I’m going to avoid the obvious meaning of the saying, that is money, and I’m going to offer an alternative view, albeit a parallel one.
I play piano. Better than some, and worse than others. I’ll leave it at that. Without going into my long history with the instrument, which included lessons while I was a young boy that I loathed at times, I will say that I fell in love and got the bug during my time at university.
There I met many pianists, guitarists, bassoonists, and all types of musicians of varying skill levels. Some were professionals already hoping to hone their skills under the tutelage of those even more advanced than they. Some may as well have been beginners, seemingly having had decided to make music their major at the last minute while registering for classes. I would have fallen in the latter category, with the exception that music was not my major at all, just a newfound love.
Though I started out behind most pianists I met, my deep desire aroused in me a rare type of discipline. The kind one usually notices in a man trying to woo a woman. I had a goal and a drive to attain it that surpassed my desires for anything else at the time, women included. I found myself “borrowing” any sheet music I could get my hands on. I found myself ditching class in order to practice. I may have ‘allowed’ the secretary at the music department to believe I was a music major so as to have access to pianos to practice on. It was so bad that I even distinctly remember blowing of an incredibly attractive blonde cheerleader (whom I had a pretty sizable crush on at the time) for a party that she really wanted me to attend with her, so that I could solidify a piece of music that I had been working on all week. So instead of partying with her, which would have been the “logical” college thing to do at the time, I instead was running my fingers over the smooth ivory keys of a baby grand deep into the night on a sultry Friday evening.
To put it short. What I wanted above all things at that time was proficiency at the piano. I asked questions about the piano. I dreamt about the piano. I played air piano on my binder in class. And most importantly I spend my time and energy on my goal, the piano. Looking back, until my father’s death, which deadened my drive for some time, I practiced piano for an average of 4 hours a day. When my fingers hurt, or when the practice rooms were closed for a holiday, and I had some free time, then I’d go to the party or hang out with the guys. They understood though. They had drives too.
There were those who didn’t understand though. They said they wanted to be good at the piano or perhaps another instrument, but every time there was a party you’d be sure to see them there. Any time there was a cute girl to be distracted by they were ready to give her their undivided attention. On the occasional Wednesday leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend you’d see them in the practice rooms, mostly because everyone else had gone home and they were getting some practicing in to stave off boredom.
Now years later, my close friends, the ones who understood when I wasn’t at the party every Friday night, mostly because they were also ditching the party, and in the practice room down the hall from me, gig all the time. Many have become professionals and live completely off their instrument, or the royalties from music they write or perform. They have become rich beyond their wildest dreams when it comes to opportunities to use the musical talents they have spent a lifetime developing. Our other friends look at us and say, “Well you’re just a lot more talented than I am. I wish I was born with as much rhythm as you,” always thinking that it was some sort of luck of the draw or a genetic disposition that created such a gap in the wealth of musical ability. At this point there is not much to say that they will believe or understand. After all, way back, when we only had two pennies of musical ability to rub together between the whole lot of us, they didn’t understand why we would spend so much time in the practice rooms, giving the piano the first and best hours of our day, and saving the left overs for the parties and the hanging out. They did exactly the opposite and gave the most to the women and the good times, and filled in the gaps with cultivating their skills.
But in the end both got what they desired. They truly wanted the women and the parties and they got them at that time, but now they do not have the musicality because they invested only the left-overs. We at the time, invested only our left overs in women and parties, and often felt left out when people forgot to invite us to get together, being accustomed to us not showing up in the first place. But we gave our best to the piano, and it is what has born fruit for us and continues to grow to this day, for after all, once you’re rich you tend to get richer.
So one gets a frat group of drinking buddies that extends deep into their 20s and perhaps 30s. The other gets a skill that if nurtured, keeps growing and satisfies both them and those around them. Each to his own philosophy, investing first one way, then spending the rest another, or visa versa. The thing is, by the time you’re this age, the musician is the party and always gets an invite, where the guy who’s got no skills but is merely a good time often gets forgotten. Oddly enough the old adage is true, that when it comes to the poor, no matter what type of commodity of currency you’re speaking of, it does seem that even what he has is taken from him. Invest wisely.
My father taught me that I should always pay attention to what is going on around me. It could help you get ahead in life, avoid an awkward situation, or even save your life. Something as simple as noticing that a woman’s driver license say Oregon on it when she’s putting it back in her purse lets you know she’s not from this area, or seeing that a man’s laptop has a San Francisco Giants sticker on it when he’s putting it back in his bag at the airport can tell you that he’s likely traveling to California.
