Success Isn’t About Money, It’s About Peace

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Since leaving the corporate world behind 8 months ago, I’ve had a lot of time and space to think. While it’s pretty cool to wake up every morning and do what you want, reaching financial independence will inevitably cause you to go deeper into yourself. This can feel both freeing and jarring, but if you ride the waves of emotions you’ll find yourself growing and expanding in a ton of expected ways.

It can get lonely. Some days I miss the camaraderie of hanging out with my old team or clients, but I also can’t remember a time when I’ve slept better or felt more rested or calm. It took me a full 6 months to go through my corporate detox and recover from burnout, but now an immense clarity has been opening up to me. A clarity that could only come with more time and space.

I’ve been thinking a lot about success and what it means to me.

Between 2010-2015 I defined success as reaching financial independence, so I could have enough money to live on for the rest of my life. Between 2015-2017 I defined success as escaping from the corporate world and “retiring” early from the daily grind. From late 2017 to early 2018 success was to finish writing my book Financial Freedom, but now what?

The more I try to define it the more elusive it became. Then it hit me.

To me success isn’t about money, it’s about peace.

I just want to feel a peace. I want to feel calm and present. I want to feel alive. I want to feel at one with the world and myself. I don’t want to be shackled by worry about money or the future. I want to feel at ease. Like I’ve found my rhythm. Like I’m in the right place. That “peaceful easy feeling.”

I’ve thought a lot about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide over the past week. Here’s a guy who seemingly had everything – money, fame, the opportunity to get paid to travel the world. So why was he so unhappy?

After hearing about his death I started watching interviews with Anthony to try and see if I could spot something that was off, any hint in his words that he was truly unhappy. I came across this interview he did with Fast Company where he was asked what life advice he would give to younger people. The advice is pretty standard and what you would expect – take risks, don’t worry too much, explore, be open, be compassionate. But then later in the interview he talks about one of his worst nightmares is being in a room where everyone agrees with him. Where he’d be bored.

Success to Anthony Bourdain clearly meant having the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but in the end, freedom wasn’t enough, and in fact, freedom might have ended up boxing him in because he lost the challenge and the friction that made him so creative early on. He clearly had reached a level of success so many people dream of, but after he reached it where else did he have to go? Another season? Another episode? Another book? At some point even, an amazing job like getting paid to travel the world and eat food can probably feel like a routine. Here’s the full interview – it’s worth a watch.

Maybe Anthony lost his joy. Maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe he couldn’t find peace. It was well known that he spent over 200 days a year on the road and many of his friends in their tributes wondered if he spent so much time working because he was running from something. Who knows, but it does make you wonder. If he had peace would he have done what he did?

So what’s changed? Why is this happening? Why are so many people unhappy?

There are obviously many reasons and it will take years to further unravel what’s making us so unhappy, but I think it has a lot to do with what we think will make us happy or what we are told will make us happy, as well as how we define success.

We see how others live on Instagram and both consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves with others. It’s how our brains are wired.

Often when I use social media I feel anxious – why don’t I have as many Instagram followers as that blogger, or why didn’t people retweet this tweet? Why didn’t that follower who liked everything stop liking my posts? Should I be tweeting more? I’ve only tweeted 1,800 times in 3 years when many others have tweeted 30,000+ times.

It’s dumb, but I for some reason can’t help but feel it. It’s one of the reasons I took so long to even create an Instagram account – I really don’t like how anxious social media makes me, and clearly others feel. But I do enjoy seeing what all my homies are up to and occasionally engaging in the conversation. BTW you can follow me on Instagram here (it would make me happy though!).

I can’t imagine how 20-year olds, who spend an absolutely insane amount of time on social media, feel. But social media is clearly making them anxious and unhappy too. Like really unhappy. This past week a new study showed that depression rates in the United States are increasingly rapidly, especially amongst teens between 12 and 17 years old. The future generations are already stressed out and life certainly doesn’t get any easier.

People are also spending tons of money just to get the perfect Instagram shot. A recent report from Chase showed that 77% of millennials were willing to spend up to $137 for the perfect Instagram shot. 1 shot!

And this one woman went $10,000 into debt for the perfect Instagram shots. We want to look successful. We crave the outward appearance of it. Many of us believe that success is the next job promotion, or the $10,000 raise, or the new car, or the new house, or the trip around the world, of the perfect Instagram shot, or even financial independence.

