A Man without Ambitions

A memory came to me this morning while walking the dog, a memory of the days when I had just left college and had just started working for my father in the box factory.

A salesperson has knocked on our door. This was strange because the box factory was (and still is) located in a rural area. But somehow this guy has found us and is there to make his presentation: he’s a salesman who trains salespeople. (And, perhaps, the saleswoman, though this wasn’t part of the parody in 1992.)

Dad, funny, introduced me to this person. “It’s JD,” Dad said. “He’s our salesman. Talk to him.” So, this guy sat with me in the back room of the dilapidated RV that served as the company’s headquarters. (This is the same RV that I grew up in. And believe me when I say it’s a well, a stye. It’s as bad as you might imagine. Maybe worse).

“How do you want to make more money?” said the salesperson who trained the sellers. He was an older man wearing a brown corduroy suit.

“I would love to,” I said. Despite my father’s nepotism in hiring me, I wasn’t paid much: $16,500 per year and no commission, about $35,500 in 2022 dollars.

“Let me show you what I can do for you,” the salesperson said, smiling. That’s my main memory of this conversation: the man’s permagrin. It never goes away. Even when he was resting, he had a smile of eating on his face.

Mr. Salesman spent the next ten minutes talking about his services, gently asking important questions designed to make him agree with everything he said. Standard seller’s goods. Then, once I was ready, it came up with its alleged closure.

“When can I schedule you for training?” he asked.

I sighed.

“You can’t,” I said. “I’m not interested.” And before I could start working on the rebuttal, I explained it. “I’m not like most salespeople. I’m not ambitious,” I said. “Yes, I want to make more money, but I don’t want to be the King of Sales. The program sounds good. It’s okay for others, but not for me.” And I showed him the door.

Dad was puzzled. I hope he takes the opportunity to improve my sales skills. Dad is the most ambitious person I have ever met. He didn’t understand that he was really not ambitious.

He was not ambitious in elementary school. I don’t want to be ambitious in high school. I have no ambitions in college.

I got good grades, performed well on standardized tests, and excelled in various club activities. (I edited school literary magazines in high school and college. I compete nationally in Future Business Leaders of America). But none of this was achieved with any ambitions. It is achieved by intrinsic interest, passion and motivation.

I didn’t succeed because I was looking for achievements. I made it because I do what I love.

Allergy to make money

A few months ago, I traveled to Orlando to attend Fincon, an annual conference for financial bloggers and YouTubers and podcasters and influencers. One morning, a group of us gathered around an empty table in the conference room to spin ideas and share how things had gone on.

This is a great group of people, people who do a great job in the world of personal finance and, more specifically, people who make a lot of money doing it. I always feel a little out of place when I’m with this group. They are all good people, but they are also much more ambitious than me. They  are successful (and rich  ) but want to be more successful (and rich  ). Our discussion has always been about how to get  more  : more readers, more viewers, more publicity, more money.

Finally, the conversation switched to Get Rich Slowly and its status. I talked about how I wanted to turn it into a “personal finance online encyclopedia,” a goal where people could get reliable, actionable information without a bad cloud. I also mentioned that the site only makes $500 per month.

“I don’t understand you, JD,” said a colleague. “Why are you allergic to making money?”

“Look,” I said. “This is the case. I was born into a poor family. I grew up in a dirty RV. What I have today is already far more than I ever dreamed of. I don’t have the same ambitions as you. I don’t need to be rich. I don’t need to be famous. I think it’s amazing what you’ve all accomplished, but I don’t want to do it.”

This is the truth.

When I look at the world around me, it seems that many of our problems are caused by ambition. (Note that I carefully avoid using the word “greed” here. To me, “greed” implies malice. I don’t think many people are really greedy; they’re just ambitious.) And when I talk about ambition, I mean a kind of selfishness that comes with a lack of empathy, a kind of deliberate blindness to the consequences of one’s actions and the hardships of disadvantaged people.

You can make a lot of money, for example, by launching a credit card in Get Rich Slowly. If I were an ambitious guy, I probably would. But after so many years of painful credit card debt, I am unwilling to lure others to the same fate.

Sure, I know that credit cards are just a tool and can be used responsibly. I also know that it is not my duty to protect everyone from debt. But I don’t like the idea of promoting credit cards to people who can put their lives at risk by using them. It’s like offering whiskey to an alcoholic, isn’t it? Not everyone who comes to Get Rich Slowly is an “alcoholic,” I know, but a lot of people. Therefore, I would rather not offer “whiskey”.

