It’s been a little more than a month since I made the first post about my Infinite Money experiment which began on May 22nd and ends on July 22nd. You can read more about it there, but basically I’m doing my best to live as though I have infinite money (even though, in reality, I’m okay financially but nowhere near unlimited) to see what insights I gain from it. It’s an experiment in practical philosophy, seeing how a different way of viewing the world actually affects how I live. I’m creating my own experience based ‘Life 101′ course.
This experiment is causing me to do a lot of reflection due to what in my life hasn’t changed. First I’ll talk about something major I’ve encountered called the Void, and then I’ll write about how the experiment affected other areas of my life like spending, diet, exercise, school, career and work. It starts off pretty grim, but the fact that I’m uncovering so much is reason enough to keep going with this experiment. It’s only the beginning.
This post is looooong, but I didn’t want to leave anything out. Feel free to skim and dip in where you need to. Maybe I’ll do some more focused posts on selected concepts later.
I’ve heard from a few sources (Tim Ferriss‘s The 4-Hour Workweek and Ev Bogue‘s Minimalist Business come to mind) that people who work hard all their lives and finally get to the point where they’ve “made it” – when they have enough money that they can effectively retire (or just coast for a long time) – they experience something that Ev refers to as The Void.
Right after I published that first article, I went and laid down on my bed and thought to myself, “Well, great. So I have more money than I could ever spend. What am I going to do now?” And I didn’t feel like doing anything in particular. I felt weird.
I felt what it must feel like to be an older executive who has fought his/her way to the top, achieved everything that they were supposed to achieve, and life somehow didn’t magically change. I had a room full of beautiful things, but I was alone.
I started thinking about how I’ve spent so much time getting good grades and working that my social life has suffered, and it’s understandable – why should I expect people to reach out to me if I haven’t been reaching out to them? If I haven’t been making the effort to accept what invitations I get? Even though I know from my research that having a great social life and meaningful friendships is one of the most crucial factors in happiness, I’ve been letting that part of my life go with not so great results. I mean, I have friends, but I mostly see them only at school (most of us live over an hour apart), and the tiny handful of friends I’ve retained from high school are either not around or we aren’t that close or we only bother to see each other a few times a year. And now that I’ve given myself permission to not focus on income generating activities, I’m looking at this big empty space in front of me. Almost immediately, I felt depressed.
The other thing is that when you extract yourself from the rat race after being entrenched in it your whole life (the treadmill of gradually increasing challenges of school, high school, post secondary, work, climbing the corporate ladder), you remove this thing that’s been driving such a huge percentage of your behavior.
Think about it – how many of your actions stem from making or saving money? “Must complete this homework so that I can get a good grade so I can graduate so that I can get a good job and make money.” “Must do this task for this person so that they’ll leave a good review so that I can continue to make money in the future.” “Must do what they say in case I have to rely on them for money in the future.” “Must get that chic sweater so that those people will think I’m ‘put together’ in case one of them turns out to be a potential business partner.” “Must read this book so that I can have this knowledge/gain this skill so that at some point in the future it might let me make some money.”
I’d venture to say that for most people, at least 50 hours a week are spent on money-generating or money-saving related activities, and that’s a conservative estimate. When you take away the incentive of money, you take away a huge force in your life, and there is nothing obvious that rushes in to replace it. And I haven’t suddenly quit school or work, but I’m fortunate that I sort of get to experience this because right now I only have classes two days a week, and I work from home on my own time, so I have a lot of unstructured hours. I had already agreed to do work for various people, and I don’t want to be that person that says they’ll do something for you and then suddenly drops it for some vague reason. When you don’t care about making money, you still have another driving force called Integrity. You might call it Social Responsibility or even just Reputation, depending on how you look at it. And of course, some of the projects I actually want to do because they seem fun.
When you have to sweat to get things you need (or think you need), you at least have something to blame for why you’re not happy. “I’d be happy if I had more time to relax and work on my art, but I have to go to my stupid job and pick up the dry cleaning. Curse this system! But hey, it’s life, so what are you going to do, right?” You have something to distract you – something that demands your attention, that fills your time, that you see as necessary. Rage against the machine. But when you extract yourself from that system and decide “actually, no, I’m going to decide how I spend my time,” and you realize that you’re still not happy, all you have to blame is yourself. You wonder if something’s wrong with you. You wonder if this is all there is. You realize that you effectively thought that making money to survive was your purpose, and now you have no purpose. If you’re used to working hard, you probably start to feel like you’re lazy and worthless.