We also spend so much time being busy. Busyness is truly an epidemic.

We live in a world where we chase success and the next emotional high of completing a project, or getting a promotion, or winning a new piece of business. It’s easy to be business and we think it makes us feel good, but in reality, we are often running after something external because it’s more difficult and more uncomfortable to go stop and go inside, to ask ourselves do we really want to be doing this.

It’s often only in moments when we are forced into reflection by confronting the death of someone we cared about or someone we admired, to think about if we are really living our best lives. Or if we really love our lives. It’s easy to snap back into a routine that makes us comfortable and be busy so we feel like we’ve accomplished something, but in reality, we confuse being busy with being alive.

On my own journey I’ve learned that success doesn’t come from money, or a promotion, or the next big project, or that new car. It doesn’t come from outside. It comes from within.

You need to live your own life, not someone else’s. If you measure yourself against anyone else or some external measurement you will always fall short (even when you make it). It will never be enough. You shouldn’t measure yourself against your friends, or an Instagram, any blogger, or anyone you see featured online. You should only measure yourself against you and you will change. You will grow and change many times in your life.

It’s often difficult to find peace because we are constantly changing. I’m a really different person than I was when I started my FI journey at 24. Like almost completely different. I meditate and enjoy doing yoga. I go to the ballet and enjoy bird watching (guess I’m becoming an old man at 33!). I enjoy staying in on a Saturday and listening to records or getting lost in a good book. Let yourself grow. Growing is living.

Happiness, peace, and joy all come from within

Pursuing financial independence is a lot of fun and it’s empowering to be able to say no to consumer culture and watch your net-worth grow. When I first discovered FI I felt like I stumbled on the “Truth” and there a reason I subtitled my book “A Proven Path,” because it’s a path that works. It worked for me and it’s working for more and more people.

But while the FI game is fun and if feels good to feel in control of your money, FI can also become a money addiction in another form. If you’re only about the numbers and the spreadsheet, or the next savings goal, you might miss the important stuff. The whole reason we’re saving in the first place. Money only matters if you live a life you love.

Instead of a number, a spreadsheet, a collection of things, a perfectly curated Instagram, or the next raise, consider measuring success by how peaceful you feel instead. It’s a lot more fulfilling.

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  • Comment Author image blank Debtfree10years says:

    This ties in a lot with Avicii’s suicide as well, a millennial at only 28 years old. Worked so hard it drove him to alcohol and eventually his breaking point. There were many instagram images of the party lifestyle and private jets etc but even to him it was shallow and meaningless. I’m happy with my 10 year old car, average stress free job and savings in the bank for a rainy day.

  • Comment Author image blank Jonathan says:

    Hi Grant,

    I couldn’t agree more! Success isn’t about the money; it’s about that feeling of freedom and that peace of mind that can’t be bought. Success is that moment when you wake up and know today is yours. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to and money will still be heading your way.

    I think that you advice on considering success by the level of peace you feel within is golden. If more of us would do it, the world would be so much happier and peaceful and we wouldn’t be running around like madmen just for another bill. We would choose wiser, according to our most important principle: the level of peace within. Wouldn’t that be something?

  • Comment Author image blank Bernz JP says:

    It took me over two months of adjusting to my new life after quitting my job and focus on working from home. And you’re right about people not finding peace because of constant changes in their lives. It’s all about contentment. Finding contentment is necessary to enjoy life to the fullest. Thanks for this life reminder post.

  • Comment Author image blank Kale says:

    Great article, it’s good to be cautious of social media. A lot of studies are coming out about the changes to mental health too much consumption can cause. It’s also constructed to be a time sucker that can greatly interfere with someone’s motivation and goals. I usually try and set a task timer which will let me know when to its time to log out, doesn’t always work but overall it’s helped cut my wasted time.

  • Comment Author image blank FinancesAreCool says:

    Great post! The line that resonated with me the most is “it’s empowering to be able to say no to consumer culture and watch your net-worth grow”. I have been on my FI path since last year and this could not be more true. It is awesome (and peace-giving) to be in control of your money and spending.

