Redefining wealth

I don’t really understand exactly why my definition of success has always been so different than most people. My parents weren’t radical hippies. Dad was a tradesman, and mom was a teacher, both they and the rest of my biological family followed traditional modern paths of life. My schooling wasn’t that abnormal, other than a brief stint in the Gifted and Talented wing of grade school, before I learned that being singled out for intelligence was nearly as bad as being singled out as fat, ugly or dumb. I believe the true testament to my young brains capabilities was figuring out that defiance against authority was the quickest way to be dumped back into the pool of normalcy where it was safe. Besides, Metallica sounded way cooler than whatever those nerds listened to. Ironically enough, my stereo is currently soothing me with Beethoven. My views change over time. 

Even when I was young, while I may have dreamed of owning a fancy car or a big house at one point, I remember reading about the heroes in adventure books and thinking they were the lucky ones. Huck Finn, out fishing at the river all day with Tom Sawyer. George Hayduke, grizzled and feral under the cover of darkness, sabotaging bulldozers and wooing the fairer sex. John Muir, out fuckin’ off in the High Sierra for months at a time with nothing but some tea and a crust of old bread. I idolized these men, for they were rich in experiences.

None of my literary heroes had wealth in the financial sense. Who wants to read a book about stockbrokers or investment bankers? Who gets a tingle up their spine reading about a day in the life of a chiropractor, or chews through a novel about a dentist? Even Hollywood actors, with their multi-million dollar deals, assume the role of a character…and that character isn’t rehearsing lines or attending dress rehearsals…they’re out DOING stuff like tromping through the jungle or sailing the seas! I almost feel bad for those actors…forever playing roles on camera and never getting to actually live life like that. What a tease. 

I mean no disrespect to people whose profession I just listed, since I understand our culture needs all parts to function. (Well, except for those bankers. Even an agnostic like me knows what Jesus thought of the moneylenders.) But I have teeth and am very grateful there are dentists out there to shoot my gums full of novocaine and wrench on the weird bones that protrude from my fleshy gums.I respect their decision to choose the path they took, but I sure as hell knew I wasn’t cut out for that life.

My measure of success wasn’t ever going to be how many ones-and-zeros I had accumulated in a bank account somewhere. I was going to define success by how many sunsets I got to see, how many windswept mountaintops I got to perch on while shoveling crackers in my mouth, and how many quiet moments of blissful solitude I could bathe in. 

When I think of the most valuable things on Earth, money doesn’t even make the top ten. Hell, it’s somewhere down there with can koozies and accordions. I LIKE these things, but they’re not essential to my happiness. They don’t make my pulse race or the stressful aches of sitting in a chair all day disappear. When I really try to quantify the single most valuable thing on Earth…it’s time. Our time. We sell it to the highest bidder at work. We rush from place to place, always running late and out of time. We watch the years go by and wonder how they slipped through our hands. You know, sands through the hourglass kinds of shit. You try and grab it, but it slips right through your grasp and you helplessly watch it disappear with the wind. 

People ask me often about how I find the time to go on these long hikes. Like there is some magic formula to create more of this limited essence. A spell to cast or a recipe they haven’t heard of before. They all want to know where I get this time, and why my cup seems to runneth over with it. Years spent out wandering the woods and mountains, taking months off work to walk across the continent. Why do I seem to be so rich in time? The answer is simple. Kinda. I value time the same way others value money. While most folks lust and work after dollars, I merely scoop up what I need to fund my adventures and then disappear into the woods. For me, time is more valuable than gold. More precious than all the riches in the world. By shifting my priorities, I’ve turned the tables on what it means to be wealthy, and I routinely have bizarre conversations with people who make six-figure salaries, live in decadent houses and drive expensive sports cars. These people, who make more money in one year of employment than I’ll ever make in my life…are envious of my life.  Do you see how insane that is? Even with wealth of that magnitude, they haven’t prioritized their time, and feel poor in my presence. Me…the guy covered in a fine patina of dirt who has been sleeping in the dirt for months, living out of a backpack. Me…the guy who sleeps in a van so he can avoid paying rent, and pees into a bottle since he doesn’t have a toilet. They see how wealthy I truly am but don’t realize they have the ability to do exactly the same thing. Shit, with their bank account they could even afford some luxuries while out adventuring and eat something besides beans every night!

Imagine yourself for a moment, many years from now. Imagine yourself bent and stooped with age, barely able to walk, gray and wrinkled with joints that cry with pain and eyes clouded with cataracts. Picture your body slowly decaying to the point where tying your own shoes is impossible, and routine tasks are now so challenging that the very act of supporting your own weight is too much. Close your eyes and really think about this…because it’s coming. For all of us. That’s how time works. 

Now pretend someone offers you a magic potion that will restore your youth. This elixir will turn back the hands of time, and return you to the age you are RIGHT NOW reading this. Would you take it? That’s a rhetorical question because of course, you would. Nobody welcomes crippling age and inevitable death. Now, what if I asked what price you’d pay for this formula. Really think about this. Imagine every dollar you’ve ever made, every single penny. Would you trade all that currency on your deathbed for a chance to revisit your youth? How can you even put a dollar amount on the value of this trade? A million? A billion? Higher than that?

This exercise is one I think of often. I know there is no limit to the amount of money I’d pay to have my vigor back. I’d trade it all for a chance to run and play, to climb up a mountain and peer down into the valley below. There is no logical way to quantify what I’d trade to stay alive…so why would I squander what I have RIGHT NOW on earning money I’d gladly pay to get back to this exact moment in time? This moment is the now. This time you have right now, even while you read this (and for me, while I write it) is so fucking valuable that attributing the word priceless to it even sounds cheap. Now is all you have. You and I are so rich in time, it’s a sin to slander it on such a trivial exercise as acquiring financial wealth. 

This isn’t a call to quit your job and live in the forest in a loincloth. (Wait..that does sound kinda cool) I’m not telling you to sell all your possessions and ride a bicycle across the globe. (Personally, I hadn’t really entertained that idea until writing this) In fact, I’m sorry…but I don’t think I’m even really talking to you anymore. 

This isn’t a story for you. This is a story for me. 

You’re free to live your life as you see fit, frankly its none of my damn business what makes you happy. Maybe you really like being a customer service representative. I just wrote out this entire piece and only now realized I’m telling it for my own benefit. I’m writing TO MYSELF because I still get too caught up with padding my bank account and hustling for dollars. I need to listen to my own advice. Just because I’ve dedicated my life to adventure, doesn’t mean I don’t still get caught in the trap sometimes. Being broke is scary…nobody wants to be destitute. So this whole piece, which was supposed to be an inspiring lesson for people interested in my weird time-rich life, really turned out to be a love story for my own mental health. All these hikes I’ve done, all this adventure I’ve wallowed in…it’s all still just the beginning for me. It’s time I invested in my time again…and on that note, I have some planning to do.

2 Replies to “Redefining wealth”

  1. I appreciate your post and completely agree with your thoughts. I chose the “having family path” so I have to work more on finding the balance between income and adventure. That is, compared to someone without kids and with less responsibilities. So far working 50% works well and will probably continue to do so.

  2. There is no “right way” to live life, and anyone who tries to tell ya otherwise is a liar. Good on you for choosing the path that leaves you feeling content.

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