Having money doesn’t mean that you’re transported to a magical wonderland where nothing bad or inconvenient ever happens. You still have to pick clothes up off the floor, find things you’ve misplaced, archive spam email, wonder why your software is laggy (even if you have the best equipment available, weird things still happen), commute, trip over things, you don’t feel great all the time, your body still does all of those weird things human bodies do, you still struggle with creativity and inspiration, you still have interactions with other imperfect people, people still judge you, you still have deadlines, it still gets cloudy, it still takes time and effort to learn or accomplish things, dust still appears on your desk, you still get tempted to eat unhealthy things, you still sometimes don’t feel like exercising. This shouldn’t come as a surprise at all, but I always leave these things out when I imagine what it would be like to be rich. Even though I guess I could hire somebody to fold my socks for me, that sounds like way more hassle than it’s worth. So all of these minor annoyances of life persist. It’s kind of weird how little actually changes.
All of these things sound so trivial. “Poor me, I have so much time and money I don’t know what to do with myself.” #whitegirlproblems. But it’s real. People who win the lottery or cash out in business actually experience this. I’d imagine that people who are born into money also experience this in some form. Imagine having everything you’re supposed to have, and still feeling this pervasive sense of unease, and not having a clue what to do about it. Everyone thinks that you should be ecstatic, and can’t imagine why you’re not because they can’t relate to your perspective. Since so few people ever make it out of the rat race, there is no road map for what to do afterwards. And thus, people have no advice to give you but “cheer up”. At this point, many people throw away what they’ve gained – they waste their lottery winnings, sell their companies or sabotage their success, buy a house with a big mortgage so that they have something they have to work to pay for. They go back to the situation that’s comfortable to them.
But I can’t exactly do that if I have infinite money, now can I? Great. Just great. (Yeah, I know I’m the one subjecting myself to this, but it’s so fascinating that I don’t want to just stop here. I want to see if I can push through it and come out a stronger person.)
So I’ve done a lot of reflection about how I want to spend my time. I scrawled out this list in sharpie while lying on my bed feeling miserable and trying to figure out what to do with myself. I’ll credit Ev Bogue for many of these points since I’m sure I picked them up from his Minimalist Business ebook (particularly the evolving humanity one), but I wasn’t looking at his book while I wrote this.
What to do when you already have everything:
- Physical Activity + Training
- Master Skills
- Direct Creative Projects
- Experience the World
- Life experiments + personal development
- Accomplish dreams, conquer fears
- Socialize + Love
- Serve + Give to others
- Evolve Humanity / Change the World
I could make a whole other post explaining this list, but suffice it to say for now that I wrote out a few things I wanted to do in each category, and it did make me feel better. It’s good to know that you still have interesting and exciting things that you can work towards. I had the idea to make this into a worksheet so that it could be helpful to other people – but let’s face it, not a lot of people have this problem. Then again, maybe I should make it, since it’s a great problem to have. If society keeps moving in the direction it is, lifting more people out of poverty, creating more freedom through technology – and if we do manage to break the endless cycle of consumerism that is keeping the middle and upper classes on the treadmill – then more and more people are going to encounter the Void. Wouldn’t that be an interesting niche to work within? “Helping new rat-race escapees learn to deal with their new found freedom and get the most out of life.” Hmm.
Here’s the breakdown: My online banking tells me that from May 22nd to June 22nd, I’ve spent $193 (CAD). I did spend some money in cash and by paypal, I’m guessing it’s only around $30, but I’ll add $50 to be safe and say that my total spending money for the past month was $243. That’s about $60 per week. Out of that money, $136 of it was on food while out of the house (70%). I’ll also clarify that since I’m still in school, I live with my parents so I don’t buy most of my groceries, though a few times I picked up some extra things I wanted and I included those in the total. And I already paid for my school tuition earlier in the year so that doesn’t factor in – I guess I would consider this total to be my “do whatever I want” money rather than things I’ve already committed to and budgeted for.
How do I feel about this? Well, on one hand it’s kind of alarming to me compared to what I was spending before, but on the other hand, it’s not that much. Last year I was allowing myself around $30 a week of spending money, so this is just double that. It’s enlightening – and strange – to realize that even in the face of infinite money, all I really need to have my ideal lifestyle is an extra $30 a week, based on this data. That’s only like three hours at minimum wage. I don’t know if I would have ever realized this if it weren’t for this experiment. I thought it would be more.
It might have been more if I were going to school more frequently since most of my meal purchases are at school. I haven’t felt a strong urge to go on a trip or upgrade my cellphone and none of my tools have broken so I haven’t incurred any larger expenses.
If I keep spending the way I am, then by the end of the experiment I will have spent around $750, which would be approximately $375 more than I would have otherwise spent. Would you pay $375 to have infinite money for 3 months? Sounds like a great deal to me. ;) I think that the things I’ve learned so far are worth it.
