Wealth Is An Illusion Of Happiness

Net Worth Illusion

One of my happiest memories was studying abroad in Chile for an entire semester.  I lived off beans and rice, and slept on a wooden plank bed.  At night, sweat would bead up on my forehead until it dripped down across my temple and into my ears.  It was that hot.  Yet, despite having no money, I was so happy.  Life was simple and the greatest pleasure I got was learning from others.

At the time, I told myself that if I could just earn $1,000/month and have my trusty camera, I’d be happy.  Well, I lost my way when McKinsey gave me a job offer.  Nobody turns down McKinsey, partly because nobody gets into McKinsey.  The curiosity of the job compelled me to take it rather than pursue my interests.

I recognize I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work for a respectable company that may one day allow me to retire comfortably.  Yet, I wonder about that semester abroad in Chile all the time.  A couple years ago I went down to Chile and revisited the old AC-less dorm room where I used to live.  It brought back so many good memories.  Afterwards, my friend and I went back to our 4-star hotel, sipped on a Mojito and ate some ceviche.

It was then that I realized that despite living in a much nicer place on 100X the budget, my happiness compass pointed towards the dorm room of the past.


One of Sam’s lines that hits me most is, “Ironically, it is the sympathy that Lyndon seeks, which makes him only hang out with people of his same socio-economic class.  He understands that most of America won’t understand him so he shuns most people.

It’s hard to read, but it’s true.  I realize many won’t empathize with me, simply because only a minority of people in America make $300,000 a year.  I expect people to throw mud and make fun of the situation while calling me a cry-baby.  I realize it is equally ridiculous to try and garner sympathy, hence I don’t try.  I keep quiet.  I keep to myself because otherwise, you’ll think I’m arrogant when I discuss buying a European automobile, or discuss last night’s symphony.

Yes, most of my friends are all working stiffs who make six figures and lead relatively decent lives.  We don’t expect anybody outside of our circle to understand the grueling hours required to make our income.  We don’t expect people to understand that ever since we were kids, we were told we better succeed or else.  Many of our parents are doctors and lawyers and politicians.  Yet, how many people on earth can become successful doctors, lawyers, and politicians?  Not many, and that is why the pressure is immense.  We are not our parents nor do we live in our parents’ generation!

You’ll have to forgive me, and people like me for seeming callous and insensitive towards others.  The truth is, we fear backlash and insensitivity by you, which is why we keep so closed off.  In fact, perhaps this is why there are so many congregations of ethnic communities in big cities, the Chinatowns, the Little Italy’s and Harlems, etc.  Maybe we all fear a certain type of backlash, and just want to feel safe.


I didn’t ask to make the money I make.  Income growth just comes with longevity.  Longevity is due to performance, which ultimately means value creation for a company.  A person makes $1 million a year because he probably generates $10 million a year in revenue for the firm.  There’s nothing really fancy about income.

What I don’t quite understand is if people want to make more money, why not just join an industry that pays well?  Why not be a banker, lawyer, doctor, consultant, trader, engineer, Internet guru, Brittany Spears, professional athlete, or politician?  OK, it’s hard to become successful at one of these professions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Photography is my passion, but I realize that I’d have a better chance at becoming the President of the United States than making a living doing what I love.  Yet, I still long for it, and practice every chance I get.  On weekends I scout locations for my next photo shoot.  I’ve got a website where I’m actively selling my services.  I’ve even planned out my next three vacations to remote locations so I can capture that rare brilliant shot.  I won’t stop trying.


The bonus check hit the bank account the other day and I’ve made up my mind.  I cannot leave McKinsey to follow my dreams.  Someone in the comments section wrote so aptly, “Once your hobby becomes your job, it stops becoming your hobby!”  I’m afraid that if I become a professional photographer, I’ll begin to hate the entire industry.  I’ll start being overly critical about my own work, and scoff at others who’ve been accepted.

I love photography too much to risk not loving it anymore.  When Sam wrote about my situation, I was at the darkest stage of the year where I worked for 11 months without knowing what my bonus would be.  Now I’m in the brightest stage of the year where I’ve worked for only one month and have the year ahead of me.  I’m under no illusion that come March next year, I’ll have a part of me that will wonder whether I made the right choice.

As of right now, I’m happy again because I know what I must do.  It’s important I create a realistic exit strategy and live below my means.  You’re right.  A $4,000/month two bedroom apartment is fixable.  I’ll be looking to get a more “reasonable” 1-bedroom $2,500-$3,000/month apartment in Manhattan instead.  A spreadsheet is open right now pro-forming my financial life over the next 10 years.  All I know is I want to be done by the time I’m 40.  Knowing this, means figuring out a financial plan to get there.

Thank you for your thoughts.  I appreciate every single one of them.  Thank you Sam for letting me gain more perspective and finding a solution!  Wealth is an illusion of happiness, but don’t let me stop you from trying.

For happiness!



* This post is a response to the community after writing, “The Curse Of Making Too Much Money And Not Pursuing Your Dreams“.


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