Similarly, I don’t want to write about the latest apps, websites, or services that appear on the scene. I don’t want to go into the latest hot topic in the personal finance world just because it’s a hot topic. I don’t want to pursue my story going viral with other similar stories in hopes of getting something back from the same audience. Doing these things is fine for others, but when I do, I feel like I’m selling my soul.

Not clouded by ambition

Fincon is a fun place. It’s fun to talk to people who “destroy” you, people who have found a niche and who reach millions of people every month and/or make millions of dollars a year. How can I avoid leaving the spirit and refreshed?

After passing the Fincons, I returned home excitedly to implement all the ideas I had gathered at the conference. I want to do things that others do to maximize traffic and revenue. I’ve always been interested in measurable metrics, I’ve always been competitive (if not ambitious), so this appeals to me.

But this time, I returned home more determined than ever to leave The Game. I don’t mind being the greatest. I don’t need to have the most traffic. I’m not interested in capturing the audience, putting it through the “funnel” and turning their attention into dollars. I  don’t like it when people do this to me, so why would I want to do it to someone else?

Also, this year has been tough for me. My experience in 2022 has changed my perspective. More and more, I am sure that I want to do three things on the Internet.

  • First, I really want to turn most Get Rich Slowly files into an online personal finance encyclopedia. I would like to publish definitive and reliable articles on the most important topics in personal finance, articles that are not colored by affiliate marketing, and (where possible) political opinions. I want to show people things that are known to work in terms of improving the household economy.
  • Secondly, I would like to publish more personal stories. My own story is, of course, a story like the one in this post! — but also other people’s stories. I truly believe that people learn best through narrative. The theory is good, but nothing compares to life experience. Stories unite us. They bring us together. They help us learn. They help us understand each other.
  • Third, I want to build a small community of people who are just like me: interested in self-improvement, passionate for financial security, but equally striving to help others improve their lives as well. If this small community is five people, great. If it’s 500 people, great. If it is 5000 people, it is also good. I am less interested in quantity than quality.

I want to do these three things, and I want to do it in a way that is not shrouded in ambition.

As I said a moment ago, I may not be ambitious, but I’m competitive. If I’m not careful, I might feel too motivated by metrics. I can catch up on revenue and engagement and all the other numbers that distract from what really matters. But all those numbers are traps. The pursuit of numbers goes against what I really want to do with my life.

I want to spend my life telling stories and helping others, both at the same time, if possible. And I think that means doing things differently than my peers. That means letting go of the things that are “supposed to be done” in the world of blogging, YouTubing, and Twittering, and that means forging my own path.

Here’s how

Where does this road lead? I do not know. I don’t really care, to be honest.

Maybe you spend the next ten years creating content for an audience of dozens and continue to make a little $500 per month. (I made $486.60 from this site in October!) Actually, it probably means I haven’t earned anything for a few years. Why? Because my current intention is to remove the site from all ads by the end of December.

But I know this: wherever I go, I will follow the path I open myself, not the path that has been set by others. I have been on a well-traveled road for a while, and I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling pressured to create content that gets more views, more clicks, more engagement.

And as I paved this path, I believe I made some wrong turns. I’m going to have a dead end. I could spend months forging my path in a certain direction only to realize that I had gone the wrong way. I agree with that. That time will not be wasted.

So, to decipher this metaphor, I have a machete in my hand. I was ready to go through the bush. Technically, yes, I’m on sabbatical until the end of the year. That hasn’t changed. But while I was “resting,” I would casually explore my surroundings to find out where I wanted to start blazing trails.

Metaphor aside, what I think this means in terms of actual work is this:

  1. On my personal site, I will implement the “de-design” that I have been working on. I suspect this means I’ll start publishing some articles there from time to time to try them out.
  2. Once I’m sure everything is working, I’ll implement “de-design” here.
  3. Once the cosmetic stuff is in place, I’ll rearrange some of the structural elements of this site. Some of me want to throw it all away and start over, but my colleagues have convinced me that this is nonsense. I think they’re right.
  4. When all this is done, I hope to start a regular posting schedule. But who knows? As a man with no ambitions, this may be too much for me. 😉

In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll post some articles here on Get Rich Slowly despite the sabbath. In fact, I knew I wanted to write about my latest experience with exercises in the book Designing Your Life. Also, I have some thoughts to share about my mother’s death.

Returning to my metaphor, I’m glad you’re on the road with me. I’m not sure what we’ll find on this uncharted path, but I know I’ll enjoy adventures with friends more than if I did it myself. Then, pick up your package. Let’s go out and see what we can find!

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