In fact, I’ve actually received plenty of offers for work within the past month, including a rather large commission, and I’ve just now (literally in the middle of writing this article!!) been contacted about two more design opportunities. So in the end, I should still have more money than when I started. Yeah, I might have had more if I hadn’t done this, but it doesn’t feel like a loss. Maybe the universe wouldn’t have delivered these projects to me if I hadn’t been feeling so abundant already.
As predicted, I HAVE been spending a lot more money on food. I haven’t been buying more stuff or going shopping more often. I still feel like I have way more stuff than I use already, and I’m still wearing a limited wardrobe by choice. I’m virtually certain that the minimalist/anti-consumerist (wow, I sound so hip) tendencies I’ve developed have gone a long way toward keeping the number this low, otherwise I might have bought a lot more objects. Then again, part of the allure of shopping is wanting things that you can’t afford, so when you can have anything, you actually lose part of the reason to want things. I did get some new backpacks and a comic book though. I surprised myself by donating a few dollars to creators of awesome things I found online, such as this webcomic, Minor Acts of Heroism, which I wouldn’t normally have done.
I don’t think I’ve been able to succeed in completely reprogramming myself in this area. When it comes to other things I might buy like digital products, service subscriptions or event tickets, I’m still less likely to go for things that cost a lot of money over things that cost less or are free. For example, when someone took the payment barrier off of joining their forum, I joined immediately, even though I’m not really an internet forum type of person. (The fact that it used to cost money made me want it!) And when I saw an online training program that looked interesting, I didn’t go for it because there was a payment barrier, even though I spend hours reading free material online. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything I really wanted, if I truly believed that I had infinite money, it shouldn’t have made a difference. The thing is, I use other reasons to justify not getting something – resource efficiency (environmental reasons) or “I don’t have time/space for it right now”. It’s hard to know exactly when I use saving money to justify resource efficiency, or resource efficiency to justify not buying something… aarrgh! Aversion to wasting money is really deeply ingrained.
If I weren’t doing this experiment, I might not have gone to the Mini Maker Faire. Even though the ticket price wasn’t that much, I would have seen it as just another reason not to go. But then I wouldn’t have gotten to see giant spiderbots and I wouldn’t have found out about Draw By Night, a free art event that looks awesome! So this experiment has given me permission to try some new experiences.
Interestingly enough, I’ve actually been eating worse. For one, I’ve been eating out more, which means more refined grains, more sugar, salt, and fat. Since I’m not worrying about money, buying food where I am is easier than preparing something to bring – I don’t have to plan it or carry it around with me. I have eaten at restaurants, but food court food is still tasty, it’s faster and sometimes I’m with people who don’t have infinite money and I don’t want to make them feel they have to spend more money to hang out with me. I’ve also been snacking on a lot more junk food, out of boredom and rebellion and trying to find something that will make me feel happy and satisfied. I haven’t gained weight, but it can’t really be good for my health in the long run. It’s not a good habit.
One of the things you can do with your time is learn new skills and/or train your body. I’ve spontaneously taken up dancing. WTF. Read my article on Performance for more on this. I also write about the odd coincidence of shifting from material based activities (craft) to action/experience based activities (performance).
I thought that I might feel more of an urge to move out, but I’m still in my room at home with my parents. So far, the annoyances of living with family (even though I love them!) seem less daunting than the prospect of packing everything up, finding an apartment and moving out on my own for the first time. So I’m here by default. Also, my room is pretty.
I’ve kind of been losing interest in some aspects (not all aspects!) of school. Part of this might be due to the fact that I’m around the halfway point and already getting work. I still feel committed to my team mates, and obviously I don’t want my grades to drop, but I feel less motivated to do the assignments I don’t want to do, and this whole “deadline” business is grating on me. The way I see it is that I’m going to learn and practice the things I genuinely want to learn and practice anyway, and I don’t want my career to be based on the things that I don’t enjoy doing anyway, so the school regime is starting to feel forced and artificial.
There are parts of school that I still like – I’ve really been enjoying my Philosophy of Education class (relevant!), and I wouldn’t have learned about this subject at all if I weren’t forced to take elective credits. Writing the philosophical essay for that class was fun, kind of like writing one of these blog posts, but with academic references. It gives me a reason to leave my house, see and meet other people my age, my grades are good enough that my school practically pays me to attend it. It provides some motivation to complete projects I otherwise wouldn’t complete or even attempt. I still feel like I should complete my degree because my parents expect me to, even if I don’t really see myself relying on it in the future. At least I’ll be able to claim that I’m a university graduate, for what that’s worth.
