(What I’m reading and what I think about what I’m reading.)
I’m presently reading a biography of John Jacob Astor. He began making made his fortune in the fur trade. I wondered, “How does one become the richest man in the nation through the fur trade?” That was a hard business, for rough men and no doubt one could earn a good living doing work that was much needed (It was cold, and no one had heat or moisture wicking micro-fibers) and that most people just wouldn’t do. Still, it seemed odd that he could become America’s first multi-millionaire doing that sort of work. As I’m reading, the answer begins to become clear. He just wanted to be very rich.
Mr. Astor was not the only fur trader of his day. He wasn’t the first and he didn’t invent some disruptive fur trading technology. He just learned his trade, worked hard, and then kept working and learning even when he didn’t need to do so anymore. When his colleagues were having a well-earned respite and enjoying their lives and leisure with the money they had earned, JJ was riding out further, looking for more trappers to trade with, getting to key locations first and forging new relationships. He had certainly earned the rest, but he opted to work. John Jacob wanted more so he went and got more. He never drank alcohol. He preferred to keep his head and maintain the upper hand in all negotiations. Though already one of the wealthiest men in the country, he decided to buy real estate. He didn’t know anything that wasn’t widely known, or at least suspected. New York’s growth was going to be explosive. He simply had more money than anyone else so he bought. He bought it all and leased nearly the entire island of Manhattan to anyone who wanted to live or go into business there. John Jacob Astor wanted to become very rich, so he did.
Of course, not everyone can get Astor rich, but most people could be doing much better than they are. They’ll tell you they’re working their fingers to the bone and nothing more could reasonably be expected of them. They might be telling you this while reposing at the local bar on a Friday evening after having put in a grueling 37.5-hour work week. I often encounter government workers who tell me that they don’t need financial planning, because they have a government pension to count on. They just want to work until they don’t have to anymore and that’s what they’ll get. No more. Others want to invest in stocks, real estate, buy a business, something…anything. They have the same pensions to look forward to. The former encourages their children to get good jobs in in-demand fields or, even better, government jobs. The latter, work to put their kids through college – good colleges – with as little debt as possible. They want more and they will likely have it.
You will not be Astor rich, but you could very possibly get rich and leave your kids rich and your grandchildren wealthy. You just have to learn how to do it, and then do it. You will have the life you want. Not the life you say you want. Not the life you see others live and think, “Hmmph, must be nice…” You will have the life that you actually want enough to go and do the things necessary to have that life, and keep doing them until you have what you want.
I am again reminded of my favorite poem. It’s by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse:
"I bargained with Life for a penny, And Life would pay no more, However I begged at evening When I counted my scanty store; For Life is just an employer, He gives you what you ask, But once you have set the wages, Why, you must bear the task. I worked for a menial’s hire, Only to learn, dismayed, That any wage I had asked of Life, Life would have paid.” ― Jessie B. Rittenhouse
You set the wage. Decide. Work. Earn. Plan. Life will pay what you demand of it.
William S Jiggetts