Yes, I have borrowed the title of this chapter from Tony Robbins’ book. Mr. Robbins is right because the way money is created, handled, distributed, saved, and invested in this world is, to a great extent, no more than a game. A big game that is not particularly entertaining or easy to play for most people on the globe.
We know the financial game and its rules can be improved, but before we are able to accomplish that with any degree of success, we do need to upgrade our internal game in relation to money, our relationship with it. Otherwise, our economic laws and financial regulations will continue to reflect a fear-based paradigm that promotes scarcity and inequality (download a visual here).
“Almost nobody is indifferent to the word ´money´.” Robert Kiyosaki, author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad.
MY MONEY STORY – FROM RAGS TO MORE RAGS
My parents never argued about money in front of us (even though things were tight at times) and we knew that, for the most part, we could get the toys and games we really wanted at our birthday or Christmas, which made it very special getting them. If I have one complaint though, is that being my sister a year older than me I had to “inherit” a lot of her staff. I remember one time when my mother was trying to convince me to wear pink pajamas. – Enough is enough – I said, demanding an upgrade to the fireman or policeman model (which thankfully I got soon after that).
I grew up clueless about the intricacies and the struggles that most adults have to face in regards to money. Teenagers in Europe do not need to buy a car at 16 or work part-time flipping burgers during high school to pay for gas. Thus, our money-managing skills start to develop a bit later when we decide to do the “Interrail” or travel to other countries in search of fun at youth hostels. That, coupled with my own personality, made me totally uninterested in the topic of money for a long time.
Then, without warning, I had a rude awakening. After a lengthy and arduous educational experience that was supposed to prepare me to enter the “real world” successfully, I quickly realized that I was at the mercy of “market conditions” regardless of all the A´s on my report card. The things that I had taken for granted were not there for me anymore, and getting a j.o.b. (just over broke) felt more like a lucky strike than a logical consequence of excellent academic achievement and readiness. I depended on those darn euros for everything, and I was not even in control of the ultimate asset: time. For someone with a deep desire for independence and freedom that was a big problem…Finally, I was starting to understand those adults that always told me that being a professional student is the best job.
Alright, “I just need to find an occupation that will allow me to pursue my true passion like Steve Jobs and all those guys out there recommend” – I thought -. But, what in the world was my passion? Although I loved my college education in the environmental field, I did not have a clear idea of the kind of work I would like to do day in and day out.
After a few odd jobs in education, I decided to spend the summer with Jessica, my American girlfriend. I was twenty-six and my English was decent, but not that great (I often laughed at jokes I did not quite understand, so you get an idea). My brain seemed exhausted at the end of each day from learning new words and getting acquainted with my new world. A few months later we got married and I started to understand one of the main pillars of the American culture: money, money, money.
WEALTH AND SUCCESS
It was just another day in your typical suburban neighborhood when I decided to pick up the mail. There I found something that really peeked my interest. It was a card with a guy that sported a very serious face and an intimidating hairdo. The card said something like: Learn Real Estate the Trump Way. Who is this Donald Trump? And what is real estate? A quick search on the internet taught me about liens, foreclosures, and Trump´s golden apartment in New York.
There was going to be a free seminar where I could learn to be “Financially Independent”, my “own boss”, and finally have “freedom”…I remember that very moment quite well. I decided right then and there that it was time for me to start learning about money. Pursuing my passion the Steve Job´s way sounded good but I needed to be more practical and earn my freedom (something that this society was not willing to give me without a price).
I went from disliking most rich people to be aware for the first time that many of them had worked really hard, taken risks, and got up over and over to create something (whether good or bad) to sell and thus make money. I started to admire their skills and wanted to learn “the game”, not to rake in a huge fortune, as I already knew that money by itself does not make you happy, but simply to become a human being in full control of his own life. I wanted to become financially independent because, let´s be honest, you can have a fulfilling life, a rewarding job, and a free mind, but until you need to keep working in order to put food on the table you are not completely free since you do not have control over your time. The land of the free? Mmmhhh.
The next few years I tried to learn everything I could about money, from real estate with “nothing down” to persuasion marketing, affiliate sites, multilevel companies, asset protection, the stock market…you name it. I invested thousands of dollars in overpriced seminars, read many of the classic books on the subject, along with plenty of reports with the “hottest” technique to make huge returns on all kinds of things. What a complicated, out-of-touch with reality, and full-of-half-lies that world is.
But I was determined to be “successful.” So I applied myself, kept focused, fell and got up a few times, took “massive action”, visualized dollar bills on my ceiling…and convinced my wife of a couple of risky moves (ouch!). Finally, I got myself few real estate investments. I had a “portfolio” and was on my way! But, since I had acquired those buildings in a bit of a rush (I was too eager and fearful of missing out all the time) my due diligence was not very thorough, and my management skills were poor, it turned out I had a portfolio of “dogs” (investments that bark a lot).
Those days were very stressful. Real estate and making money just for the sake of it was not my thing…I had deviated from Steve Job´s advice and I was paying (literally) the price. I almost filed bankruptcy to get rid of certain debts (I entertained it since it was an exit strategy of the “game” and Mr. Trump himself had done it, right?).
I had my “why” (to be truly free and independent) so, what could have possibly gone wrong? My life was a mean to an end. I was not using my real strengths or living my passion. So, finally, I made a smart move: I gave up trying to make money quickly and resign myself to be in the “rat race.” I went back to my roots, to the things that I knew I was naturally good at. I got involved in education again and, as a bonus, we made really good money buying and selling a home for a relocation.
