Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part Three:

The Myth of Money, Fame, and Power

What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.


Money, fame, and power--for their own sake--all spell one thing: glamour.

Glamour is one of the biggest traps in life. It is a sweet, sticky snare, like the petals of a Venus-flytrap. "Come to me," it beckons; "all happiness lies within."

What lies there are lies. The allure of glamour all rests on the myth we discussed earlier--that someone or something outside us can make us happy; that we are somehow incomplete without certain externals; and that if we have enough externals, we will never be unhappy again.

"You don't seem to realize that a poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy," explained Jean Kerr, "because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help."

Money, fame, and power, as intentions, are deadly. People pursue them, get them, and are not happy (in fact, are usually more unhappy). Then they decide, "This must not be enough. I need more; then I'll be happy." So they set their sights higher, get more of what didn't make them happy in the first place, and are unhappier still.

As with any addictive substance, by now they're hooked. Life becomes the relentless pursuit of more! More! MORE!

Am I saying money, fame, and power are intrinsically evil? No. They have their place. They are tools--methods for obtaining goals. As goals themselves, however, they are nothing. Less than nothing. Distractions at best; addictions at worst.

Pleasure is a shadow, wealth is vanity, and power is a pageant; but knowledge is ecstatic in enjoyment, perennial in frame, unlimited in space and infinite in duration.


Take money, for example. Let's say I'm hungry and I don't have any money. I think, "If I only had money, I could eat. I want some money. I'm hungry and I want some money." So, someone says he'll give me all the money I could want, and locks me in a warehouse with one billion dollars in cash. Now what? Am I still hungry? Yes. Do I have lots of money? Yes. Perhaps a few lower forms of life that thrive on paper and ink could find nourishment, but within a few weeks I would probably trade the whole pile for a hamburger.

That's what it's like to go after money for money's sake. You get the money, and then what? "I'd see the world." Then make seeing the world your goal. If money is the necessary method for doing that, fine. It will come. There could, however, be other methods. You could, for example, meet someone who wants to hire a traveling companion; then you could get paid to see the world.

"I've had an exciting life," Rose Kennedy wrote. "I married for love and got a little money along with it." That's another method. Of course, do marry for love. Remember the old saying, "The one who marries for money, earns it."

"Money won't buy happiness," Bill Vaughan said, "but it will pay the salaries of a huge research staff to study the problem."

Some people who want to write a book wonder how to get the money to buy a word processor. When I point out to them that several very fine books were written before the advent of computers, they usually frown and say, "You don't understand."

I do understand. I was writing books back when the cheapest computer cost a million dollars. Did I wait to get a million dollars before writing? No. I wrote with the "word processor" at hand--a pen. Shakespeare didn't even have that. He used a quill.

Many people use money as the rational lie for not doing something they want to do. It sounds so good: "As soon as I get all the money I need to _____________, I'll be living my dream!" Other people listening to these excuses believe them, because they, too, have their collection of rational lies. It's a conspiracy: I won't challenge your rational lies if you don't challenge mine.

I don't know much about being a millionaire, but I'll bet I'd be darling at it.


"When you do what you love, the money follows," is probably a phrase you've heard before. It's true, but incomplete. The complete statement is, "When you do what you love, the necessary money will follow." The money that's needed to fulfill your goal will appear, in the proper timing, as you prove yourself worthy of that goal (that is, as you do the work necessary to fulfill that goal). What will not appear is all the money that would make everything all comfortable and cozy to do what you love at precisely the moment you want to do it.

If you want to write a book, you may, for a start, have enough money to buy a pencil, a notebook, and be given fifteen free minutes each day. If you use the fifteen minutes each day writing, when you fill the notebook, you will have enough money for another notebook and be given thirty minutes a day. And so on. Eventually, you'll have a book. What will the person who's waiting for a computer before even beginning to write have? Waiting. And resentment.

To make the phrase "Do what you love and the necessary money will follow" even more accurate: "Do what you love, and the necessary resources will follow."

In some cases, the resource will be money. In other cases, it will be time. It might be information, tools, connections, opportunities. Another word for resources, of course, is methods.

It's the same with fame: Fame itself is a hollow goal, but if fame is the natural result of doing what you love to do, then so be it. Most famous people consider fame a burden. The "burden of fame" is something of a joke, of course. "A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known," said Fred Allen, "then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized."

