The major difference between a millionaire and a working stiff is that the worker uses his job as an excuse for why he’s not living his dreams and a millionaire doesn’t have that luxury. So if you want to feel like a millionaire, start asking yourself the million-dollar question: What would make me feel fulfilled?
In September, Microsoft will end the option grant program that made an estimated 10,000 employees millionaires. While this compensation change signals the end of an era of money, history should prove this time to be the beginning of an era of soul-searching.
Typically, Microsoft millionaires cashed out and bought some big-ticket items. But after a year of shopping and travel, most people grew bored and started looking for something else. Few people had planned to be so rich so early in their career. Most people planned to work their whole lives. Without the need to work they had to ask themselves, what now? What is my life about? What makes me tick?
In fact, what these millionaires had to do was figure out their priorities. What we can learn from this era of options is that everyone can have the life of a millionaire if you soul-search as seriously as the Microsofties did. Soul-searching is difficult, but it is free to those who can endure the challenges of honesty and self-knowledge.
So ask yourself, what would you do if you were a millionaire? Then figure out how to do it now, when you don’t have millions. Because it turns out that very few answers to that question really require you to stop working and live among piles of money.
I realized this truth when I cashed out of one company and started another and found myself making a salary larger than I ever imagined. To my surprise, not much changed besides my bank statement and the restaurants I went to.
Sure, I loved my career, but I would have done the same job for less than half the salary. Once I saw that money didn’t change my life, I felt a lot more freedom to make career choices that were financially risky. Later, when I left my corporate life in order to write, I did not create a financial windfall — in fact, you could say the change had the opposite effect. But I would write this column even if I were a millionaire.
So try thinking about your career as if money weren’t the goal. There are two kinds of jobs: fulfilling and enabling. If you have a fulfilling job, then you are doing exactly what you want to be doing and it doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or not. You are lucky. (Though not alone: Microsoft has a large contingency of millionaires –“volunteers” — who continue working even though they don’t need the money.)
An enabling job is what you do if your fulfillment comes from something that doesn’t pay. This kind of job takes the most discipline. If you work and work and never get to the exciting thing you’re going to do on the side, then the only thing you enable is shopping.
And don’t say you have no energy. If you had an appointment with the President of the United States after work, even if you hate him, you’d have enough energy to make it to the meeting. People who are too tired after work are people who don’t know what they want to do. It’s very tiring to not know what makes you feel fulfilled.
One Microsoft millionaire made a mission statement for himself. This is not a bad idea, especially if you cannot figure out what will make you fulfilled. Most of you will find that your mission statement is not about money. His, for example, was about “hard work,” “passion” and “leaving the world a better place than you found it.” Your own mission statement will help you to figure out what you should be doing with your days.
We might not all make millions from our job, but we are all equals in the effort to find a fulfilling life. So stop telling yourself that your life would be really different if you had a million dollars. For most of us, the only difference would be a bigger bank account.