Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Make the Man, Make the Money

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Total Black: $631.22
Total Red: $230,281.21

At the temp position today, one of the other contract attorneys gave me a fortune cookie.  I think he had received an extra with his order, so he offered it up and I said I’d take it.  I figured, “Why not?  I could use goodFortune fortune.”  Unlike fortune cookies from a few years ago, fortune cookies of today seem to have lost their foresight.  My fortune cookie read: “Wealth is not in making money, but in making the man while he is making the money.”  No fortune-telling there, just a bit of wisdom being passed on.  But for me, it is a very apt and timely “fortune.”  And one worth teasing out a bit further.

The fortune begins with wealth, not riches or even “fortune” itself.  According to Dictionary.com, wealth means a great quantity of money or valuable possessions or an abundance of anything; it can even mean the state of being rich.  Wealth does connotes tangible things or states, but it seems, at least in America, to imply things intangible as well.  American culture and language, for example, link wealth with debt freedom, a stress-free life, respect, and sometimes fame or clout.  We also assume wealth brings happiness.  I guess no one’s been brought up to speed yet.  Happiness, Dictionary.com notes, is no longer equated with wealth; that’s an obsolete usage.  Funny, no?  I suppose the irony is not lost on us though. None of those intangible qualities go hand-in-hand with wealth, at least not any longer.  And Americans do know that.  Why, though, do we perpetuate Wealth’s illusion?

A truer definition of wealth would probably exclude those elements.  Take any Wall Street bigwig of late and examine whether he (why is it almost never a “she”?) has wealth and also is free of debt, without stress, and respected by his peers.  Often we find the exact opposite.  Many “wealthy” individuals are crippled by stress, burdened with debt, and live in infamy.  By no means all-encompassing.  Exceptions to my statement can be found.  But plenty of examples can be too.  Take the late Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Bernie Madoff as a few examples in recent headlines.  Even more successful people like Donald Trump or Bill Clinton, who might be wealthy by financial standards, have had plenty of set-backs in their lives.

We might do better to redefine what wealth means.  One way is to view wealth as more than just “net worth.”  In his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki does just that, employing a definition used by an architect, Buckminster Fuller.  As explained by Kiyosaki, Fuller’s definition of wealth would mean the number of days forward a person could survive on what they possessed at that moment.  It’s a better definition of wealth than merely the sum total of all of our assets and liabilities.  And it would do us all well to begin employing it during this Great Recession.  But it still misses that subtle undercurrent implied in my fortune today.

The fortune cookie’s definition of wealth states that wealth does, in the end, mean making money.  That’s the last word of the fortune and it bookends the sentence.  But the fortune implies that wealth means something more than money.  It seems to capture vital missing qualities within the body of the sentence.  Wealth leads to man is making money, but it happens while building up the person, from “making the man.”  And to “make” implies much: at the least, I’d think “making the man” encompasses learning, work, social values, and so on.  In this sense, wealth is a state of being, not a level that we reach.  We are never on our way to wealth.  We are either wealthy or we’re not.  As a state of being, it either is or is not.  Thus, we are all already wealthy or not, regardless of the amount of money in the bank or the size of the debt we carry.

I’m really happy I took that fortune cookie today.  I think that fortune will stick with me for a long, long time.

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