True Wealth Is Far More Than Just Financial Success
As an investment advisor, my firm Ridgewood Investments helps our clients grow the value of their investments with customized guidance and education on making better investing and financial decisions. A good portion of our work centers on helping others accumulate a significant amount of financial wealth.
Typically, I write articles and give talks like those published on our website at www.ridgewoodinvestments.com/insights that discuss one or more aspects of growing, preserving, or accumulating financial wealth. Just in the last few weeks these topics have included articles on The Power of Roth IRAs to Grow a Large Nest Egg and How to Improve Returns on Your Cash in A Low Interest Rate World.
We love the work we do and believe that financial wealth and success is achievable and important, because it gives us options to buy goods, services, or experiences that can help us to be healthier, happier, more productive, and free or to provide these benefits for others. The measured pursuit of financial wealth also rewards disciplined risk taking and can make the incentives in our overall system work better to produce value for everyone.
However, this week is Thanksgiving in the United States - a time when families and friends gather and on at least this one day a year, express gratitude and thanks for our many blessings: among which (for most of us) are the time we have left on this beautiful planet, the presence of loved ones in our lives, the greatness of this country and its principles of tolerance and freedom, among many others.
So this week, I want to reflect on a topic that is especially appropriate at this special time of the year i.e. my belief that true wealth is far more than just financial wealth. While I didn’t always understand this idea, I have come to appreciate it more and more as I have grown and matured (I just celebrated my 50th birthday earlier this year).
When I was a child, at the age of 5, I moved to the United States from my native country of India. We initially came to Jersey City, New Jersey located across the Hudson River from Manhattan, New York and our first residence was a modest 1 bedroom apartment in a brick tenement building where my sister and I shared a pullout couch in the living room.
Our eat-in-kitchen was smaller than my current master closet. I am told that my initial reactions to my adopted country (it was winter when we arrived) was to repeatedly ask my parents when we were going to go back home.
Fortunately, we didn’t go back “home” though my 5 year old self would have wanted to do so if it had been up to me, at least initially. We were immigrants who left India, like many others, with the hope of more opportunities and a better life in the United States.
Having just arrived from a relatively poor and more bureaucratic (some might even say corrupt) system, my parents and family had very little in terms of transferable financial wealth that we could bring with us. Fortunately, my parents had some education, but they were essentially starting from scratch in their mid 30s, with two young children.
As I think back to those times and the years since, I realize that I have been incredibly (almost unbelievably) fortunate. Besides the opportunity to move to and live in the United States, I also had parents and other role models who were intelligent/thoughtful as well as loving/supportive (thanks Mom and Dad!).
Growing up, I mostly took this for granted. I subconsciously assumed that all parents and families were as close and supportive as my own (it just didn’t occur to me otherwise).
However, as I graduated and started working, I came to realize that everyone didn’t have such close and supportive families. Over the years, I have met people who were estranged from their families and they had to be far more self reliant than I could have been. I was always impressed by their achievements and their strength.
As a sensitive kid, I benefited immeasurably from my supportive environment. In fact, without it, I think my path in life could have turned out far differently. “There but by the grace of God go I” is one of my favorite sayings as a result.
The above example is only one of many I could cite. Others in this category include generally good health, access to a great education, high level job opportunities, caring teachers and mentors who took an interest, my many clients and their families who have allowed us to do the work we do now, and my own loving family and children just to name a few.
A few years after my first child was first born, I was at a group event and it was my turn to present. As part of an exercise, we had each made posters using magazine image clippings and text encapsulating future dreams and things we were grateful for.
One of the pictures I clipped that day was of a happy and healthy baby. To me it represented my young son. While it was during my early years as an entrepreneur and founder of Ridgewood Investments, I had by then already accumulated some financial resources through working, saving and investing at least enough to be moderately comfortable.
When I spoke to the group that day as I presented my vision board, I expressed being grateful for having my son for whom I would have gladly traded in all my financial capital and gone into debt and even given my own life to protect. Parents reading this know what I am talking about.
Fortunately, like many of the most valuable things in our lives, my son came to me for free. But in that sense, I was already wealthier than the wealthiest man on earth because I had the benefit of something (or in this case a little someone) in my life whose value to me was far in excess of any amount of financial wealth. By this yardstick, I was already infinitely wealthy. Later I had a second child so my wealth increased to at least twice infinity!
For many of us, our loved ones all fall into this category of the priceless in our lives. But the other instances of our true (non-financial) wealth go far beyond this. All of us have a certain amount of time which cannot be bought or even known with certainty - it was also given to us for free. To the extent we have our health - it is yet another priceless gift.
Just ask anyone with little time left or someone challenged with failing health what they would give to get more of either. Unfortunately, both are things that financial wealth cannot be a substitute for when absent, though in limited ways financial wealth can sometimes and in some circumstances help to free-up or prolong.
Going beyond the priceless and irreplaceable things in our lives, we also have the benefit of many others that are of very high if not irreplaceable value. Our relationships and friendships to those who offer us their caring and assistance might fall into this category.
