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Read an excerpt from More Money Than God

Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?

Who wants to be a millionaire? A silly question, perhaps. As money wizard Andrew Tobias said, that’s like asking who wants to be good-looking. Still, if a genie gave you the choice between riches or beauty, which would you choose? Most people would probably pick wealth. As we all know, beauty fades, but money earns interest over time.

Many of us who don’t have a lot of money want to get rich, preferably while we’re still young and , even better, overnight. Despite the fact that the dot.-com money has burned up and the economy has gone bust, a lot of people still think they can strike it rich if only they pick the right stock, the right number, or the last and least preferable, work hard enough.

The idea that anyone can be rich as long as he or she works hard is an old American dream. For many, this has been replaced with the new American dream–to get rich quickly with the least amount of effort. Money no longer represents a job well done. Money no longer represents effort or commitment. The possibility of making money–gobs of it–without actually having to work for it is why we have casinos, lotteries, and TV shows like Survivor. They feed into this frenzied notion that a million dollars is simple a contest away.

Part of our money lust comes from the changing image of what it means to be a millionaire. During the late sixties young people eschewed materialism for more idealistic pursuits like civil rights, women’s rights, and peace. During the eighties, we saw the coke-snorting greed-is-gooders on Wall Street as empty, valueless creatures. When the Internet boom hit during the early nineties, the dot-comers, whom we viewed as cyberpreneurs, became young millionaires. For a time they could thumb their noses at the corporate establishment even as they were consumed by it. Wealth was the talisman that allowed us to strip off our stodgy white shirts and ties in favor of jeans and T-shirts. Money was hip again.

Then came the crash.  We  saw the economy take a nosedive. Executives on Wall Street got caught in the headlights of deceit and corruption.  On September 11, 2001, we saw our old world of insulated innocence and comfort crumble as thousands died tragically at the hands of terrorists.

How has this confluence of events changed our worldview? For one, we are reassessing the role that money plays in our lives. Today, we have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to become a millionaire  (or simply to survive) and to what degree we are willing to sacrifice our lives in order to be rich. The overwhelming desire for wealth is a bit like wanting to be a model or professional athlete. The next time you’re at the supermarket checkout line, take a look at the women’s magazines. Most feature models with impossibly perfect figures and articles on how to transform your ordinary self into something worthy of those same magazine covers. And for every woman’s magazine article on weight loss, there are articles for men on superstar athletes and investors. We measure ourselves against an almost superhuman standard of beauty and physical perfection. What we often forget is that very few people are actually born with beauty and athletic prowess; the rest of us have to work at it and be satisfied with modest results.

Are you willing live the way one has to live in order to look like Angelina Jolie or to compete in the Olympics? Do you want to give up the food you eat, subject yourself to plastic surgery, or train for hours every day? And even if you did, could you really accomplish your goal? Maybe deep down what we all need most is the ability to make peace with what God and DNA have given us.

The same can be said about the pursuit of wealth. Are you willing to invest the time and energy it takes to make more money? Unless you’re born into money, accumulating wealth still means long hours and hard work and, often, a unique talent or ingenuity. Money is difficult to amass in large amounts, and the demands that enable people to make a lot of money are great. If it were easy, everyone would be rich!

Younger people, especially, have been forced to change their perception of money. Prior to the economic downturn, many assumed that they could graduate from college and work for a start-up or corporation. Now, we have a new phenomenon with the so-called the boomerang generation, where 20-somethings are forced to return to their parent’s nest because their B.A. has gotten them thousands of dollars into debt and no guarantee of employment to help pay that down.  The good news, as Michael Lewis, chronicler of young business titans optimistically observed, is that young people might now pursue jobs they enjoy rather than those that will simply make them wealthy. We shall see.

The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban. It comes from the word karov, which means to “draw close’ or “to come near.” It’s true that we feel closet to the things for which we sacrifice: our careeers, our home, our children, our parents, our lovers. If we want more out of life, we must put more in. If we want a better marriage, we have to give more of ourselves. If we want a better world, we have to give more of our money and our time. If we want wisdom, we have to take the time to read and to learn. If we want a more spiritual life, we must take the time for prayer and meditation. If we want more money, we have to work and to sacrifice for it

A life that demands nothing from us, that seeks to merely accommodate our laziness, our preoccupation with things shiny and new, and our shallow pursuits–a life devoid of sacrifice–will bring us nothing in return. If we want the dividends that life can bring, we have to invest the emotional capital, the educational capital, and the spiritual capital.  We have to do the hard, sweaty, dirty work.

When violinist Isaac Stern concluded a concert recital one evening, he was approached by an ardent fan who gushed: “Oh, Mr. Stern, I would give anything to be able to play the violin as magnificently as you do!” To which the maestro softly replied, “Would you give twelve hours a day?”

 

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