Why Many Smart People Hate Money (Plus: Crucial Distinctions)

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Have you ever noticed that lots of smart people have contempt for money? Not all of them, of course, but enough for the destitute genius to become a stereotype.

I used to be one of them, I suppose. Indoctrinated with four years of English Literature and Philosophy, I regarded it with a kind of smoldering resentment, not just because I was broke (and I was), but because I hated how the necessity of it could trump a life of intellectual rigor. It seemed an awful waste.

No one else seemed to understand, either. I resented that too. Talking about it now, it sounds foolish, but if you were ever labeled as the “smart kid,” you know what I’m talking about.

You’ve been told over and over again that someone of your intelligence should find it easy to make money. Silently (or not), everyone thinks you’re wasting your God-given talents by not applying them for personal gain.

But they don’t get it, do they? To you, life is not an exercise in how much money you can accumulate. There are so many things that are more interesting, more important, and more relevant to you.

The Pursuit of Meaning

In fact, it’s not so much the money you resent, as people trying to force you into a mold in which you don’t fit. All you want is to be left alone to explore the world in your own way, to not be shoved into the giant business machine and assimilated like the Borg.

You were born with something special, something that you can use to transform the world in any number of ways. Money just seems… beneath you. How could you possibly respect yourself if you dedicated your life to bringing home a paycheck?

You don’t want money. You want a meaningful life. And a life spent in the pursuit of money is anything but meaningful.

Right? Well… that’s what I thought, but now I realize that I hadn’t thought it through. Let me explain.

What It’s like to Be Smart

When you’re smart, you can see beyond how things presently are, and you can envision how those things could be. I could probably name product, and you could tell me ways to improve it. It’s probably instinctive. Flaws and opportunities just seem to “jump out at you,” and you can’t help seeing them.

You’re probably proud of the ability, but it’s also a source of misery. Regardless of what you’re looking at, nothing quite measures up to what it could be. And it bothers you. Since you know how to make it better, you want to make it better, but no one else seems to care. Feeling powerless, you stop, but you’re still haunted by the imperfection.

Money Is a Band-Aid

Consciously or not, I think most smart people understand that money is a Band-Aid for an imperfect system. In a perfect world, we would live in a state of absolute abundance, able to have or do anything we wanted. We could work (or not), sleep (or not), travel (or not). We would be in complete control of every moment of our lives, able to explore it in any way we wished.

It’s the purest form of freedom imaginable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist yet. In the present, we live in a world of relative scarcity, where there’s not enough of anything for everyone. Not everyone can drive the best cars, live in the best houses, or work in the best jobs, because, frankly, there aren’t enough of them.

Money is one system we’ve created for dealing with the problem of scarcity. The more of it you have, the more abundance you have. You can buy things, do things, and persuade people in ways that others can’t. In this sense, money gives you more choices, and as an extension, more freedom. The richest people in the world can do almost anything they want.

For many of us though, a lack of money has the opposite effect. It creates a type of wage slavery, where you have to trade your freedom to others in exchange for money in order to survive. For instance, you might’ve wanted to sleep in this morning, but you couldn’t, because you had to go to work and make money. So, you subordinated your individual wishes to the almighty dollar and got out of bed.

It’s ironic, if you think about it. Money is supposed to be a way for distributing freedom, but in order to get that freedom, you have to give yours up. The majority of the world never gets out of that loop, doing their best to balance “life and work,” or how much freedom they receive and give away.

Smart People Can See the Problem

Many of the wealthiest people in business aren’t particularly smart or perceptive. Have you noticed that? They don’t even notice the flaws in the system, and they advance without even thinking about it. Like Cypher said in The Matrix, “Ignorance is bliss.” Not noticing the reality of things makes it easier to cooperate and advance.

But smart people don’t have that luxury. Consciously or subconsciously, we recognize the flaws in the business system, and we can’t stop seeing them. If you try to “fit in,” so you can make more money, it’s always there in the background, like a water faucet dripping while you’re trying to sleep.

So you pull away. Others see it as laziness and label you as the “smarty that can’t get his/her act together,” but for you, it’s about internal congruency. You can’t work toward something you don’t believe in, and you don’t believe in perpetuating a flawed system. Moreover, nobody in business seems to see things the same way, and the simplicity of their views irritates you.

In fact, it all irritates you.

The Power of Acceptance

The problem with being irritated, angry, or downright hateful is it clouds your thinking. You get caught up in all of the things that bother you and never learn how to see past them. It turns into a type of “thought loop” that many smart people stay in for their entire lives.

And there’s only one way out: acceptance.

At some point, you have to look at the world and say, “Well… this is how it is.” You realize that, while irritation or anger may be justified, both emotions are ineffective. Not only do negative emotions cloud your thinking, but they also make you miserable. You don’t want to be miserable, so the only response is to stop judging the world for its imperfection.

In a way, it’s like forgiveness. Most “real” thinkers are resistant to such concepts, turned off by the religious overtones, but from my experience, it’s the only way to progress. As a smart person, I wasn’t able to start moving forward in creating the world I really want until I “forgave” money for its imperfections.

If you can do that, everything starts to become… clear. You understand that you can pursue money without giving up your ideals. In fact, money is just a tool for helping you transform those ideals into reality.

The Truth about Money

When I wrote my last article, 38 Reasons to Hate Money and Everything It Requires, at least a dozen people sent me quotations of a passage from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged where Francisco d’Anconia issues a passionate defense of money. It’s a lovely passage, and you should read it, but here’s one piece I’d like to hone in on:

“Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions–and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that, “Money is just a tool,” but have you really stopped to think that through? To figure out what it means? Yes, it’s just a tool, but it’s a tool for accumulating the influence necessary to change things. It’s a bridge between the way things presently are and the way you would like them to be. It’s a direct extension of your mind.

For smart people, the object of their mind is often a more perfect world. Having money means you can rectify problems, rather than being haunted by them. Having money means that you can employ people in your efforts, rather than being ignored by them. Having money means possessing the power to make the world a little more perfect, rather than having to endure its imperfections.

Let me ask you something. Do you want to be a part of that?

The Choice

Really, it comes down to a very simple choice. If it makes you more comfortable, we can make it a multiple-choice question:

What do you want to do?

A) Label money evil because all of the problems it causes, and do your best to have nothing to do with it

B) Accept that money is essential for truly embodying your ideals and make enough create the life you want

It seems obvious, but you can justify either choice. Money does create all kinds of problems in the world, and if you want to hate it, you can find lots of good reasons.

That’s the reason why I wrote 38 Reasons to Hate Money and Everything It Requires. I thought it would resonate with people, and it did. The post got over 700 votes on digg and brought about 20,000 visitors to On Moneymaking.

Do I personally hate money? No.

I accept that it’s an imperfect system, and that it’s unlikely to change as long as we have to deal with scarcity. I accept that it’s a system that’s going to play a big part in my life, whether I like it or not. I accept that I can either master the system or be punished by it.

I made those decisions several years ago, and while I’m nowhere close to claiming absolute mastery over it, I do have enough money to get up every day and do pretty much whatever I want.

So, it seems to be working, and I’d recommend that anyone else struggling with their conception of money take the time to really think through it.

Maybe you’ll come to different conclusions. Maybe you won’t. But at least have the courage to look at it objectively.


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