Prior to changing paths and moving to Hollywood, I had a whole other life in the Silicon Valley as a securities lawyer, a venture capital consultant, an investment banker and an Internet executive. In short, I’ve spent a lot of time around a lot of money.
My consulting firm helped early-stage start-ups get venture funding, and the one thing I always had to remind the founders was that money, in and of itself, is not special. What is special is being able to create something that is worth money, or better yet, take money and use it to add value to society in a way that turns it into more money. The people with the money couldn’t do that on their own. That’s why they needed the companies to invest in. Don’t sell yourself cheap for something as mundane as money.
I was reminded of all of this on Tuesday, when I read pages and pages of criticism of Jodie Foster’s speech at the Golden Globes. One friend-of-a-friend said, “She has millions of dollars, so what does she have to complain about?”
A lot, actually. There is so much more to enjoying life than having millions of dollars, and what we would trade off for money can tell us so much about ourselves.
I have a young cousin who was the victim of a crime and was hospitalized for days. The attacker crushed his face into the hood of his car, driving his orbital bone into his sinuses. He will have pain in his face for the rest of his life. In discussing a possible lawsuit he could bring against the attacker and other responsible parties, he was concerned that people would think he was just out to get rich. I asked if he would rather have a million dollars or for the attack never to have happened. In a split second he said he wishes the attack never happened. Money is not special – living your life without pain is special.
Would you trade places with Suri Cruise? She will never be able to leave her house without being photographed. She will never be able to gain or lose weight, or have a bad hair day, or drink too much at a college party without it being fodder for a magazine. Can you imagine having a dozen creepy, 30-something photographers trailing you on your first date, or worse, not really knowing if the guy you’re on that date with really likes you or just wants to brag that he went out with you? Money is not special – privacy is special. Knowing who your real friends are is special. A normal childhood is special.
Which brings us back to Ms. Foster – she was put to work at the age of three. How many of us could begin to understand that? How many things did you take up as a child, then decide you didn’t like any more and quit? Karate? Ballet? Guitar? Dungeons and Dragons? Did your parents let you just quit, or was that activity supporting your entire family? Money is not special – control over your life is special. Not having to live a lie because you support so many other people is special.
I realize that most of the people reading this post wish they had more money. I wish I had more money. But money is not the key to happiness. If you are a happy person, you will probably be even happier with more money, but if you are an unhappy person, no amount of money will change that. Make happiness your goal. Let the money take care of itself.
Because being happy – truly happy – is just about as special as it gets.