“If you suddenly came into $20,000,000 and the same day you found out you have exactly 10 years left to live, how would you begin living your life?”
This is called the “20/10 question” and it’s one of my all-time favorites when working with clients.
Most people say things like “I’d quit my job and go traveling,” or “I would take my family around the world” and one very amusing response “I would buy my own cruise ship.” Unfortunately for the last girl, we ran the numbers and found that $20 Million was NOT enough for her to enjoy a private cruise ship, though for the next ten years she could cruise almost non-stop and be okay.
What’s odd is what people who find themselves in this situation ACTUALLY do.
When someone gets this kind of money, they are far more likely to KEEP working than QUIT working. The reason is quite simple: sitting around on vacation all the time is boring. Very, VERY boring.
Sure, enjoying a drink on the beach for a couple of days is nice, but there’s only so much sun, swimming, and Anne Rice novels you can read. After a while, you need something to DO.
The second part of the question “10 years to live” provides a sense of urgency to the equation. This helps us get rid of safe answers like “I’d invest in real estate/gold/tulips” or “pay off my house and put it away for retirement.”
If we know that our life is short, we choose to live a little more recklessly because we understand we can’t take that money with us.
Now, you may be wondering “Trent, what does this question actually DO for people?”
Why Should I Ask Myself This?
The answer is simple: it’s the way truly successful people approach life.
The vast majority of us will go to work with the plan to earn a steady pay check every week for the next forty years so we can retire and enjoy our grand-kids for the last 25 years we’re alive. We might retire in Florida with other people in their “young 60s” and relax, but that’s usually the most exciting decision we’ve made in a long time.
We operate on the premise of “save now, play later.”
This is a broken idea because it’s based on two flawed assumptions:
1) it is difficult to amass enough income early in our working years to enjoy ourselves without working constantly
2) we will have a “later” to enjoy
Let’s tackle the first assumption: earning enough income to enjoy your life early is difficult. This isn’t really true, depending on what you consider a comfortable life. Many times, we associate material possessions with happiness, so we work to buy “stuff.”
John goes to work at a job he doesn’t really like but which pays $70k/year. With that money, he, his wife, and their three boys share a nice 3400 sq/ft brick home in a nice neighborhood. He drives a nice car and his wife has the SUV. After all the bills for said house, cars, kids, and other various bills add up, John can put back $7,000 year into investments for retirement (10%).
Does John sound like someone you know? Maybe someone you see every day? He should: he represents 60% of the American population.
The problem with John is that there will never be enough money or “stuff” to provide the happiness he wants. There will always be a new car or some nice addition to the house to purchase, which keeps him working at his less-than-satisfying-though-well-paying job.
The sad fact is, research has shown John would be just as happy living in a much cheaper 1800 sq/ft home with much cheaper vehicles. People aren’t happier based on what they own; they are happier based on what they DO.
The second assumption: when we retire we will enjoy the benefits of a lifetime of hard work.
This is also false: depression is one of the major issues facing retirees. When you’ve spent 30 years in a routine, even one you hate, finding yourself with nothing to do will leave you feeling useless. No amount of Bridge can make up for a lack of purpose. If you wait until retirement to enjoy the “fruits of your labor” you will miss out on life’s most enjoyable moments.
What’s the Solution to Life Enjoyment?
Do what successful people do: find something you would do for free and get so good at it people will pay you for it.
I have two friends which are stark examples of the effects of these philosophies.
James is a very successful salesman. He works for a company he doesn’t really like, dealing with issues he doesn’t really care about, and makes a very lucrative income doing it. He diligently goes to work every day and his first thought is about when he will get to leave. He has a very large house and nice cars, and his kids are taken care of. He feels he’s “doing what he should.” If a company offers him better pay and benefits, he will probably take it to make some upgrades to his house and cars.
Kevin is on the opposite end of the spectrum. After graduating college, he couldn’t find a job easily. He started building furniture and signs in his shop as a way to pass the time. He sold a few to friends and neighbors, eventually deciding to create a business out of his hobby. He wakes up every day with ideas on what he will make and goes to work with excitement. His wife is a schoolteacher who loves her job as well. They live in a modest house with their little dog. They love cooking together and hanging out with friends. They don’t have a lot of extra money, but they can afford to live comfortable and take vacations during the summer.
Who do you think is happier? Who stays awake at night stressed about work and dreading the alarm clock?
Now, here’s the million-dollar-question: which one sounds more like you?