Recently, I was watching one of those 30 for 30 ESPN documentaries. ESPN has been on for 30 years, so they asked 30 different filmmakers to make 30 different sports related documentaries, looking at events that ESPN covered in a 60-120 minute film. I’ve watched the majority of these at some point, since they’ve been out a year or two at this point. I’d recommend just about all of them, assuming you’re into sports. Plus there’s one where you get to see Wayne Gretzky cry, which never ceases to crack me up. The dude got traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles. Have you ever been to Edmonton? THOSE WERE TEARS OF JOY.
Anyhoo, the most recent one I watched was on Ben Johnson, and the 1988 Summer Olympics. Let me refresh the story, just in case you weren’t alive when it happened and/or you don’t care. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the 100m dash, which might be the marquee event of all the Summer Olympics. Not only did he win, but he shattered the world record, coming in a 9.79 seconds. Canada rejoiced, and Carl Lewis was sad because he finished in second. Things were great.
And then he failed his drug test.
Johnson lost his gold medal, and was subsequently suspended from the sport for 3 years. It effectively ended his career.
The movie really went into details about the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs in the 1980s. Basically, everyone was juicing. They all witnessed the success the Soviets and the East Germans had during the 1970s, so they copied their methods. The IOC was starting to catch on, but drug testing was only in its infancy, even when they caught Johnson. At this point, basically Carl Lewis was the only guy who hasn’t ‘fessed up to using PEDs. (One of the main PEDs, human growth hormone, had an interesting side effect when taken in large doses. It made your teeth grow again. Seeing sprinters with braces in the 1980s was common.)
What’s the point of this story? As I watched this, I often found myself shaking my head in amazement, mostly at the great lengths these guys were willing to go to become the world’s best sprinter. They pumped their bodies full of all sorts of drugs. They pushed themselves to the edge of what humans athletically capable of. They trained for years and years, barely taking a day off, mostly to ultimately fail. From my perspective, it sucked to be a sprinter.
And then the epiphany hit me. Most people look at finances the same way.
I’ve been fairly vocal in the past about my plans to obtain all the money. Money has always been a motivator for me, along with food and boobs, not necessarily in that order. I’ve gone through many different hobbies in my life, but business has always been there, just like my old friend, crystal meth. Okay, not so much with the meth.
Some of you might even label me as a little obsessed about the money, or say I’m taking money too far. I’ve been accused of that both online and off, and I’ve always known there was a little truth behind the statement. For me, the equation was simple. Wealth = freedom. If I had wealth, I’d be able to quit a crappy job, or be able to jet off to see exotic places, or buy myself some new shiny thing to temporarily fill the void of not getting laid regularly. You can’t do those things if you’re poor, with the exception of the meth part.
But at what point would you consider that I’m taking the wealth stuff too far? I was always motivated with having the largest pile of money at the end of my life. Money was always an easy motivating factor. It’s easy to keep score when it comes to money. Whoever has the biggest pile wins. For the better part of a decade, I didn’t question that. Now I am.
Ultimately, money is only a tool of exchange. Most people exchange it for stuff, while a select few trade it for freedom. I’ve never really traded it for anything, I just focused on accumulating it. That’s all fine and good, and I don’t regret it for a second. It’s gotten me to the point where I’m in a very enviable financial position. But I think it’s time to change the plan. Rather than accumulating cash for the sake of having it, I’m going to start using it to buy freedom.
I’ve crapped on a lot of people’s bad financial decisions. People think that makes me some sort of jerk, or whatever. But hardly anyone gets the underlying message of if you don’t make bad financial decisions, you’ll have more cash to buy stuff you care about. And compound interest works really well when you responsibly pay down your debt when you’re young. It doesn’t work out so well when you’re going on a vacation while carrying student loan debt.
What’s the point? To borrow a phrase from Afford Anything, you can afford anything, just not everything. That’s why I was so obsessed with money while I was young, to enjoy freedom when I got older. It’s getting close to the time to move onto part b of that plan.