Real Wealth Is Not About Money

Real wealth is not about money
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This April, our family got some devastating news.

We had just returned from a wedding in Florida when we got the call.

My father-in-law, an otherwise healthy man in his 60’s who had just retired this past year, was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

As this kind of news tends to do, it came as a complete shock, and kicked off four of the tensest, most emotional months of our lives.

Treatment was intense and full of uncertainty.

Over those four months, he made frequent trips to Boston, back and forth for investigation and now immunotherapy.

We’re all unspeakably grateful that the story took a positive turn; the drugs are working. 

While he’ll never be 100% cancer-free, this is a huge win, as we had no idea what the outcome would be, and it hadn’t been looking good.

He continues to go to Boston for treatment every few weeks, has made big lifestyle changes and, perhaps the most apparent change to all of us, has been thinking about life and priorities a lot differently.

Over dozens of sleepless nights and painful conversations with family, the experience reminded all of us — my father-in-law included — just how much in our lives is more important than the money we’re all expected to go to work every day to earn.

Last week, just a few months after my father-in-law’s scare, I was having lunch with another entrepreneur.

The topic of goals came up. He’s already successful, so I was surprised to learn that he still had “a number” that he needed to hit in order to feel wealthy.

That conversation inspired me to write this post.

First … I get it

I can’t write this article without addressing the elephant in the room.

Yes, I write it from a privileged position.

I’ve been fortunate in my career, and I don’t really have to worry about money.

I don’t have what most in tech would consider a massive fortune, but I generally don’t need to be concerned about my next mortgage payment or whether my kids will be able to afford college.

And there’s definitely a level of financial comfort that’s part of feeling wealthy. 

But having been on both sides of the financial spectrum, I can confidently say that there are two important catches to this assumption: 

  1. You probably need less than you think (becoming a millionaire doesn’t suddenly make you feel wealthy).
  2. You need a whole lot more than money to be wealthy.

What being wealthy really is

So if being wealthy isn’t about money, then what is it?

It’s important to think about your own definition (so you can set your sights on the right target), but here’s what wealth means to me:

1. Not being insecure about having enough.

In Ryan Holiday’s excellent latest book, Stillness Is The Key, he shares a story about a conversation that authors Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller had at a glamorous party in a billionaire’s mansion:

Vonnegut began to needle his friend. He described the exchange in a poem published in the New Yorker in 2005:

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel Catch-22 has earned in its entire history?”

And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.” 

And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?” 

And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

2. Doing work you love with an amazing team.

Because we’re not chasing unicorn status, we don’t have to worry about “blitz-scaling” our team, and can keep it small and lean, which means we can be very picky about who we work with and what we work on.

Because of that, we have a hyper-efficient team that does a lot of work with limited resources, and has a competitive spirit despite having primary goals other than revenue.

Our core values represent the kind of behavior that aligns with this work:

  • Own your shit
  • Be real
  • No waste
  • Relentlessly value driven
  • Always be groovy

I’ll share more on these in a future post, but the feeling of wealth that comes from working this way is about more than just people and values; it’s about having processes and behaviors that align with purpose-driven goals, not cash-driven ones.

3. Giving your family time and love.

If all I were chasing were money, I wouldn’t be able to leave my office at 5PM.

And I wouldn’t be able to spend every evening with my wife, kids and dog. 

Last weekend, my family celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, a luxury only 6% of couples get to enjoy.

Coincidentally, many of the toasts were about how wealthy our family is. Specifically, the best kind of wealth; not financially wealthy, but rich in love and people who we care about.

This priority was instilled in us early by my parents, and nothing would make me feel poorer than losing that precious time with my family.

4. Not having to work with assholes.

There’s no amount of money that makes it worthwhile to work with people who make you cringe when you see their name in your inbox.

Having the option to do this doesn’t take millions; working with people I enjoy has always made me feel rich (and I’ve always felt richer when I cut ties with an asshole).

5. Not feeling like you need to say yes to things.

You and I have the same number of hours in each day.

Every time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else you could be doing with that time.

Being able to own your time and say “no” to things that you don’t want to do is a mark of real wealth.

6. Taking a run at lunchtime.

Being able to take care of yourself and your (physical and mental) health is something we can all benefit from.

Carve out 30 minutes a day, and you’ll build wealth that compounds for the rest of your life.

7. Freedom from “needing” to build a unicorn.

A singular focus on money means that the logical approach for every business is to pursue “unicorn” status. 

Realizing that there are things more important than money frees you from the constant pressure of feeling like you’re not doing enough, not growing enough and not aiming high enough.

8. Taking a vacation without stress.

I recently took a vacation, and every single day on the beach not too far from where I sat with my family, I would see people on their laptops and taking work calls.

This is not a rich life, no matter how much they’re getting paid to dial in from vacation.

9. Being able to set your own priorities and decide what’s important to you.

Ultimately, wealth is about having the options you want.

Not the options that society, the tech community, your peers or anyone else want you to have; but the ones that inspire you and fill you with a sense of purpose about what you’re doing with your life.

Money can buy some of that optionality. But it doesn’t take much, and assuming that more will make you richer is one of the most dangerous untruths in our world.

Letting go doesn’t mean giving up

Letting go of society’s traditional definition of rich doesn’t mean giving up on goals, or “winning”, whatever that means to you.

On the contrary, this new definition of rich empowers you with the freedom to decide what’s important, so that you can set the right goals and focus all of your energy on chasing them.

Not chasing money doesn’t mean that our team doesn’t work hard to grow our business. 

On the contrary, we’re extremely results-oriented.

But we’re doing it for reasons other than more money.

We’re doing it because we want to win our market, build the best possible product of its kind on the planet and help millions of small growing businesses.

If this article has succeeded in helping you think about wealth in a different way, I wish you all the best in pursuing whatever that wealth means to you.

I’d love to know: how do you define wealth? Let me know in the comments, I’m eager to learn from you.

Alex Turnbull
Alex Turnbull Alex is the CEO & Founder of Groove. He loves to help other entrepreneurs build startups by sharing his own experiences from the trenches.