Imagine not being able to go anywhere without being mobbed. It may sound nice, and for a time it might be fun, but, after a while, you'd probably agree with Lewis Grizzard: "Being a newspaper columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac. It's great for the first two weeks."

Fame is only good for one thing--they will cash your check in a small town.


"If I were famous," some not-famous people say, "I'd get on TV and raise money to feed the homeless." A double-glamour whammy! Fame to get money to get something done. To someone saying this, I suggest: If feeding the homeless is your calling, go out and feed one homeless person now. Tomorrow, feed two. Keep it up. Maybe you'll become famous for that. If so, use it as a tool. If not, at least you'll be fulfilling your dream. As Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things--only small things with great love."

You can easily see how power baits the glamour trap. What's the point of power if you don't use it for something? Nothing. So, what is the something you would do if you had the power? Then go do that now.

"Do the thing and you will have the Power," Emerson wrote.

No, your action may not be as grand, sweeping, and dramatic as your imagination might conjure, but if you don't get satisfaction from doing it on a small scale, you won't get satisfaction doing it on a global scale. Nothing, multiplied by six billion, is still nothing.

The Myth of the 40-Hour Work Week

Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.


Most people think they "need" to work forty hours per week. For some, that's true. For others, it's sixty hours per week. For still others, eighty. (Ask any spouse whose "job" it is to care for the house, or creative person working on a project, or monk in a monastery, or social activist working for change). For some others, it might be five or ten.

Just as "the work expands to fill the time available," so, too, the "needs" expand to consume the money available. ("Expenditure rises to meet income." --C. Northcote Parkinson) If we are bringing home forty-hours' worth of money, we will spend it. As John Guare pointed out, "The rich live hand-to-mouth, too--just on a higher level." If that forty-hours' worth of work amounts to $150 or $1,500 or $15,000 or $150,000, or $1,500,000--it will be spent.

Many people are trapped in the myth of a 40-hour work week. If we define "job" as what we do that we don't really want to do to get money to do what we really want to do, then the number of hours we work depends upon (a) what it costs us to do what we want to do, and (b) how much per hour we get.

What about our basic needs? Good question. Basic needs are often dictated by what we want to do. For example, someone who wants to pray all day and serve God might be able to combine that with life in a monastery and not have to work for even one hour per week at the local fast-food emporium.

Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. It's cheaper.


People wanting to serve humanity could find the same all-expenses-paid fulfillment of a goal in the Peace Corps, or, if they wanted to do it domestically, in VISTA or AmeriCorps. The examples go on and on.

Our basic needs should be based on the fulfillment of our heart's desire, not on the latest style, or how to intensely fill the few "leisure" hours we have when not working at a job we hate.

To significantly raise your standard of living sometimes requires significantly lowering it for a while. Say you want to write a book, and you have a $25,000 car and a $2,000 per month apartment. You don't need those to write a book. A $5,000 car (or even a $500 moped) and a $500 per month apartment are all you need.

"Yes, but . . ."

Do I hear the comfort zone stirring?

People who plan to "make it" had better plan to sacrifice--and that starts with creature comforts. It might mean a smaller living space, bringing in a roommate, or turning the current living space into an office. Either way--discomfort, ho! It may mean fewer dinners out, fewer trips, fewer new clothes, not as many CDs, domestic wines, domestic sparkling water (aka club soda), domestic pasta, domestic vinegar--and no domestics.

Remember the New England maxim? "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Instead of doing without the comfort, many people do without their dreams.

One of the toughest things to sacrifice is the idea that we should be comfortable all the time. I said you would find satisfaction pursuing your dreams, not comfort. When we want all the creature comforts the Joneses have, we trade our time for those comforts--the time we spend making money at a job-- time we could be spending to live our dreams. Time is precious. It is given each day in equal measure to us all. What we do with that time determines what we achieve in our lives.

Only a fool would make the bed every day.



Also, let go of the myth that we only have one career, profession, marriage, religious belief, etc. per lifetime. Person after person (you may be one of them) has demonstrated that this is simply not true. Abandon, too, the deadly myth that there is a certain age at which it's too late to take new paths.

This is your life-- not a myth. Let your life be one that inspires myth making--don't make your life a slave to the myths of the past.

While you're saving your face, you're losing your ass.


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