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  • Timothy Iseler

When Less is Enough & More is Too Much

A friend and I were recently discussing independence, prosperity, and work. Our conversation touched on the type of person who outwardly shows all the symptoms of prosperity – high income, big house, nice car, interesting and exotic vacations – but is shackled by an obligation to continually earn more and work harder to maintain that lifestyle.

Later he sent me this article about the modern trappings of success. For most of recorded human history, the working classes toiled to survive and the wealthy enjoyed leisurely lives. However, early 20th century advances in technology and medicine seemed to foreshadow a time when working to survive would be all but obsolete. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in an essay that people, newly liberated from the necessity of work, would devote the majority of their time to leisure and culture.

Perversely, the dynamic has somewhat reversed in the last 50+ years. According to the article, “in 2006, the top twenty per cent of earners were twice as likely to work more than fifty hours a week than the bottom twenty per cent.” The relationship between being more “successful” and an obligation to work more, harder, and longer is paradoxical. After all, what good is success if quality of life does not improve? Shouldn't more success make life easier?

There is a deceptively simple thought exercise I often revisit to clarify goals and check whether I am on the path to a life I actually want:

What would I do/have/be if money was not a concern?

What would my life look if I was not motivated by income?

Each time I ask myself those questions, the answers are not radically different from my actual life. Sure, some extra money would be convenient and I could tweak my schedule to do more of one thing, less of another. But the core elements of my "dream life" are not unreachable or exotic, and often cost nothing. I take that as a good sign, that I am somewhere on the journey to a destination I will enjoy.

I am reminded of a famous anecdote, written as a poem by Kurt Vonnegut and published in 2005:


True story, Word of Honor:

Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer

now dead,

and I were at a party given by a billionaire

on Shelter Island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel

to know that our host only yesterday

may have made more money

than your novel ‘Catch-22’

has earned in its entire history?”

And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”

And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”

And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Not bad! Rest in peace!

Timothy Iseler, CFP®

Founder & Lead Advisor

Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604

Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.

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