Please note: This is a guest post from Jeff Goins of Goins Writer.
“I had a million dollars and I spent it all.“ —Sublime
A few years ago, I made a million dollars.
I’m not saying that to brag, I’m just stating it as fact. I never imagined making a million dollars in my life, but I did. And honestly, I expected this accomplishment to make me feel… something. Significant perhaps?
Instead, I was left underwhelmed. Not empty, not fulfilled. Just indifferent. What, I wondered, was behind this feeling?
Around this time, I began to work on my new project which would eventually become Real Artists Don’t Starve, a book about creativity and business and why art and money can go together. So, here I was: writing a book on why money wasn’t a bad thing but not sure I believed my message anymore.
So, I did what I always do when I have questions. I asked my friends for feedback. One person, the preacher who officiated my wedding, wrote and said, “That’s great that you’re not overwhelmed by your own success. But I’m not sure underwhelmed is what I would be feeling if I were you. I think I would feel grateful.”
Oh, yes. Gratitude. That.
What happened over the next couple of years was a series of steps that led me to stop growing my business, focus on the things that really mattered to me, and put money in its proper place.
Money can’t fulfill us
I grew up lower middle class. My parents often fought about money and we were trained to not answer the phone during dinner because that’s when the bill collectors would call. I was afraid of debt and never wanted much money. I just didn’t want to need anything from anyone.
This ambition drove me towards success and before I knew it, I had launched a business helping other writers called Tribe Writers and was making ten times my previous income as a nonprofit marketing director.
Making money became easier for me. And I enjoyed the process. So I did more of it. I set higher goals and achieved them. I reached for more and obtained it. It didn’t feel greedy, more like a game that I wanted to keep winning.
Yes, it was nice to pay off debt and get nicer stuff, but I noticed after a certain point, the more money I made, the less happy it made me. It wasn’t that it made me miserable or anything like that. It just ceased to impact my life.
The research on this is interesting: once you get past a certain income level, more money doesn’t really affect your happiness at all. And after a certain point, it can make your life more difficult and more complicated.
What I learned was just because I was good at something didn’t mean I had to keep doing it. So I decided to stop trying to beat least year’s number.
Money is a better means than master
When he was at the height of his success, Walt Disney received a letter from a critic who implied that Mr. Disney was in the business of making movies just for the money. He replied, “We don’t make films to make money. We make money to make more films.”
For Disney, it wasn’t about the money, but he understood that it cost money—a lot of money—to make the kind of art he cared about making. He had to pay his artists, he had to pay for the film, he had to pay for the actors. It all cost something.
Of course, we understand this. For most of us, money is necessary. We have to buy groceries and pay the mortgage. Certainly, we can minimize our expenses, but money is part of life. What I learned in my very underwhelming year of making a million dollars is that—at least for me—the acquisition of wealth is not enough to drive me. There has to be some bigger picture, some greater vision that I’m trying to obtain.
My friend Stu taught me this when I was feeling disillusioned about my business. Stu is a very successful digital entrepreneur who runs a charity that builds schools in Kenya, and he told me, “Jeff, I stopped making money for myself a long time ago. What drives me today is generating income to build more schools. That’s why I do it.”
After I heard this, I immediately started giving 10% of the gross sales of my business to a fund that gets dibursed to various charities and nonprofits, including organizations like The Hope Effect.
It turns out, though, that money makes a better means than master. What I mean by that is if you’re doing your work to gain more, this is a pursuit that will leave you feeling empty, bored, and disenchanted.
Money is a bad metric for meaning
When I was writing my book Real Artists Don’t Starve, I was able to interview the fourth man who walked on the moon: Alan Bean. At roughly fifty years old, Alan left his career as an astronaut to become a full-time artist.
Everyone thought Alan was crazy. Who walks away from a job at NASA, after all? But he did it, and he ended up doing very well as an artist. As a matter of fact, if you go to Alan’s website right now, you can find his artwork on sale for anywhere from $50,000 to over $400,000.
In my interview with Alan, I made the mistake of saying art must have been Alan’s passion for him to leave his job as an astronaut for it. That’s when he corrected me, saying, “I didn’t leave my job as an astronaut because I had this creative urge. I left because I felt it was my duty to do these paintings to celebrate this great event I was blessed to be part of.”