Related to my thoughts on school, I’ve heard so many examples of people doing what they’re doing because they’re passionate about it and that lead them to do it so much on their own initiative that they genuinely became really good at it. They would probably do what they do for free, and the money is a bonus, and that makes people want to work with them – regardless of whether they went to school for it.
I don’t want to settle for anything less than doing exactly what I want. I’ve developed even higher standards for how I want to make money/spend my time than I had before, which is great but also kind of scary because the thought that “you have to do things you don’t want to do in order to survive” is so ingrained in our culture. I’m also wary of this thing called “entitlement” that I’ve heard used to describe our generation in a negative light. Why should I expect to be able to do what I want when so many other people suffer just to stay afloat? I’ve always held “having a career I love” as one of my top priorities and I’m clinging to the hope that I can figure this out, and using people who have found their dream careers as my beacons.
Many people think that if people didn’t have to work for money, they would just lay around all day and watch TV. Not so for me. I want to be a multipronged artist/designer/entrepreneur/maker of awesome things. I guess I would call myself a serial-project-maker. There are so many things I want to do, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to settle on just one medium – at least, I don’t foresee that in the near future. I do want to help people, be of value to society, and leave my mark. I want to make beautiful things that make people go “wow!” I want to tell stories and show people that things aren’t always what they seem, and that there is so much more to life than what they realise – than what I realise. I want to design a better world. I want to inspire others to do it themselves. I want to do work that matters. I want it to be in alignment with my values.
I don’t care about fame, I don’t care about being in galleries, I don’t care about making gobs of moolah (though that could be fun) but if people would enjoy and benefit from my stuff, and if I enjoy doing it, then that would be wonderful.
Way of working
Since I’m not worrying as much about payment, I’ve been more focused lately on optimizing how I work for the most enjoyment. As great as my work is, it’s still a cause of stress. Having others waiting on me, feeling like I owe things to people, and having to follow precise directions and feeling like sometimes people aren’t satisfied with what I give them is kind of blah. Since the money doesn’t matter, I’ve been accepting offers for jobs at whatever the person can afford, and requesting more time/freedom/leniency in return. It’s kind of nice, but I still feel like things aren’t ideal.
I’ve been wondering for a long time if the service model might not be the ideal way for me to work. Wouldn’t it be better to make things first and then sell them? That way, if people like it they like it and if they don’t, they don’t. You won’t have deadlines except for those that you impose on yourself. Kind of like how this blog works, actually.
My logic says that it would be harder to make money with the make-first-monetize-later method – but if I’m not worrying about money, it wouldn’t make sense to do it the other way, unless I felt I could contribute more value by doing custom things for people. My intuition says that the people who enjoy their work the most and don’t care too much about what other people think tend to be successful. I guess I’ll have to test that one out. Who would have thought that “just do what you want” would be do hard to grasp and implement? I’m trying, but it’s taking a while to unravel.
Perspective on Society
At times I managed to see the world from an alternate perspective – like I was part of a futuristic utopia where when I needed something, it wasn’t like I was spending money – it was like the world was a buffet of services and products where you could just pick up what you wanted, check them out with your ID (paying with credit card) to keep track of resource use, and leave. It’s a subtle difference – the experience in the store was the same, except the vague negative aura of spending your hard earned money was lifted. I felt appreciation for all of the choices of goods and services available to me. In this utopia, all you had to do in return was to live your life in whatever way you wanted, and contribute/help others however you were inspired to, using your own unique talents. And then I would blink and my mind would shift back to seeing society/economics as I normally see them (everyone for themselves, struggle). Do you think that if someone lived this way within capitalist society, would they contribute enough/help enough people that they would ultimately make enough money to support themselves?
Anyone could try this
The amazing thing was that I got to experience all of this without actually going through the process of winning the lottery or building a fortune 500 company. I took a shortcut – I just imagined what it would be like, and committed to living like I was there, wrote off my losses and watched what happened. Technically, anybody with a certain amount of will and courage (and a small buffer of cash) could do this. Anybody could do this for a single day, or maybe a week. I’ll be interested to see what else I uncover as time goes on, and the things I retain after the experiment ends. So far, it’s proving to be an effective method for reflecting on how you want to spend your life, figuring out what it really takes to make you happy and questioning the roadblocks our society places that prevent us from doing this in the first place.
I’m not sure when I’ll be posting the next experiment update, so if you want to make sure you catch it, the easiest way would be to subscribe with RSS or follow me. Glad to have you!
Posted on June 29th, 2011
Filed under: Featuring, Learning, Living (All Posts), Making Money, Socializing
Topics: experiment, life design, log, money
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