffee, bacon, and eggs. A few times I would go nuts on their pancakes and pastries though. For me the only thing that I didn’t enjoy was the bed. By most standards most people would fall in love with the bed, but for me the bed was torture. I got the worst two weeks of sleep in my life while in China. I can happily sleep on a hardwood floor now. I have been sleeping on tatami mats for almost 4 years now, so my body likes the hard surface. I really don’t enjoy soft pillowy beds. Minus the bed the hotel was amazing and I see why the Mandarin Oriental is such a great brand. I have stayed at their hotels several times now and they make you feel like a king or queen.
Other experiences I have been lucky to have are helicopter trips, trips on private jets, stays in mansions, parties with celebrities, parties on yachts, and all kinds of other “achievements,” if you seriously call them that. To me they were all experiences. Some were really fun, some were pretty lame, and others were just like anything else. It is really all about the experience not the status of the group you are with or the niceness of the venue. I always tell people who have never been on a yacht before what it is exactly like. I grew up in Kentucky, and most people there don’t go on yachts. I always tell them it is just like sitting on the back porch with your friends. Perhaps someone rolls a joint, you have some drinks, and you shoot the shit. It is really just a very expensive porch. Nobody on the boat is smarter, more talented, or better looking. While some of them may be more fortunate, entitled, or truly successful it is really just a porch on water. It’s not like people are really sailing the ship or using it to practice their high dive techniques.
Like I said before I don’t know exactly what makes a person tick who covets material over experience, but my guess is a fear of death. A deep insecurity that all of their money and possessions will somehow allow them to overcome all of their doubts, worries, and fears. Perhaps people will think with a watch like that he must have worked really hard to be that successful. Personally when I see a nice watch, I think wow $20,000 for something that is less accurate then the cellphone clock in their pocket. I don’t tell people on what to spend their money though. I’m lucky that many people value my knowledge and guidance and pay my fees that I charge. Many people could say that the info I am giving can be obtained much cheaper than I charge. While I agree, that is what branding is all about. So if Patek Philippe can charge it and people agree to buy it, I’m not hating. Just saying that it doesn’t do anything for me.
Also who am I to say what it does for them. Some people may really like the engineering and mechanics of a great watch, which is impressive when thought about in that way. Now someone may say that very reason but their real reason is that they want people to know they have money. That is when the material is a colossal failure in my opinion. Nothing wrong with being able to afford nice stuff, but when you can’t honestly admit why you like the material is when you have a problem.
There is another type of material collector that sometimes people confuse for an experiential human. That material collector I have spent much time around. It is the material collector of titles and achievements. Some people think that them winning a fight, getting on tv, in a magazine, or whatever people covet is something to define themselves with. It is probably why I stopped competing. I realized as I became more and more competitive that I started to dislike the things that I loved to do. For some people they make their identity all about their achievements. Nothing wrong with being successful at anything. I am always happy for people’s success, but I don’t like it when people maintain an arrogance that their success is of more value than other people.
Also in the real world the story of success is filled with lies and deceit. One example is that of a blue belt world champion in jiu jitsu who wins the worlds at age 17 or 18, but has 10 years of training under his belt winning a close match in the finals or semi finals to another blue belt with only 1 year of training. That title is more of a manipulation of the facts than something like winning the 100 meters at the Olympics. Real champions don’t look for easy paths around obstacles. They embrace the challenge and allow the challenge to bring out their best. They stay humble because they know that there is always a new challenge beckoning. It is easy to see the successful people who do it for the experience and those who do it for the reward (material).
I think there is no substitute for a good daily experience in life. In order to do that, we need to feel good. In order to feel good we need our health. Health is built upon a variety of real processes that create a time consuming list. Sleep, good food, exercise, movement, good posture, rewarding career, fulfilling relationships with friends and family, positive impact in the community, and that list can build. The reality is the list will vary from person to person but in the end all we have is time and what we do with it. So many people mentally implode because they don’t focus on a process. They need to fill their lists with the things that have the most meaning, but the list shouldn’t really be a list, it should be life.
While we all have different goals in life I think that trying to avoid the experiences that really makes us happy, but those that also can leave us a little insecure, is why we choose a material existence over an experiential existence. I can’t say what creates happiness in everybody, but I can say that every truly happy person I have met is much more driven by experience than material. A common coincidence is that most of those same people have a lot of nice material. I think the conclusion could be made that by doing what they love they were able to produce more than they need and get all they could ever want from this world.
So my wish to all of you reading this is find the experiences you crave in life and let the material arrive when it arrives. Perhaps the other way around works as well, I just haven’t seen the results in the people I have met thus far in my journey. With that I will leave with a great quote I saw on someone’s instagram the other day.
-”The best things in life, aren’t things.”