Alan makes a lot of money off his art. But, like Walt Disney, he doesn’t make art to make money. He makes money to make more art. As a writer, I’ve accepted the fact that I have to make money off my writing if I want to spend most of my time doing it. But honestly, I don’t do it for the royalty checks. I do it, because I have to. It’s my duty.
A final warning
In the book Shoe Dog, Phil Knight wrote about his somewhat sudden success at Nike: “When it came rolling in, the money affected us all. Not much, and not for long, because none of us was ever driven by money. But that’s the nature of money. Whether you have it or not, whether you want it or not, whether you like it or not, it will try to define your days. Our task as human being is not to let it.”
This is true. Money affects us all, even when we don’t want it to. I realized this when I started making more money than I ever had. At first, it was fun. And then, it almost became a burden. I started to fear losing things I did not even possess just a few years before.
Finally, I took Phil’s advice and chose to not let money define my days. Like Alan Bean, I went to work because it was my calling, not because I was driven to increase. And at the encouragement of my friend Stu, I started using these resources to play my part in projects that were bigger than me.
And that actually did make me happy.
Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. His new book Real Artists Don’t Starve teaches creatives how to make a living off their creativity without selling out. Learn more about it at dontstarve.com. You can also visit him at goinswriter.com.
Ron Pickle says
Great Joshua! World is a much better place because of people like you, who stop being greedy and start treating money as the means. I guess same spirit drives Warren Buffer and Bill Gates when they donate their billions to the charity.
Wow. This hit hard. I have spent/am spending a large part of my later 20s and now early 30s in that great quest of money vs doing something you find meaningful. I lost the edge and what I thought was meaningful turned into a series of dead ends. Swing the pendulum back to making money seemed like the right move as I am getting older, but part of me still feels like I am just waiting for something to inspire me again. Thanks for the reminder that at a certain point, money becomes irrelevant to…something else. What is is I want to know still.
Mr. Hammocker says
Excellent article. I also enjoyed the book “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. He spent years making a successful company. He probably had no idea he could make it big, but he did! Success can sneak up on anyone. We just need to know how to manage it when it comes.
Share your money, no matter how much you do or don’t have! It always puts gladness in our hearts when we know that we’ve been helping others by sharing.
We use money as a tool, not a weapon. As Dave Meyers says, “Save some, spend some, and give some.” We find giving is the best, not buying, and saving for a rainy day always makes sense.
Finances with Purpose says
Great piece. I like to use this principle: money has its own *gravity*. It can pull people. If they let it, it can pull them too much, and in bad ways. It also magnifies character (doesn’t change it so much as reveal it). It’s an interesting thing….ergo why I enjoy writing about it ;)
I love how you put one thing: it’s great to make money to do what you’re passionate about, live out the dream. That one idea is what drove the title of my own blog, Finances with Purpose: it’s about managing finances to do the things that give purpose. Because money isn’t what does. :) Love it!
Jeff Goins says
Thanks for reading!
Jathan Maricelli says
The lack of money is the number 1 source of stress in our country. It adversely affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans every day.
This is probably why the article you linked to above includes the following quote.
“There certainly is a relationship between your salary and happiness; people who earn a good living are often happier than people who live in poverty. Having extra money can certainly enhance our lives by providing extra food, objects and creature comforts in our homes.”
I admire your evolution as a human being on this issue. The world would be a much better place if more people with a surplus of cash shared your same perspective.
At the same time, I would suspect that many of your followers like me do so in hopes of achieving a level of financial success that relieves some of the stress mentioned above. As someone who is trying to support his family of six on a teacher’s salary, I’m one of them.
While I applaud your courage and vulnerability on this topic, I also encourage you to never forget the many who follow you in hopes of being able to provide a comfortable life for their children with money made from their art.
In other words, never apologize for writing a book entitled “Real Artists Don’t Starve.”
No matter how many privileged artists bang on you for doing so.
Jeff Goins says
Thanks for sharing, Jathan. This was good for me to read. I appreciate you.
Emenike Emmanuel says
Thanks for having Jeff today.
Yes, sir. Money is not why I’m writing.
Jeff Goins says
Good for you!
