Controversial title to match a controversial post, so let me begin with a warning that this post analyses attitudes towards money and may offend you. Money often brings up feelings of envy, jealousy or perhaps just a sense of unfairness. And to the socially inclined, money is often associated as the enemy of social impact, and taken further, can be seen as the cause of society’s problems – perhaps helped by the Biblical verse “the love of money is the root of all evil”, though this view extends far beyond Christianity.
I’ve been quite vocal about money from an early age, as you can see from my earlier Sponsorship Officer Campaign video above, and in a recent Med School event entitled “What I’d be if I wasn’t a doctor”. While somewhat amusing if I can say so myself, many find it disturbing that someone in a socially responsible role of a future doctor would be so money hungry – isn’t medicine about serving others rather than serving yourself?
My recent move from the charity, The Learning Collaborative to the for-profit education company Crimson Consulting has been met with similar skepticism – have I “sold my soul to the dark side”? Or more broadly, can any for-profit company bring about social impact?
Let me be clear, I not only want to be rich, I want to be a billionaire. Statistically, there’s a 0.00001549295% chance that will happen, but it doesn’t stop me from aspiring to reach that. Self-entitled, arrogant prick from the Dark Side? Perhaps, but read on before coming to any conclusions.
Why do I want to be a billionaire? Money is both a tool for power and influence, as well as the best measure of one’s success in business. Given that I would like to maximise my social impact in the world, it makes sense to care about money a lot, to maximise the influence I can yield in the world.
This can be better explained on a Why-How-What diagram, popularised by Simon Sinek in a must-watch video I’ve previously written about. At a surface “what” level, I’m absolutely driven to make money for the influence and power that it would grant me. On a deeper “how” level, I see that business is one of the most effective tools to make a lot of money, as well as creating huge value for society at the same time. And at the deepest “why” level is my core philosophy of maximising social impact through money and power – this is what drives me to work as hard as I possibly can.
And while a lot of people go into business for self-serving purposes around money, which paints a dark picture of business for many, it doesn’t have to be so black and white. Many of the best business people in the world (e.g. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk) aren’t primarily driven by money, but more around value and impact, and I would categorise attitudes towards money in four common types:
Type 1: Get rich easily and comfortably
Many people dream of making as much money in the most convenient and least stressful way possible to maximise their enjoyment of life. They don’t necessarily want to make tonnes of money, but don’t want to work hard for whatever money they get themselves. Ironically this does not increase enjoyment, as seen by the long term happiness of Lotto winners which are at the extreme end of this convenience attitude. This category I would define as the “Love of money” that the bible and others refer to, having no inherent value in itself.
Type 2: Focus on fulfilling, inspiring work and ignore the money
Many others instead however simply ignore money, choosing to only work on what “fulfills them”, what makes them “feel good” or “gives them purpose”, though I would say this attitude is just as misguided (even though it’s a lot more socially acceptable). For this type, I would encourage reading To Save the World, don’t get a job at a charity, go work on Wall Street. And in place of the “follow your passion” advice, I’d suggest don’t follow your passion to find work you’ll genuinely love.
Type 3: Work hard, earn money and use it as you please
This type is probably the bulk of society, believing that working hard and steady will earn you enough money which you are free to use as you desire. And regarding social impact, you might arrange a sausage sizzle, a bake sale or run a marathon to raise funds for a charity or event which would definitely be seen as a positive by the community. What’s wrong with this philosophy? Nothing’s necessarily misguided about this opinion depending on what your life objectives are, though from an efficiency standpoint, these social events are an enormously inefficient use of resources.
Consider four professionals who run a fundraiser where they spend hours preparing and manning the event in order to raise a few hundred dollars, when working extra hours productively in their work and donating that money would be so much more effective. No judgement to those four professionals if their goal is just to have fun and relax while raising money, but if the point is genuinely to raise as much money as possible, it becomes a terrible mindset. In fact, most fundraisers like this cause more harm than good, since it usually redistributes a fixed amount of “charitable money” people spend, often into more ineffective charities (the linked article and graph explain the unintuitive concept of why a charity of median effectiveness is actually far less effective than the mean effectiveness of charities). And to simplify that article even more; almost all locally based charities are less effective than those that work in developing countries.
Type 4: Maximise your impact by pursuing money
The fourth type is the most interesting where one considers money, direct impact, personal skill-set and personality fit amongst other things to assess the full impact of a career. This means there is no one ideal pathway. In fact, unlike in my previous post blasting medicine, Medicine in NZ is a great job for many who enjoy science, are competitive and enjoy stability, being one of the highest paying, stable Careers in NZ – an excellent choice if you use it for earning to give effectively. Disclaimer: the direct impact a doctor makes however is a lot less than most people think. Other examples of great career pathways to maximise impact can be found on 80,000 Hours’ Career Reviews.
For me personally, I thoroughly enjoy Medicine, but alone it isn’t enough for me – I seek challenging, creative and risky endeavours together with Medicine, which is why business and medicine together are a good personal fit. My own 80,000 hours Career Quiz results suggest that Consulting and High-growth entrepreneurship are the most effective ways for me to make an impact – results that are satisfyingly aligned with my current mix of Medicine and Crimson Consulting. Given that medicine and entrepreneurship is currently a rare pathway within the NZ medical community, there is definitely untapped potential which I see value pursuing in the long term.
So yes, I want to be a billionaire. Will I make it? Probably not given the statistics, plus I don’t yet have the needed discipline/work ethic to get there, but then again, good ol’ 50 Cent always said to Get Rich or Die Tryin’ 😛 On a slightly more serious note, having such a lofty aim makes it harder to be content given I’m unlikely ever achieve my goal (it’s not a particularly SMART goal), though the value in never being fully content is that it drives further achievement – a trait almost every billionaire has or they’d have stopped working a long time ago.
Not everyone has to have these ambitions, but by the same token not everyone in a socially responsible career should be criticised for it (consider as an example the reactions of doctors when they hear of another doctor working only “privately”). I challenge you, what type of attitude towards money do you have, and how closely do you live to that attitude? Do you have subconscious thoughts that drive strong emotions when money is mentioned? And finally, is your career pathway actually aligned with your preferred attitude?