My friend asked me what I would do with a million dollars. I gave the usual answers someone does, I guess: Pay off my debts, tour the world in style, buy all the things I thought I could not afford. She listened patiently, but I could tell she was getting ready to counter-attack as soon as I finished.
“So, you would do things if you had a million dollars? What would you do that would require that much money?”
“I’d quit work and travel,” I said.
“Why do you need a million dollars for that?” This from a woman who once agreed to be a hand on a sailboat crossing the Atlantic with a family who’d left it all to travel the world by boat.
“I’d drink fine wines and eat only the best foods,” I added. She responded: “You haven’t been able to do that yet because you didn’t have a million dollars?” Well, yes, I have. My job has introduced me to some of the most exotic and expensive foods that I have gotten to play with and that others had to pay for. I have met people with extensive wine collections and drank a special Grand Marnier that is custom blended for this guy. I’ve sucked 100 year old Maderia out of the navel of a naked girl and licked it off her legs. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had I made with my own hands.
I say I’d get a nice house with lots of land and she asks me if that would make me happy. I say yes because I could grow a big garden. She asks me how much the vacant property at the entrance to my subdivision is, the one that has been setting vacant and unsold for six years. I tell her I don’t know and she bets me it’s not a million dollars. If that was what I really wanted I should look into the cost and figure out how I could make it happen.
We go back and forth with her swatting down every reason I would have for needing a million dollars. What I’m after, she tells me, is not an income, but a lifestyle. If I had everything a million dollars could buy, but didn’t have to spend a million dollars to get it, wouldn’t that be just as good? There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with her argument, but I cannot figure out what. I argue that I could give to charity and she answers that I could give to charity right now by being more active since what charities really need is bodies to make things happen. I say I might like a luxury yacht to sail around in. She reminds me that both of my grandfather’s were fisherman and owned their own boats, and how valuable it was to ride out with them during summer vacations to fish in isolated coves and islands. Maybe I’d host a big party that lots of people could come to. A dismissive wave of the hand; the Korean church down the street has 300 people having dinner on the grounds once a month. Are they millionaires? And why would I have a party for hundred’s of people anyway when I enjoy intimate dinner parties much more?
We kick it around in a circle and keep coming back to the fact that chasing a million dollars to fund a lifestyle is kind of a waste of time. With a little thought I can already identify “million dollar” experiences I’ve had that certainly didn’t cost me that much. I’ve been skiing in the Swiss Alps and the Canadian Rockies, wandered the ruins of Rome and wonders of the Vatican. I’ve had a personal audience with the Pope and the Dali Lama (albeit in the company of several hundred people); I traveled to Las Vegas, Hawaii, Italy and Puerto Rico on someone else’s dime, stayed at a top resort in Mt Tremblant because rates were a steal due to a labor strike; I’ve gotten guided tours of unseen Washington DC and Disney Underground, and gained thousands of dollars-worth of free admittance to Disney, Busch Gardens, Universal, and other parks due to friends, perks, giveaways, and girlfriends. I’ve seen two U.S. presidents and met four state governors. I’ve cooked dinner for famous celebrities (sorry, can’t spill names) and homeless women and children. I went to New Orleans after Katrina and transported women out of a flooded shelter and to a new life. I’ve been in the secret vampire undergroud in New Orleans and danced with a coven of witches in Salem. I’ve been to the Salt Lake Temple in Utah, the La Brea Tar Pits in LA, Mt. Rushmore, and the Smithsonian. I’ve slept in luxury suites at no cost and in my car at truck stops because I had no money. I’ve been a nanny, a carpenter, a dance instructor, a graphic artist, a video entrepreneur and a chef. I’ve piloted a glider at 5,000 feet, a kayak through river rapids, and a 4X4 down a South Dakota Badlands ravine (seemed like a good idea at the time). I’ve been to solemn churches and wild raves where everyone took off their clothes and spewed champagne on one another. I saw all the great rock bands when tickets were only $12-$25. I’ve camped out on an island, slept in an igloo, made love in a sweat-lodge, had drinks with circus-folk, and run the world’s largest 10K race seven years in a row.
All this and more my friend Lana made me write down. I spare this post anymore details that make me sound like a Dos Equis spokesperson but I wanted to remind myself that none of that took a million dollars or celebrity status. I get frustrated for the things I think I don’t have without appreciating the things I’ve already gotten, and without realizing that those adventures and experiences didn’t come with a huge price tag. Nothing has to come with a huge financial price tag; when she was 22 Lana lived in and explored Thailand, motor biking and taking the bus to temples and ruins and beautiful beaches while she worked as a nanny for an American family. She went to Russia on a student exchange program even though she was not a student and spent days wandering Moscow. She led horseback riding tours in Costa Rica not because she was an experienced rider but because her English made tourists comfortable and she was willing to trade most of her salary for free food and a place to sleep. She managed a bed and breakfast in the Carolinas for a winter while the owners took a holiday. There were no guests, so she basically just maintained the place and answered the phone, and in exchange she got a fat salary, a free place to stay, free food, and every night she would light the fireplace and spend hours reading and teaching herself Portugese. In the spring she went to Brazil with just her cash and her knapsack.
Hers is a vagabond lifestyle which is cool to hear about, but I’m sure I could not follow these days. Not that I have to. I still think having a wealth of cash would be nice and make things like traveling and adventuring a bit easier. A willingness to be creative, inventive, resourceful and fearless can take me more places than a million dollars. Much, much, much more valuable is my time. There is an endless ocean of money out there but only so much time. There are already some valuable things I have that money cannot buy. Should I spend my days worrying and fussing over how to get the money to support the lifestyle I think I want, or should I better use my days being smart and realizing that a far greater asset than my wallet is my brain, my heart and my creativity?