In this respect, our mothers and wives and sisters and daughters do far more than their fair share and we, especially those of us who are men (myself included) could more often be more aware and thankful and be emulating their example.
Past memories of sublime experiences or moments of true joy and/or beauty might also be on my list of “true wealth” that I have accumulated. I know that from time to time, I have experienced moments (often involving travel) that I will cherish and perhaps think back upon with a smile when my time in nearly up. I try from time to time to increase my reserves of this kind of true wealth by creating other opportunities for more such experiences.
Our ability to momentarily transcend our normal lives through appreciation of art, music, beauty or food has this type of value as well. And what about our freedom and our knowledge and our ability to learn and grow?
Immigrants, such as myself, from all corners of the globe have come to the United States or other parts of the free world. Despite very real obstacles and injustices that still exist for migrants and natives, many find more access to education and other opportunities to participate and improve the lot of their families at least as compared to their own homelands or other more repressive countries. While much progress remains to be made, there is also much to celebrate and be thankful for even in our imperfect societies as well.
In my own personal case, I had the benefit of education at places that I never even knew about or dreamed of when I was young. Today, I would value this education and knowledge and the relationships I made there even more than my accumulated financial wealth.
This idea also gives me peace, because I feel that given enough time and even starting from scratch, the values and experiences that I have accumulated along the way would likely allow me to reaccumulate financial capital starting again even from zero (I hope, however, I never to have to test this theory).
In a very real sense, if I had to choose between my education, abilities, values, connections and knowledge or all my current income and accumulated wealth, it would be a very easy choice in favor of the former.
Finally, even within our challenges and mistakes we have the opportunity to find untold riches. Ask any successful person what challenges they faced in their path to success and how these obstacles shaped and/or served them to become the person they later became.
Many will tell you that in hindsight, they benefited more from their obstacles than they did their successes and that they probably would not have become nearly as “successful” without their failures and challenges. This idea is worth keeping in mind whenever things aren’t going our way (it has helped me overcome difficulties on numerous occasions).
To quote Sherrilyn Kenyon, “The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. It is pounded and struck repeatedly before it's plunged back into the molten fire. The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it STRENGTH. Those two things make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it's called upon to fight.”
No doubt, we are all very busy working on our immediate goals and just trying to get to the next milestone and sometimes just doing our best to keep all our balls in the air. Each of us has our own lives and challenges and circumstances that sometimes lead to a roller coaster of emotions just to cope at times.
Whatever your personal circumstances and level of financial abundance or scarcity as you read this right now, try to at least balance out your personal accounts by also taking stock of the many ways that you may already be abundantly and immeasurably wealthy (often infinitely and irreplaceably so).
If this is true for you, consider taking a moment to make a mental or even better yet written account of the many things that belong on your personal list. Things that you can be truly grateful for.
Making a gratitude inventory of your many sources of “true wealth” has at least two other happy byproducts.
First, it will likely make you instantly happier as you become more aware of and thankful for these many gifts.
Secondly, in some mysterious, powerful and sublime way, expressing gratitude for our many blessings seems to have a way of multiplying them. Focusing on and being thankful for abundance in our lives seems to compound it.
All of us have many priceless and infinitely valuable things we already “possess” including our friends and family, our health, our minds, our hearts, our memories and our ability to feel and appreciate music and beauty. Alas, all things are impermanent, but we can celebrate them right now in the present moment.
My hope in writing this article was to serve as a small spark for your own personal inventory of blessings. So, whats on your list?
On this Thanksgiving, let’s focus on and keep in mind these many blessings and make an effort to express gratitude (including in words when appropriate) to the people or things that have in the past and/or continue today to add this kind of incredible value in our lives.
Lets appreciate that true wealth is truly far far more than financial wealth though there is a place for both in our lives.
Take it from a financial advisor when I say you are far more wealthy than you realize once you begin to focus on how much “true wealth” you already enjoy in your life. This Thanksgiving let’s be grateful. I know I will.
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About the Author
Kaushal “Ken” Majmudar, CFA founded Ridgewood Investments in 2002 and serves as our Chief Investment Officer with primary focus on managing our Value Investing based strategies. Ken graduated with honors from the Harvard Law School in 1994 after being an honors graduate of Columbia University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Prior to founding Ridgewood Investments in late 2002, Ken worked for seven years on Wall Street as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers where he has extensive experience working on initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions transactions and other corporate finance advisory work for Fortune 1000 companies. He is admitted to the bar in New York and New Jersey though retired from the practice of law.
Ken’s high level experience and work with clients has been recognized and cited on multiple occasions. He is a noted value investor who has written and spoken extensively on the subject of value investing and intelligent investing. He has been a member of the Value Investors Club – an online members-only group for skilled value investors founded by Joel Greenblatt, SumZero – an online community for professional investors, and has also written for SeekingAlpha – among others. Ken is active in leading professional groups for investment managers as a member of both the CFA Institute and the New York Society of Securities Analysts.