One particular moment comes to mine at a wedding I recently attended. In fact I was a groomsman in the bridal party. It was a great wedding and the family spared no expense on the venue, food, table settings and entertainment. And like any member of any bridal party, I spent much time up in front of the crowd, albeit silent, but nevertheless up on stage showing my support of the groom and his new bride. There were many other reasons why I, in particular, would have stood out among the rest of the guests.
So half way through the night, I was walking back up toward the dance floor, drink in hand as I was just leaving the bar in the back, when a man in his late 50s grabbed my bicep quite firmly and forcefully pulled me down where he was sitting at a table with a woman about his age.
“Get my wife a piece of chocolate cake…please,” he said quite sternly, attempting to mask his annoyance that I was jovially walking by them sipping a gin and tonic, having not noticed that his wife had been apparently overlooked when the cake had been distributed. Remembering that I had already eaten my cake quite some time ago, I responded,
“Sir, I’d be happy to get your wife a piece of cake. I do know that the chocolate cake had been cut quite some time ago and there’s a chance that there may not be any left. If not would she like some white cake perhaps?” I glanced over at his wife for a moment.
“It’s ok I don’t need any cake. Honey let’s just go dance,” she said, both our heads turning to the man.
“No! Get my wife a some cake now. She’s waited long enough. Get her chocolate cake, not white cake.”
“Alright sir, I’ll be right back,” I said, and then put my drink down and hurried to the back to check on the cake. When I got to the back of the room I found the wait staff continuing to cut up the cake and prepare to disburse it to the rest of the guests. Apparently they simply had not gotten to that man and his wife yet but were very close to doing so. I asked the girl cutting the cake if I could please take a piece from her stand. At first she protested but then she recognized me as a groomsman and reluctantly agreed to allow me to sneak a piece of cake.
I then took the plate with the cake and strolled back up to the front, weaving in-between people and walking to the bass of the music. I was in quite a good mood. I placed the plate on the table and said, “Here you are ma’am, one piece of chocolate cake.” The man sat back and folded his arms saying,
“Well thank you very much it’s about time.” The wife looked very excited and said,
“Excellent, thank you very much.” Then she took her eyes off the cake and glanced up at me, intrigued. Now she grabs my arm other arm, less forcefully than her husband did and asked me, “What is your name?” All the while using her eyes to search over my chest, as if perhaps looking for a name-tag.
“Dominic,” I told her.
“Dominic? Hhmm, are you new here?” Having just flown in from Colorado to California for the weekend, I was a bit perplexed at the question to begin with.
“Yes, new to the club?” Then the gin subsided and the implications came into focus.
“Oohhh, no I don’t work here. I’m one of the groomsmen,” I said chuckling to myself at the case of mistake identity. It quite amused me to be honest. Her face however turned pale and her jaw grew so long I thought it would hit the floor. The man’s sleepy looking eyes grew a bit larger but more out of confusion about my reply than anything else. It wasn’t until his wife’s fist met with his shoulder and she shared some rather choice words with him that his expression changes as he realized his mistake. She apologized profusely but I told her, “Please, it’s not problem at all. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you tonight. I’ll be sitting right over there if you need me,” and I pointed over to the head table where I had set down my drink. Then I walked away and met some friends on the dance floor and forgot about the incident. I didn’t really mean to mortify them, but I did find the whole incident quite amusing, and a good reminder to pay attention.
We all want to get rich quick. That’s because we all either are in a bad financial situation, or simply lack the amount of resources to do what we truly want to do, and either way we want that problem alleviated now. Enter every get rich quick scheme imaginable to play on your emotional desire to have more resources, much more resources with the promise of delivering overnight. That kind of promise gets our emotions to flare and gets us to give in to whatever the scheme is in a frenzy, not because we actually think it’s a smart idea that will actually work, but more because we want it to work so bad we almost think we can will it into existence. We become the guy who spends his rent money on an exotic stock tip that’s supposed to beat the market, or the lady who loses all her friends pushing bath soaps for some MLM, or even the guy who buys a fixer upper and thinks by adding a coat of paint and some drapes he’ll turn around and sell it for $100k more than he bought it for. Or worse yet, the person who simply thinks that by hoping and praying and going along to get along that they will someday simply be given a promotion from their job, or get another job that pays an outlandish salary and then all their prayers will be answered. And of course the worst of all, the habitual lottery ticket purchaser.
