There’s a difference between loving something and loving the idea of something. This is why studying the classics sounds so romantic, but reading Herodotus feels like playing that eat-licorice-from-both-ends-with-someone-you-like, except with a large and indelicate woodpecker.
I recently found 3 articles that summed this up nicely.
The first was a New York Times article by Joseph Epstein. He wrote about how 81% of Americans say they want to write a book. 81%! (The funny thing is he then exhorts people to not write books, saying how easy it is to find “oneself in a state of confusion, doubt, mental imprisonment, with an accompanying intense with that one worked instead at bricklaying.”)
I found the 81% number shockingly high, so I dug around a little. I mean, 81% of people don’t write books, so why do we all say we want to do it?
The second article was by Seth Godin, the bestselling author (who I worked for a few years ago). He pointed out that writing a book is slow, hard, and a horrendous return on investment.
“The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed. On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority.”
The third article was by Hugh McLeod, who chimed in with some thoughts on why people want to write books:
A successful book agent I know tells me that at leat half the people he meets who are writing their first book, are doing so not because they have anything particularly interesting to say, but because the idea of “the writer’s life” appeals to them.
Tweed jackets, smoking a pipe, sitting out in the gazebo and getting sloshed on Mint Julips, pensively typing away at an old black Remington. Bantering wittily at all the right parties. Or whatever.
Doesn’t this book-writing example seem like so many other things? We all say we want to be rich, lose weight, read more, hang out with friends, etc. But it’s the idea of being rich that’s more appealing than the daily grind of doing it. Maybe it’s having a concierge take care of the details, or having a big house, or flying around anywhere we want. The idea sounds glamorous.
Except, if you’ve read this site, you know it’s not really a grind. Or even a daily thing! You just plan ahead, start early, and actually do something instead of talking about the idea of being rich.
Here’s a good example: Check out this calculator that JLP from AllThingsFinancial made: How Much Can You Save in a Lifetime? Notice how fast money grows at the end.
Here’s my bet: The enterprising people–the ones who really want to be rich, and probably will–will take away something like, “Wow–I better start investing today!” Maybe they’ll read some more on this site and others, and get started.
The not-so-enterprising people who like the idea of being rich will get caught up in the minutiae and have debates about the interest rate that JLP used–sort of like what’s happening right here:
“Ten percent is an extremely high estimate if one is talking real return. 2026 dollars will be worth significantly less than 2006 dollars, I guarantee you that.”
“to get a good understanding of valuation waves. we are in a trading range. trading ranges have pockets of rising prices, but the long term grind is sideays to down in such a secular bear market.
we are indeed in a position of relatively high historical valuations, and we will spend many years moving back to undervaluation”
“How long is the LONG RUN?
Equities have been flat or declining for many 20+ year periods. From the late 60s to the early 80s the markets did nothing. Same for the 30s to the 50s. Same for roughly 1880s to 1920s.
Stock appreciation comes in spurts. We just finished one of the biggest ever run-ups in 2001 and we’re still at record high PEs. It is EXTREMELY unlikely the next 20 years will have returns anywhere near the last 20 years. The market will at best run with inflation.”
The idea of being rich vs. actually doing the logistics of getting rich is so interesting. Now that I’m looking for it, I see the distinction everywhere. Maybe the difference is that one is a pipe dream to be savored, and the other is something that can be done right now.
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