I recently had the pleasure of spending a day on the beach with two childhood friends, Dan and Mark. After catching each other up on our journeys since our last interaction, we began talking of our current place in life and general plans for the future. Dan nonchalantly made a simple statement…”True wealth is maintaining (or enhancing) our freedom to choose.” Though we were speaking in terms of the housing market and the number of people upside-down on their house because of poor decision making, I gave much thought to that point during my drive home that day and saw many applications across the spectrum of life.

How many of us can truly…

…choose to move out of the area?
…choose to take a new job?
…choose to start a new career?
…choose to get a new (insert material liability here)?

As we bobbed up and down in the waves, Mark shared his experiences of protecting his wealth (freedom of choice). A few years ago Mark was a lawyer and on the brink of partnership when he left the firm to avoid “the golden handcuffs.” He then explored various business opportunities before adding an MBA to his already storied academic resume. Upon graduation, he went to Wall Street in pursuit of monetary wealth and he was well on his way. It took only a year for him to realize what he was giving up in pursuit of riches. He saw the empty lives of his extremely wealthy peers and mentors and decided to leave. He moved on for all of the right reasons and is one of the wealthiest people I know (again, in terms of choices).

It strikes me odd that so many of us measure wealth in a monetary sense and as we pursue our collection of material liabilities (a large mortgage is the ultimate liability disguised as an asset), we give up our true wealth. Trapped in a location we might not like, doing a job for which we have no passion, so we can add to our pile of liabilities as we live a cookie cutter life, I am reminded of the theme song for the television show “Weeds,” entitled “Little Boxes.”

Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers, and business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

A thoughtful comment by a reader on one of my previous blog posts simply stated, “…everything we do is a choice, so many colleagues forget this, and when they are faced with ultimatums they forget it was a dozen choices already made that made this most recent one seem so hopeless.” So, be mindful that the decisions we make today have cascading effects that will determine our future true wealth, our ability to choose.

Mark and Dan, thanks for giving me much to think about. You are both even wiser and wealthier than I remember.

  • How free are you?
  • Is your life made of ticky tacky?
  • What choices are you making?