Don’t get me wrong. All of these things have a place. Investing in the market is good if you actually have the money to spare and are realistic about the potential returns. This may be heresy to some but there are even a few multi-level marketing businesses that are worth their salt, provide value to their customers and put extra mailbox money in the middle man’s pocket. A couple adept at the ins and outs of real estate who aren’t afraid of a little hammering and sawdust can make millions flipping houses. People do get raises every day, and if they are smart about their extra money, an extra few dollars an hour could mean a complete change in lifestyle. And of course while most of us don’t know anyone personally, somebody out there does win the lottery every once in a while and aside from the taxes and the lottery curse, they could fill a pool with gold bars if they wanted to (although that would be a cool concept for a magazine photo shoot but dumb idea overall).
The point with all this is this. Wealth isn’t the word I want to choose because while it’s accurate, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture in the mind. Resources fits better. There are those of us who have a serious deficiency in resources. There are those of us who are fine but also lack the resources to do certain things that we dream about or want to do. But to suddenly get those resources overnight, while it would seem to be a God-send, and granted there are those of us out there who would do well, for the most part we wouldn’t really know what to do with them. When something grows over time we watch it. We learn its habits. We learn what slows its growth down and what seems to accelerate it. We learn just how much water and sunlight it needs so to speak. It’s almost a relationship, whether it be with a plant or with money and we watched the whole process. This way we know exactly where it came from and how to keep it going. When something springs up overnight we have a rough concept of where it may have come from, but we don’t have that deep understanding that comes with watching something with patience and discipline. I might by a stock today, and for some reason the market makes a jump and I sell it in a week and make thousands. In theory that can happen and that would be very fortunate, but it would be luck more than anything else. It kind of just happened and while I might say that I had a feeling or that company’s logo is my favorite color or whatever, the fact is I don’t really understand how and where that thousand bucks came from. I won’t be able to do it again. And even if I could the odds of keeping that up are astronomical.
Now if I took the time to study changes in the different markets. Look for indicators of booms and busts over several different industries over say, 80 years, then I might have a fighting chance at making some consistent money that doesn’t just grow and then drain out with every cycle. But that wasn’t quick. I had to take the time, a long time, to develop a relationship with the numbers and the financial climate and all of that to become proficient. I know where the money comes from and how it works. Now I can make it grow dependably.
It’s almost like coming into the age of science and leaving the age of magic in the past. When our ancestors relied heavily on the inconsistency of gods and goddesses that lurked within every rock or tree, all with conflicting agendas and different sets of powers to control the environment we lived in, the world was a much darker and seemingly confusing place. The concept of magic worked simply because it worked sometimes and it didn’t work other times. Life was, as they say brutish and short. Enter the age of science and reason, and yes while it has its own problems, for the sake of the illustration I’ll point out that people began to see that there was order to the universe. All things work together according to natural laws, not the arbitrary whims of a goddess over here battling against the desires of a god over there. There was a time when horseback was the fasted mode of travel, and while we saw birds covering great distances in short timespans, we could only fantasize about riding on the back of a Pegasus through the sky to our destination. We hadn’t put in the time yet to understand that those birds weren’t using magic, they were simply using laws built into the environment. The idea that perhaps with the right magic dust or the right incantation one could fly for a moment perhaps. Thousands of years later, after much trial and error, many crashes and many deaths even, we can fly anywhere we want in the world with such consistency that you are more likely to get bucked off a horse today than fall from the sky in a plane. This is because over time we’ve put in the effort and the discipline to have a consistent resource that only keeps getting better and better as the years go by because we have an intimate understanding of how and why it works.
Resources that come quickly and easily usually fade just as quickly and easily. That’s simply because we don’t really understand how we got it. Stocks feel like gambling. MLMs feel like money just grows out of feelings. Flipping seems kind of like playing Monopoly HGTV Edition. A raise or a promotion tends to feel arbitrary, and winning the lottery just means for whatever reason God likes you today. None of these things mean anything particularly useful to the recipient if they come easy or quickly. But if the skills and luck required for these and other forms of gaining resources are learned over time so that they actually stick in the mind and the mystery fades behind how they work over time, then even when things do happen quickly, the recipient has a firm understanding of the whys and hows and can use lucky breaks to continue to gain more resources is a much more controlled way.