There’s a perspective that rich people sometimes hold to justify their successful pursuit of great wealth. It goes something like this: if all the money in the world was redistributed tomorrow, in a very short time it would all end up back in the bank accounts of the very same people who possess it now. As a result of brain biases and other things, I quickly became a member in good standing of the Lousy Millionaire’s Club – people who’ve attained a net worth of a million dollars or more and then lost most of it. Along with James Altucher, I could be the poster boy for the club. In addition, I also personally know a half-dozen other people who also belong. What’s up with that?
Sudden Wealth Stress
Suddenly coming into a lot of money – mine came from several creative, partnered real estate ventures coming to fruition in quick succession – is a bit like being hungry and malnourished for most of your life and then one day being invited to dine on the amazing, nine-course, five diamond dinner at the Herb Farm. It’s more than a little overwhelming and unexpectedly stressful. Neither my early life, nor any of my formal education had prepared my brain for being able to manage the thoughts and feelings that rose up every day in response to my sudden windfalls.
In trying to address my dis-ease, I decided to research how I might put that money to work for the highest and best use. This is NOT an easy thing to do. If you don’t believe me, read the struggle of a number of America’s wealthiest heirs – the Rockefellers’, Pillsburys’, and Goodyears’ attempts to do just that in the book, We Gave Away a Fortune. Bill Gates, as the co-head of the largest charitable foundation on the planet, reportedly admitted that, “It’s harder to give money away well than it is to earn it in the first place.” Recently a number of internet billionaires like Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Pierre Omidyar have been experimenting with creating for-profit/non-profit hybrid organizations as a way to address some of this difficulty. 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus’s work in microfinance turns out to be an effective way to gradually grow neural-synaptic integration such that a nervous system can successfully manage increasing amounts of money without becoming super-stressed or overly disorganized. Little steps for little fiscal feet and the neurons that move them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the benefit of this knowledge when my cash was big-flowing.
Turning Towards the Have-Nots
In the course of doing my research, one thing that caught me by surprise was how difficult it was to avoid the reality that there are a lot of poor people in the world, along with a lot of suffering. Poverty is not pretty, no matter what kind of spin I might try to put on it.
And poverty and suffering profoundly affect brain development. There’s plenty of research that shows how it damages neurophysiology by placing an unending, massive cognitive load on the brain. Trophic factors – molecules that control the development and survival of specific groups of neurons (think brain fertilizer for Rich Club Networks) – are greatly reduced by the stress of poverty. Anything the brain associates with undue stress – in my case, having more money than 98% of the world’s citizens, and consciously knowing that many of them are hungry and homeless. And yes, they’re even here in America where 1 in 4 children in this country are food-compromised – it took a toll on my brain operations. As a result, I was not a happy rich dude. Had this research – on how having a lot of money CAN actually contribute substantially to happiness – been around then, my money could have definitely been turned into something that would have made me happier than I could imagine at the time.
But before I could learn how to best use money as the skillful tool it is essentially designed to be (remember, even billionaire Bill Gates continues to work to learn how best to skillfully use the Money Tool), most of the money evaporated, much as it does for many of the world’s lottery winners. The reason is pretty simple: my neural network wasn’t integrated enough for me to handle the stress of my own ignorance. And my attempts to become less ignorant were too slow and disorganized to be able to stem the tide before the money inevitably vanished. Let this be a lesson to you. And to me, as I prepare for the next big-flow.