I worked with a guy in banking called Joe Smaragio. He was a go-getter. Slick back black hair. Gorgeous blue eyes. Charming.
Wore perfectly ironed white Tommy Hilfiger shirts accented with a range of fluro ties. And an epic tan-colored briefcase that was the envy of every CEO he met at networking events.
He went from being a sh*t kicker working in the call center with me, to the general manager of our department.
His rise was biblical amongst Aussie bankers.
Joe pissed me off because he made me feel like a bum. I got nowhere. He got everywhere. The GM salary was $555K. I found out because a guy in HR leaked the salary numbers to me. WOW.
He could earn another $555K on top of his salary in the form of fat cat bank bonuses. Ahhhh…good old banking — low skill but stupidly high rewards for essentially shuffling money around and doing two-tenths of stuff-all.
I caught up with Joe at the start of the year. I assumed he’d be on his way to a CEO role at a Wall Street Bank. All that cash to splash. All the influence and power. Kind of hard not to be jealous.
But Joe wasn’t happy or wealthy at all.
He sounded defeated. He had loads of money, status, and power but zero freedom. He complained to me about how hard it was to find 30 minutes to chat with me.
How he never saw his family. How he always had to travel interstate. How he had zero ownership of his future and could get fired in a random restructure at any moment.
Joe realized what I realized 5 years ago: being rich and powerful is a nightmare worse than the new Saw horror movie.
What we secretly want — whether we realize it or not — isn’t to be rich.
It’s to be free.
“You’re a prisoner to anything you can’t say no to”
This is how you know if you’re free.
Can you say no? Or do you have to say yes to *not* get fired or keep your status in the hierarchy? That’s the test.
For far too long I had to say yes to everything. I had to be a people-pleaser and say all the right things to get paid (even if I didn’t believe them). That’s the definition of hell, and that’s how most people live.
Being free is about being yourself.
It’s when you can say no to opportunities or requests of your time because money doesn’t run your life.
You don’t want millions of dollars, really. You want to be able to say “no” more often.
The byproduct of capitalism that makes you a prisoner
I love capitalism and I don’t play politics on the internet.
However…with every good idea there are always downsides. A random X user named Angela said this and it made me think:
My therapist just told me that I am such a product of capitalism that I’ve replaced any real joy with accomplishments…
And I’ve never been so accurately dragged in my life.
The downside of modern work and business culture is it teaches us to chase shiny objects known as accomplishments.
- Job titles
- Big salaries
- Praise from gatekeepers and senior leaders
- And even fame
Accomplishments are supposed to bring joy, but really, all they bring once you get them is emptiness — and maybe even misery.
It’s supposed to feel amazing. But what I found is I played a part in the getting rich game and felt nothing when I got what others called success.
That’s because I played the game based on someone else’s rules, not based on my definition of happiness. It’s why we have to write our own rules for the money game and stick to them.
And I strongly believe you must have “being free” as your #1 goal if you want to experience real wealth and happiness, and not the fake version good ol’ Joe got at the start of this essay.
Freedom = Self-Reliance
Many of us live like puppets.
Someone else pulls the strings. They say jump and we say “how high, sir?” Real freedom is when you aren’t reliant on someone else or a third party to be happy or to get paid what you need to cover bills.
This reality is extremely rare.
Plenty of millionaires have mansions and Ferraris, but they have to jump through circus hoops and keep playing prisoner games to make the money that pays the mortgage on the mansion and the lease on the Ferrari.
It’s an illusion of freedom. It’s a wealth trap.
I’m not 100% self-reliant but I’m not far off. No one tells me what to do. In business, if I meet a crazy customer, I just politely remove them. If I want to move country, I can.
If I want to take a week, a month, or a year off work then I can. But I still have obligations. I still pay tax. I still have to be there for my family. I still have to pay bills on time to keep my credit score intact.
There’s no freedom nirvana, but there are levels.
And my goal in this essay is to get you closer to a version of freedom that’s more likely to produce happiness compared to the one institutions sell you, that frankly don’t give a f*ck about you.
Real wealth is freedom and it looks like this
(Copy as much as you can)
So now you know that being rich won’t change your life. It won’t fill the void or make you happy. What will do that is true freedom, and here’s what it looks like.
Enough money to pay bills
No one should have to live paycheck to paycheck.
Wealth is knowing you can pay bills on auto-pilot without stress. The fastest way to get there is embrace some level of minimalism and decrease how much money you spend on consumerism-ingrained behavior.
The confidence to know you can always get another job
Institutions want us to believe we need them.
They want us to believe career gaps and layoffs are the end, and so we must do everything we can *not* to get them.
There’s always another job. Career gaps are a sign of growth — they show you’re willing to take risks and move around. This also means entrepreneurship isn’t risky at all.
If you start a business and it fails then you go right back to a job. That realization is the best job security you can ever get. Someone will always hire you as long as you have the right mindset.
More time with your family instead of your “work family”
“We are family.”
When I hear this in a job interview I run for the hills with Mary Poppins. If your workplace is your family then you’ve descended into a secret hell.
Freedom is getting to be around your family. It’s being at home in time for dinner with them. Make career and money decisions with that goal in mind if you want to be free.
Money to invest in sexy assets
There is a world where your income comes 100% from financial assets.
None of us start there and you sure don’t reach that place in 30 days. But if you play this money game long enough, it can definitely become a reality.
In the last week I’ve made $120K just from financial assets. I don’t say that to brag, but to show the power of compound returns from financial assets.
The more cashflow-producing assets you own, the more free you are. Then…work becomes a maybe instead of a must. And you can say yes to opportunities (like charitable work) that pay $0.
Money to buy everything without feeling like you need anything
When you make decent money it’s easy to think you need to buy a few luxuries.
Real wealth is when you know you can buy luxuries but decide not to. I often say (and people give me sh*t for it) that I can walk into a BMW dealership and pay cash for one tomorrow. But I don’t.
That’s what real wealth is. The opportunity but not the obligation. The discipline to reject common desires and choose yourself.
Getting rich is a pyramid scheme. It’s propaganda.
It might seem like you want to be rich but what you really want is to be free. Because when you’re free you can become anyone you want and change the world however you see fit. That level of power makes you unstoppable.
It feels 10x better than being a rich little b*tch.
Rich people count money, wealthy people count moments.
This article is for informational purposes only, it should not be considered financial, tax or legal advice. Consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.