There’s an old Chinese proverb I really like that goes like this: “The wise man invests in himself. The foolish man invests in all around him…”. The older you get, the more you’ll see the truth in that statement. I recognized the truth early, while working at the insurance factory. You can make a nice living there, and many people do. I rubbed elbows with some very wealthy people, but also many who failed to realize what I found obvious – they were building a house of cards. This is an important lesson, so please – let me explain.
For most of these folks, an absurd amount of importance was placed on appearance – but not as most of us see it. No, these people wore all the latest fashions, drove the most expensive cars and some lived in borderline mansions. In some cases, these trapping were worth literally millions of dollars, perhaps more. And yet, those clothes, expensive toys and other trappings were worn by people with 10 cent bodies. It always blew my mind how some of the women would cover every inch of themselves in expensive clothes, jewelry and hair, nail and teeth treatments – costing God know how much, Yet they’d be 20, 30 sometimes 50lbs overweight. Had they just lost that extra baggage by eating better and exercising, they’d look like a million bucks without all that other stuff.
The men generally didn’t go to that extreme with physical appearance, but rather had lots of “stuff” to advertise their success. They drove BMW’s or Audi’s, and let you know they had a summer car too. Oh and a summer house. Sometimes a boat. Many of them bragged about their latest stock picks, telling me about how they invested in some IPO that had tripled (or more) in value in just a few months time. What I never heard about were their investments that dropped by half or more, or even went belly up. Funny thing, you ALWAYS hear about people’s winners – never their losers. Apparently these guys could do what professional money managers with entire teams of people, reams of data and computer algorithms could not – consistently beat the market. RIGHT.
Same deal as the women, many of these guys were overweight and showing all the signs of insulin resistance. What you can’t see is the heart disease, much higher likelihood of cancer and other things that go along with that. Like stress. Investing in all around you is expensive, which means big bills to pay. Almost none of it was paid for BTW, meaning most of it was on credit. They were paying ridiculous amounts of interest on these purchases, and with that comes a LOT of stress. I know because I saw for myself what happened when many of them lost their jobs during the great recession. Picture having monthly bills of $5, $10,000 or more and suddenly no paycheck. Then your your wife walks out on you… The divorce attorney’s don’t come cheap. Classic example of another favorite saying of mine.
“You only know who’s swimming naked, when the tide goes out…”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against having nice things. Most of these people worked extremely hard for that money, and splurging here and there wasn’t the problem. It was the constant need to keep up with the Jones’s that kill them. When a nice car wasn’t enough they needed 2. Same deal with homes. If they bought a boat it wasn’t long before they needed a bigger one. So for 20 years, I watched these people seek happiness by investing in everything around them.
They never found it.
I can also tell you that I’ve seen the end game for some of these men, meaning the nursing home. It’s a humbling place for these guys, because at $400 or more/day (average in CT) it strips them of their wealth and fast. To add to the indignity, that $400/day rate only gets you a semi-private room. So the very things that defined them…. Quickly disappeared. The only saving grace in that was that most of these guys now had something a lot more important to worry about – their health. Unlike their expensive toys however, no amount of money they had was going to buy that back. It was too late, because they never invested in themselves.
No matter how it may appear otherwise, investing in yourself is the SMARTEST investment you’ll ever make.