Hmm … love your vulnerability, Jeff. You care more about your audience & your truth as an artist (called to be a writer) than the money you make. THAT’S when true abundance occurs. I’m thankful for your example. You’ve always inspired me, & seeing your heart like this, well, I look forward to sharing a sweet iced tea on one of our porches someday & praising God for using us on His behalf. Because, after all, it’s truly all about Him. May you continue to be blessed.
Jeff Goins says
Thanks, Pamela, and amen.
What do you do when you feel like you are in a career that pays you a solid enough income to help sustain you and your family, but its not what your passion is, and you feel like you are in a job just to make the money to live? Also feeling like your passion wont generate enough income to allow you and your family to live comfortable enough.
Juni Desiree says
I love the concept of making money so that I can create. It changed how my perspective on the role of work. My art doesn’t have to get me money, but I do need money to create more art. Makes me thankful for work and thankful for my free time to create. To combine the two would be great but if it doesn’t happen, I’m happy to spend my days creating either way.
We took early retirement (I was 53, spouse was 55) because we could live on very little money and there were hobbies to pursue, volunteer work to do and our jobs weren’t fun any more.
Thanks for sharing !! I have been careful with money for as long as i can remember. My mom instilled in us the habit of saving and having the peace of mind in times of emergency. I relocated here to the usa in 2014 in feb, no family just me at age of29. Within 3 months, i got a job with at a retail store that paid me a net of almost 1000$ a month. After 3 months, got a temp job in a corp. bank back office operations that paid me a net of 2000$ a month. After 4 months, i was made full time with annual salary of $60k, then, following year got salary adjustment due to good performance to 67k, then a year after a promotion with a 10k increase making my annual 77k and just this year after our annual appraisal, my salary was adjusted to 82k. With all these i have been grateful. With all these increases, after a while, it didnt make me any more happier. I enjoy what i do at work because i feel i was born for it. But as to whether money really makes me happy., i doubt but i have my peace of mind without any form of debt or loans.
Great article. Money is not everything but it is essential.
Jeff Goins says
I like saying “it’s not everything, but it’s not nothing, either.”
Jeff Goins says
You bet! Thanks for reading.
Wow. I’m at the very early stages of a business adventure ( thinking stage!), and it is driven by ambition to provide for my family in a way I haven’t been able to so far. I can only hope I will succeed as you have, and I am definitley going to keep the lessons you have learned in mind. Your post has given me more motivation- to be able to provide not only for my family, but for others as well!
Ashley Murphy says
First let me say, reading the blog’s title “becomingminimalist”, caught my eye. After last year’s second self-published book launch, Under Contract: Life in the Middle of Dreams. I begin thinking at the beginning of the 2017 year the direction I was heading.
I sensed the calling to step away from “writing”. Not that I wouldn’t write again. Yet, I sensed the calling for my “voice” to be heard in a different context. My daughter the year before had me watching YouTube with her. Dabbling in watching a few channels myself, I continued praying about the direction my voice would be heard. I sense the Lord calling me to start a YouTube channel. I looked around the room, “who me”? So, I begin learning a lot about the outlet. In my learning, I came across several channels geared towards “minimalist”. Minimalist is somewhat a natural characteristic of mine. So I highly value this blog and even more so this guest post.
Like Jeff, I didn’t grow up with a lot. At a young age, I married into a family who didn’t struggle as much as my family dollar sign wise. Pushing on, what most young couples do, we bought a house. We started with one, moving onto house number two a few years later, and onto the house we built. Which is our current house, all while my husband has grown a business and I came home from the outside work world to be home with the kids. A opportunity for me to live comfortable raising a family and focus on my marriage. In those years, I’ve had the opportunity to grown as an artist, something I was told once not to do because I’d starve.
I must admit, I was 26 when we built the home. I’ve learned a lot about happiness through living here these 13 years in this home. Lessons I wouldn’t trade and ones if I could tell my younger self not to build big. I spent the first several years filling this place up. And now I am back tracking to the bare essentials, a minimalist life style. I’ve for once been happy back scaling. I am reminded of my roots going up without much, it doesn’t take much. I believe we all must walk through similar paths to some capacity to gain the understanding, gain the balance, of living in true happiness. While making money to make more, you fill in the blank. More time for family, health and wellness, and our passions.
