“Having Money Is Bad”, and Other Debt-Enhancing Myths

Google quotations about wealth and the following phrases pop up:

  • Where wealth accumulates, men decay. –Oliver Goldsmith
  • Much wealth brings many enemies. –Swahili proverb
  • Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. –Epictetus

Attitudes that decry the wealthy and laud the poor are pervasive in today’s society, but are they necessary?

In graduate school, I was surrounded by kids from well-to-do families. I saw my fellow students get their six-figure graduate degrees paid for by their parents, and receive $100,000 plus to make their thesis or first feature film. They lived comfortably, and upon graduating, they moved into better apartments (in New York) or houses (in LA) where they focused on gaining work experience. I later learned this was not at all uncommon.

My friends and I were not so privileged. In our frustration with the rich kids, we would create the following narratives about them:

  • She might have money, but she has nothing to say creatively.
  • He can’t write a good script because he’s been sheltered by money his whole life, and he knows it.
  • She might be getting work in New York, but it’s just because her parents are paying for her entire life.
  • The only reason that film went to Sundance was because his family made a huge donation.  

It took moving to Singapore, landing a job in a hedge fund, and being surrounded by millionaires to realize this was a narrative that wasn’t helping me. Why? By convincing myself that everyone with money was untalented, unhappy, “just” lucky, and out to take advantage of others, I was forced to accept the reverse as well:

  • I would never be able to live comfortably and focus on my creative career.
  • I would not be able to make films nor take them to film festivals to help establish my name in the industry.
  • Rich people get ahead by luck and manipulation of others; thus, because I have no luck and am not willing to use people, I will not get ahead.

In other words, if I was never part of my money problem, I could not be part of the solution either.

Before I worked in finance, I saw the world in very black-and-white terms, the haves and the have-nots. I was a have-not and unconsciously believed I would stay there. Of course I never would have said this aloud, but I did things a lot of rich people don’t do: stayed in and continued going into extreme debt, worked for free, surrounded myself with other financially challenged folks, lived in a shitty apartment with shitty people, and constantly talked about what a bad situation I was in. By the experience of being surrounded by millionaires in a work setting, my narrative slowly shifted:

  • Many people are rich, and I can be too.
  • Many people work in the industry they are in to have the freedom eventually to do something else while they’re still relatively young, and I can as well.
  • There is nothing wrong with reinvesting some of the money you make into yourself.
  • Comfort makes one a happier, more generous, relaxed person.
  • If people already have money, good for them! Maybe I can learn something from them.

What stories do you tell yourself about people with money? What are some ways you could shift the old narrative?