During all those years, I learned many lessons and came to solidify my view about what a truly prosperous and cooperative society really is. But before we dwell in detail about that, let me get out of the way few things because if there is one touchy and controversial topic that is money.
Truth 1: money is not the root of all evil. Money is just a representation of energy, and energy is neutral. However, the current economic system that employs this money, the “game” as we could call it, is flagrantly unfair and inefficient. Money is not good or bad, what is evil is the dependence on it to survive and the structural violence that comes with it.
Truth 2: a cooperative economy is not a “Robin Hood” economy. We have tried that already and it has not worked. It is not a “survival of the fittest” either, because that is not working for most. It is an economy for the benefit of both the individual and the community.
Truth 3: you guys, the rich, the millionaire club, the successful business owners and accredited investors… You are awesome. You have fought hard and have learned to “fish”, to play the game. You and all of your assets rock. Perhaps you have created a product or service that has a positive impact in the world, or have passive income from owning 100 one-dollar stores full of plastic plus 50 junk-food drive-thrus. In either case, you have done what you were supposed to do in the competitive paradigm, so no judgment here (I tried myself and I failed). But now it is the time to put your strengths to work for a bigger and better project. It is time to stop hiding in your castle and go from simply accumulating and diversifying to letting the money flow, not rain, but flow. You may think that this is already a just world with equal opportunity for all and that if somebody really wants something he or she can get it. Deep down you know that this argument is only a half-truth, and should not be used to justify the inequality and misery of the many, because even the lazy and not-so-capable do not deserve to be constantly worried and concerned about the basic things we need in life (and yes, in the XXI, that includes having a smartphone and many other things that your savvy marketing makes us believe we need). I am appealing to your heart, not your brain, to open to this possibility.
Truth 4: you guys, the poor or struggling middle class. You rock too. You also know discipline and effort as you have two not-so-well paid jobs, no cleaning service and a high-interest rate in your mortgage because your credit is poor. I imagine you always tried your best given your circumstances, education, and opportunities. Do me a favor. Stop worshiping the rich and wealthy just because they have money. They are not superhuman nor better than you. Do you know how they make their money? You would be surprised in some cases how much they make without much effort or risk using leverage. It is out of proportion how much some have and how little others enjoy. But let´s be clear, we all deserve to get a head start and not work so hard (especially at minimum wage). I hope you agree, and by the way, thanks for keeping things moving. If it was not for you, stores would not have clerks or customers, delivery trucks not drivers, and business owners, not secretaries. I guess the “job creators” would have a hard time creating anything. We have always been working together; now we just need to keep doing the same but implement smarter rules for the game.
The current state of affairs is one of mind-blowing inequalities in wealth and material opportunities not just between citizens from different countries, but among people that live only a few miles apart.
Take Barbara´s example. She is an intelligent and diligent woman that works at a hotel serving tables, but since that is not enough to cover her monthly rent and expenses she also has a second job at a nursing home. She is lucky to not have children, any debt or health issues as that would throw her to an almost never-ending spiral of debt and stress (just to make ends meet). Barbara belongs to the “working poor”, low-wage workers that constantly struggle to deal with rising rents and costs. Employers, on the other hand, fight hard to lower expenses (including wages) by outsourcing as much work as possible to computers, self-operated machines and low-cost freelances around the globe. If they don´t, they will not prosper either in an ever-increasing competitive market and, if they have to shut down, both owners and employees will suffer.
As technology improves, unemployment is only bound to keep rising (technological unemployment) while wages will never outpace inflation due to the scarcity-driven market (let´s produce this good or service for less than our competition). Because of this, it is very difficult for some segments of our society to leave the “rat race” despite what all the books written by financial gurus may say; it is not impossible, I know, but certainly not easy, and thus, the wealth gap keeps increasing. Thankfully for Barbara, the best-selling author of “Nickel and Dimed”, hers was just a self-imposed temporary experiment to gain insight into the “no-successful” class in America and their way of living.
Mark Reid, conversely, is a successful online entrepreneur, author, public speaker, angel investor, twitter connoisseur, surfer and lately he is also a real estate guru. Rumor has it that he occasionally hangs out with Tai Lopez, and has been seen in few selfies with Tim Ferris. He´s made it and he knows it. His oversized house and collection of cool cars are there to prove it. When regularly asked on interviews about his success, he does not hesitate to affirm that it came after hard work, learning from his mistakes, and refining the art and science of marketing.
He puts it in few words, “the secret sauce is hustle, hustle, hustle… and selling.“ If it was easy – he adds – everybody would do it. No doubt Mr. Reid is a straight shooter. Unfortunately, following this model, many will get sick trying, break apart their family or live eternally for the evasive success in the future. But some will make it and will come back to tell us their stories of perseverance and discipline in the grind, making us believe that we, too, could one day become successful, rich, and sexy.
The stark contrast between these two individuals is not only expected but promoted in the conventional (competitive) ethic: to have winners we need losers, to achieve “success” you have to hustle and pay your “dues.” At least that is how Frank Jansen, a typical old-school investor, and businessman thinks. Frank regularly meets with “the boys” at the golf course, where they often discuss new strategies to make money work harder for them. The investment ideas, business shortcuts, and inside information shared in those meetings would surprise most of us. Sadly, they are not interested in improving the rules of the game to create abundance for all; but in keeping it the way it is, and master it. And, since it is the way it has always been, there is no moral dichotomy because it is literally business-as-usual.