Don’t trade your life for stuff: #9 of 55 things I’ve learned

Let’s make a deal. Would you trade me 30 years of your life for this house in Malibu?


Say, you are 25 now, so, instead of living to 78, you’d live to be 48. Would you trade? If I threw in a really nice car, all the newest computers, iPhones, big-screen TVs and a new designer wardrobe every year, PLUS the house, would you trade me 35 years of your life for the whole package and agree to kick off at age 43?

If this sounds like a deal with the devil – I did meet the devil recently, but that’s not it. In fact, it’s the trade off that I believe most people make. I took the picture above sitting on a mountain looking down at that house. Several times a year, I go hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. I always look down or up at beautiful places like this and exactly ONCE have I seen anyone outside. While I’m enjoying the view, they’re in an office downtown.

Maybe they love their job and that’s exactly what they want to do. In that case, good for them. However, a great many people I meet start out trading their life for stuff at a very young age. I walked, biked, hitch-hiked or took the bus to class, to work and to judo tournaments.  I didn’t buy my first car until I was 23 years old, by which time I had a BSBA, MBA, two national titles and two US Open gold medals.

Many people I met had quit competing, dropped out of college or were still in community college. Most of them had bought a car at 16 or 18 years old, and their parents to “teach them responsibility”, had insisted they at least pay the insurance and buy their own gas. Some of them wanted a really nice car and also made the car payment.  Once they moved out and got their own apartment, that cost plus the car made it really necessary for them to work. At some point, they ended up dropping classes or missing practice because they had to work.

I also had to work while I was in high school and college, but because I did not have those extra expenses, when I needed to study more or train for a tournament, I could quit my job and live on savings for a while. That also meant I sometimes attended classes wearing clothes from Goodwill, surrounded by classmates in designer clothes. Yes there were mean girls in my school and a few of them made snide comments until I asked,

“How would you like to be punched in the face?”

Then the comments stopped. Wonder why they never try that in the after-school specials? I don’t know, maybe it is trading your life for being part of the “cool crowd”, i.e., the ones that would be produced if Abercrombie & Fitch made people.

All I know is that at almost every turn when The Rocket Scientist and I had a choice between stuff and something else, we chose the something else. Buy a big house or send darling daughters #1 and #2 to NYU and USC – pay for schools. Buy a big house or send darling daughter #3 around the world to train for the Olympics – Olympics.

The same is true for life – buy a new car every year and a lot of other stuff or put money in our 401k so we could quit what we were doing and work at making math games full time, at no pay, if necessary.

(Go support our Kickstarter campaign here, by the way. It’s awesome.)

You only get one life. What are you trading it for?

That, my dears, is#9 in the 55 things I’ve learned in (almost) 55 years.



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  1. I couldn’t agree more!! I have never understood why your expenses should automatically rise proportionally to your income which makes you a captive of the corporate rat race or whatever system you seem to be part of.
    I always picked the “no stuff” / “smaller / cheaper stuff” option, too, and it did not feel like saving or parsimony to me – it was just a natural choice.
    Having spent some years as a travelling consultant (and having no time for spending money anyway) this kind of thinking and related financial outcome has allowed me for gradually shifting into a new career.

  2. I love reading your blogs. You have a wealth of wisdom, which when I read your blogs is just common sense which most people don’t have or at least use. You have such great insight on life I hope your “Winning on the Ground” isn’t the only book you write. Can’t stop laughing that you asked the girls making fun of your clothes did they want to get punched in the mouth; however, that line would shut up a lot of people and stop the bullying.

  3. I am thinking of doing a random book on statistical topics. I need to get through this grant proposal I’m working on and then catch up with work for clients and on the game first, though.

  4. I completely agree with that philosophy. Also, weird six degrees of separation fact – my mom used to work for Dr. Hartford, whose son, John, wrote a lot of the songs Glenn Campbell sang.

  5. Different Glenn. 🙂

    You should give that video a quick watch. It’s inline with your philosophy on the value of stuff.

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