  • Comment Author image blank Finance is Cool says:

    Great post. My favorite line is “it’s empowering to be able to say no to consumer culture and watch your net-worth grow”. I used to have the opposite of this mindset, that it was empowering to buy. Oh, how wrong I was and how many thousands of dollars I wasted. I started my FI journey in 2017 and it feels AWESOME to be in control of my spending and money.

  • Comment Author image blank Xrayvsn says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post. Very well written and addresses a lot of concerns with society these days.

    A lot of people think having money will make you happy. It doesn’t.

    If your personality is one that always has to keep up with the Joneses you will never be satisfied and never find happiness/contentment.

    You are absolutely right about how the prevalence of social media is causing depression/suicide rates to increase. The fact that some people are staging photos (use of rentals for jets, exotic cars, etc) to make it look like their standard life only serves to falsely raises the bar even higher.

  • Comment Author image blank A Millionaire Next Door says:

    One of the best articles I’ve read on any personal finance site in a long time. I cannot agree more with this article. When I had no money, I wanted things (nice car, big house, vacations, lakehouse, etc). Now that I have money, I don’t really care about those things. I am enjoying the peace! We can all learn a thing or two from the Mexican fisherman parable!

  • Comment Author image blank PK says:

    Recently deleted Instagram. Never been happier. Thanks grant

  • Comment Author image blank People Lend says:

    Thanks for sharing this great post.

  • Comment Author image blank Scott at Making Momentum says:

    Great post Grant! I just had this conversation with my girlfriend yesterday, similar to the point you made: “If you’re only about the numbers and the spreadsheet, or the next savings goal, you might miss the important stuff. The whole reason we’re saving in the first place. Money only matters if you live a life you love”.

    Shifting from that scarcity mindset of save, save, save to a mindset of living a life that creates the most happiness and value.

    Appreciate all you do and congrats on all the recent achievements!

  • Comment Author image blank Michael says:

    Great read!!! This Is so truth. We are lost chasing the money and we take life for granted.

  • Comment Author image blank Matt Spillar @ Spills Spot says:

    Amazing post man, thanks for sharing your thoughts throughout your journey!

  • Comment Author image blank David Berg says:

    Hey Grant,
    As Crosby, Stills Nash and Young said, “…get back to the garden.” We have lost touch with nature, communication with people, talking things out and true empathy. This is what I worry about for my kids. Me – success are those moments where I’m working in the yard, enjoying great conversation, sounds of nature. Sounds trite perhaps but the best thing this week was seeing Incredibles 2 on Father’s Day and hearing all the young kids laugh in the theater. It had been about 10-15 years since I was with my kids doing that. SUCESS!

  • Comment Author image blank Cody @ Dollar Habits says:

    Such a powerful and positive message, Grant. I’m like you; I am such a different person than when I was in my early twenties. Back then, my definition of success was all about money and material artifacts and now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thanks for this awesome post.

  • Comment Author image blank Kyle @ NYPFGuy says:

    So true that we need to remember why we do what we do, and make sure our motivations are true. Our actions need to be intrinsically motivated, such as wanting freedom or peace of mind, rather than extrinsic, such as competing with others or gaining approval.

    Good for you living a life of peace and happiness!

  • Comment Author image blank Bryan Bouchard says:

    This is a great post, Grant. It’s so important to think about these things from time to time. It has become clearly evident with every tragic event that money itself is not what we’re after. It is only a tool, but an important one indeed!

  • Comment Author image blank Jeremy H says:

    Inspiring, great read, thank you.

  • Comment Author image blank Rachel says:

    So much resonated with me in this post Grant. The quest for peace and happiness is quite a challenge in today’s world! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • Comment Author image blank Zach says:

    Grant I love reading your material and I think this might be your best post yet. I think you hit the nail right on the head about the keeping up with the joneses mentality on social media. . Thanks for writing this.

  • Comment Author image blank Feldon says:

    Much love on this post bro. I’ve been reading your work for some time now. I got a promotion at work and now I am starting my own business. FI is the path.

  • Comment Author image blank Steveark says:

    Maybe that is why I’m happy, because I’m not on social media and having a great early retirement. I could care less about impressing others with my life. I just like living the life I have with my best friend of the last 40 years. Thought provoking post, as usual great stuff Grant!

  • Comment Author image blank Doc G says:

    There so much good here. The money mind meld-abandoning everything in the pursuit of FI-only puts off dealing with ones own issues. Congrats on being on the other side, healthy and happy!

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