Thanks for being vulnerable here Jeff. I hope your post brings light to all no matter what finical path they are on. May they embrace the journey finding freedom.
Jeff Goins says
Thanks for reading, Ashley! I enjoyed reading your story, too.
Hey Jeffery, thanks so much for that marvellous post. I’ve never wanted money for anything but travel. Houses, apartments, expensive clothes and toys leave me cold! In fact when I look at houses, I feel sad. I think because to me they are prisons, with lots of unhappy people living in them. I would live in a motor home, or housesit all over the world, rather than “settle down”! I’m 63 tomorrow so there’s no hope of redemption for me, is there!! Minimalism is my way of life. Thank goodness!
Thats a very positive way to look at fullfillment, happiness and money. Thank you
Jeff Goins says
I love travel! Money is best spent on experiences, IMO.
Anne Peterson says
Really enjoyed your perspective on the subject of money. Having struggled financially, it’s hard for me to believe that money would not make things easier. I’m sure that it would. But, I’m hearing you say that there is a trade-off. And I don’t remember ever hearing that after someone makes a certain amount the excitement is not there. Thank you for being vulnerable. I look forward to the day that money will not be something that stresses me out.
Jeff Goins says
Thanks, Anne. To be clear, I never said money doesn’t make things better when you’re struggling. It did for us. But having more and more doesn’t really do anything to your happiness. It can even have an adverse effect.
I think people should try to produce as little garbage as possible. I have made things out of old paper, expired coupons go to the armed forces
Great post, Jeff. I retired early from a high paying career in order to pursue my artwork and writing. It wasn’t difficult to adjust to a reduced income, and I’m finally immersed in the creative life I always dreamed of. We only get one life. Choose wisely!
Jeffery Goins says
I love that you did that, John. I’m a big fan of your art.
Krista O'Reilly-Davi-Digui says
I have preordered a copy of your book, Jeff. I appreciate this – money is not a big driver in my life (yet quite a useful tool) and most of the messages I hear promote acquisition, increase and appearance as indicators of success. I want a voice to talk about things that matter to me; I want the ability to eat simple, real food and pour out to others who are hungry; I want to live simply and go on mini adventures, to keep learning and growing and do work that feels meaningful to me, paid or unpaid, while I have breath within me:)
Jeff Goins says
I love that, Krista. I want those things too. And thanks for the support of the book!
Rosie S says
I recently changed to a lower-paid job because I think it will be more fulfilling for me and more in line with my talents and passions. Some of my relatives have been judgemental of this, or have not understood why I would change to a job that pays less money. Your article has encouraged me and reminded me of why I have made this decision – thank you.
Jeff Goins says
Wow! That’s incredible. Good for you, Rosie.
Many years ago I worked at a job which
Internally made me sick. I changed jobs and loved my new job.
We are in an industry that historically has had the reputation of being for the wealthy. After 35 successful years, and still going, I’m happy to be part of our younger clients desire to accomplish all they want in their homes staying within their principals. Personally, the amount of money we’ve needed has always been “enough”. That number changes and evolves and is different for everyone!
Jeff Goins says
That sounds like a great perspective.
Tony W says
I read once your basic needed are met earning anything over $75k does not make you any happier.
I never wanted to earn a lot of money. I recently learned to use money as a tool and I seem to seek it more without I’ll affect.
It must be great being successful doing what you love.
Jeff Goins says
I’ve read that, too.
The $75K figure is rather arbitrary, given that it will enable you to live like a king in certain areas of the country and in others it will keep you barely out of the ghetto but still driving an old beater car and purchasing hamburger instead of steak at the local discount grocery store. I think most of us never quite reach our ideal financial figure because the figure keeps moving higher as we compare ourselves to the new set of Joneses with whom we feel obligated to keep up. But when we stop that sort of financial one-up-man-ship and start focusing on getting a house that will be the right size for our family and in a safe neighborhood, getting a car that is reliable and has the feature we most care about (whether amazing fuel economy, comfort for long road trips, or whatever), purchasing clothing that fits well and is flattering, and stop caring about name brands and labels and impressing others… Oh, the freedom that brings!
A quote from my childhood that has always stuck with me:
To have enough to share,
To know the joy of giving,
To thrill with all the sweets of life,
That is living.