The “Rich Guys Trap”
Collecting money, securing your material well-being and planning Financial Independence are important building blocks for any downshifter around. Financial Freedom is a great asset to have.
But we must not forget that the ultimate goal is not downshifting or FI per se, but leading a happy and fulfilled life and develop ourselves to the fullest extend possible.
In other words:
Climb up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs up to the top and it is very likely that you can truly say yes, when asked if you are a happy person and have a fulfilled life – no matter if you are FI or have a job, are young or old, have a huge villa or a small flat, have kids or not.
And as we have learned, in Maslows pyramid only the first two steps are dealing with “material” needs.
The three advanced steps are about your mental/spiritual/psychological (call it whatever you like) development.
I think this is important to remember:
All the financial thinking, all your investments, all the blogs about frugal living, or financial independence can only help you to climb two out of five steps. These two are of course very important, as they set the base for the following steps. Also, downshifting and a maximum of independence and freedom are in most cases very helpful to have sufficient time and “muse” available for working on the subsequent steps.
But the true story and the real greatness of being a human being starts only beyond materialism!
It is the upper three steps where we distinguish ourselves from an animal!
Thus if you get stuck in the financial thinking, in the accumulation race, in pushing your financial independence further and further beyond real need, then you creat you own new rat-race, and in fact you more are not much more than an intelligent animal. In that case all your striving becomes simple boring greed, camouflaged as “I want to be independent”.
I think it is important to ponder on this, as the danger to end up in this greed trap seems very real to me when I look around.
After years and years thinking about material things (during climbing the lower steps), it is not easy to recognize once you actually got where you wanted to get, and to subsequently let go and turn to other goals. Instead, most people who get wealthy get gridlocked in fear of loosing their wealth, many lose sight of the needs of others, many simply got so used to judge everything in monetary terms that they lost the ability to see things in the world otherwise than in economic terms. This is why there is a strong measurable correlation between richness and selfish behaviour (Article here).
Some however escaped that trap.
So there are encouraging positive examples out there. But honestly, they are rare. Sad, but not surprising, as the highest parts of Maslows pyramid are certainly thinly populated, and climbing them needs character, humbleness, inner strength and social values – money is by no means sufficient, or even more: The abilities needed to climb the top are very different from those needed to make money (we come to that later).
But if you look, you can identify the positive examples easily:
They will not talk about themselves or about their needs anymore (because they realize their own needs are fulfilled anyway), but they talk about the needs of others and how they can contribute to make the world a better place.
E.g. Bill Gates would come to my mind. Not the so much praised Steve Jobs, who seemed to circulate around himself only in my perception. But I am no expert in studying wealthy guys’ biographies, because in my view you cannot learn much from them. You are neither Bill Gated nor Steve Jobs, and you should not pretend to be them. You are simply yourself.
So what are the ingredients you need to hover yourself beyond the material steps?
I think this can easily be answered, as since the dawn of men the most intelligent people of the human race pondered this question and, driven by their inner need to help the human success story, they luckily shared a lot, spoke about it, wrote it down.
Thus you can go through the great works of philosophy and religion worldwide, and you will find a striking set of common values. As they repeat themselves so often I tend to declare them as:
The Critical Values of a Good Life.
In this post I will start by looking at one of those:
1) Compassion and Giving
What is compassion? Why should you give in this cruel, though and competitive world?
I read something very clever about this that I’d like to share:
“You should always act in a way that is not led by enforcing your rights, but so that our all common life on this planet is made as pleasant as possible”.
You see the different focus?
In contrast to economic thinking, the focus is not on maximizing your own wellbeing (e.g. by enforcing your rights) but on maximizing the common wellbeing. A very noble thing, as everybody will benefit: The others obviously as you give in, and yourself because this will lift you in a way that is actually difficult to understand for a more science and rational driven person like Woodpecker :-) . But you know what I am speaking about, and if not, try out.
What is the downside of this?
There is a chance that you get exploited from time to time by other, more selfish, persons.
Persons that mis-use your “softness” (as this behaviour is called among economic thinking people) against you. In fact, this happens from time to time. Interestingly that happens less often over time, because no-one said you have to let others exploit you permanently. So what you do when you recognize somebody is playing the selfish game, is reducing contact. And you increase contact to other non-selfish persons.
And there are plenty of non-selfish persons around! (If you don’t see any, you should check if you shied them away by playing selfish too often yourself!)
That way, something magical will happen:
The circle of non-selfish and helpful people around you will grow (you will attract them and be attracted yourself), and your life will get richer, deeper, more and more harmonic and with fewer and fewer fights. You draw increasingly self-esteem from this selfless interactions, and you will get more and more immune against the “hit” to your self-esteem when you are “losing” in a “battle” (thats what they think life is) with selfish persons.
This is what I call the social dividend and your social capital. You invest time and gentleness into others and you will get back manifold in the long run.
What if I cannot avoid the selfish guys?
Good point, as sometimes it is not possible to go out of their way. E.g. in the job you cannot always choose whom to work with. (sidenote: This seems to be the true reason of many looking for FI. To simply get rid of a job they hate)
For that annoying cases, I’d come back to economics at last, in that case game-theory:
Always start the nice way, but if the other person does responds in a selfish/negative way, then you will switch to selfish behaviour too, to avoid getting exploited permanently. However, you should be always open to forgive and switch back to cooperation if you see the other person came to his/her senses. But don’t be too naive either. If somebody mistreated you two or three times, it is unlikely that he/she will ever become a true friend.
Anyway, let’s be frank:
To some extend, your more “soft” attitude will be exploited from time to time.
This is the price you pay.
But after thinking a bit about it, I came to the conclusion that a bit of getting exploited is still much better than becoming a hard and selfish person, mistrusting every move of others.
The rewards you gain by building up an environment of caring and helpful people around you, plus your own personal growth is much greater than what you lose by sometimes being pulled over the table. Especially if you learn not to take this personal.
Any thoughts from your side? Let us know!