🤯Unknown Unknowns #93 - The Money Hole and the Creativity Fountain
Why was I not satisfied? That was the question that drove me during my finance career. I had a job most people wanted and enough money to do anything I wanted (anything, not everything). Was I ungrateful? Were my expectations too high?
Most people ascribe this sense of unfulfillment to hedonic adaptation, that you quickly become accustomed to the amount of money you make.
But I don’t believe that’s the case. I had a need that could not be satisfied by money. But my focus on a successful career, while it gave me a target to aim at, also distracted me from realizing there are other needs.
The first hint was a study that emotional well-being increases with your salary until a certain point.
The second clue was the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy, that we have different needs to be met.
After reading this essay by Paul Millerd I began to form a theory. Maslow’s needs can be grouped into two realms, the D-Realm and the B-Realm.
I treated my whole life as the D-Realm. My job provided money for food, shelter, and clothing. Everything was seen through the lens of “lack.” And even when I didn’t lack, I prepared for lack. I made money in order to save money. Just in case, to fill any future lacks I might have.
Even hobbies and activities were to satisfy lacks. They filled the lack of fun. D-Realm needs are simple, but not easy, to solve - you just throw effort and money at them.
I was conditioned that the solution to any problem was to make more money.
When I finally realized I had B-Realm needs, I threw effort and money at them. I thought a meaningful life meant being the best person I could be so I tried to become more efficient and I tried to optimize everything. I searched for a meaningful job, in vain. But B-Realm needs can’t be satisfied like D-Realm needs. You can’t measure them and you can’t manage them.
I struggled to come up with a metaphor to explain the difference between B-Realm and D-Realm needs. You’re going to have to bear with this one because it’s the best I could come up with.
D-Realm needs are a hole to be filled. You can always attempt to throw more stuff down that hole. The effort can be measured - your salary, your savings, how big your house is.
B-Realms needs are like a fountain and filling the needs is like water flowing from that fountain. But forcing more water into the fountain breaks the fountain. The way to make the fountain work is by creating the right conditions and being patient.
The way to satisfy your B-Realm needs is by creating. By following Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, the right conditions are established for the fountain to start flowing. The important detail is that this effort cannot be measured. You can’t quantify how much Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose you have. It’s the feeling that’s unique to yourself and your circumstance.
The problem is that we are so used to solving D-Realm needs that we approach B-Realm needs in the same way. We try to make 📈 rather than opening ourselves to possibilities.
To extend the metaphor to the creator economy:
You can use the water from the B-Realm fountain to fill the D-Realm hole. But if you direct the water to the hole or try to make enough water come out to fill the hole, the fountain’s going to turn off. Whatever water falls into the hole, be grateful for. But you’ll have to find other ways to fill the rest of the hole.
I’m going to keep working on this metaphor, but TLDR - Stop trying to use money to satisfy your creative needs.
1️⃣ Benjamin Graham is the father of value investing, an early mentor to Warren Buffett.
Graham had enough money. What he didn’t have enough of was time. So he refused to invest more of his most valuable asset in the pursuit of riches. For Graham, investing was one interest among many. For Buffett, compounding capital for himself and his shareholders became his life’s mission. Which is why, unlike Graham, he never retired. Did he miss Graham’s message? Did he never find the meaning of ‘enough’?
If my metaphor didn’t make sense or you want a different perspective, here are two essays with similar themes.
2️⃣ Justin Murphy stopped being obsessively concerned about money.
So why was I finding more success when I was disregarding money? The reason is that genuine, passionate, creative, and soulful work really does rise to the top. But to produce that work consistently, you need to be relaxed, confident, joyful, and generous. And optimizing for money prohibits all of these creative virtues. It makes you tense, fearful, stressed, and selfish.
3️⃣ Lawrence Yeo writes about the four parameters that guide every person’s life.
Much of the time, our minds occupy the Money-Receptive zone. We have to eat everyday and have a place to sleep to ensure the maintenance of our health, all of which require money. We spend much of our days working on something that culminates in a financial result that allows for freedom in attention. When it comes to the way we spend a majority of our days, we require money as the fuel to keep the engine running.
But when it comes to the question of why we’re doing all this, the interesting thing is that neither the Health nor Freedom levers can answer it. What are we staying healthy for? What is the texture of freedom we’re chasing? Why does all this matter in the first place?
Quote of the Week:
“You're doing the thing everyone does at the beginning of a solo path — you're looking to be saved. No company, no other person's playbook, or metric of success will save you. The only thing that matters is coming back to the thing you are meant to do. You must do it on your terms. Men waste years trying to avoid this.” -
Sometimes it’s important to ask what side you’re on. Are we the Baddies?
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
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Leaving you in peace,