In our society, it’s almost never cool to say “I like money,” unless you can make a character out of it like Kevin O’Leary. For a regular person, it’s way cooler to say things like “money doesn’t matter,” “money can’t buy happiness,” and “how much money do you need?”
The people who say these things usually don’t know what poverty looks like.
While I agree that money isn’t everything, it’s always easier and better to say these things when you actually have some money. Try telling a hungry person “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and he would ask you how to get his hands on some of the evil stuff.
Here is the truth: it sucks to be poor. It sucks bad.
What Does Poverty Look Like?
In my early twenties, as a college student trapped in the wrong major, I couldn’t pass the courses to graduate no matter how hard I tried. Moreover, as an international student, I couldn’t make money because US immigration laws wouldn’t allow students to legally work without getting a degree. To top it all of, and probably because of these problems, I was hit with crippling depression. Getting out of bed every day seemed like an impossible achievement.
The result of all these issues: I was broke. Really broke. One sweltering summer day in my early 20’s, I received a letter informing me that my credit score has dropped to 568, because my credit card was charged off and reported to the credit bureau. Shocked, I called the Capital One collection department asking them what’s going on. A woman, and I would never forget her voice, laughed at me for having the audacity to call her and ask this question while being 90 days late on payments. “So you are punishing me for being poor? How do I get the money when I can’t work?” I asked. “No I am punishing you for being stupid,” she hung up the phone. “She could have left out the stupid part,” I thought to myself.
Two days later, I borrowed a couple hundred dollars from a friend at church and tried to call Capital One again to see if I could pay off my credit card and have them remove it from my credit report. But when I dialed the number, the call didn’t go through. The only thing on the line was a Verizon machine recording repeating “your service has been suspended due to non-payment, dial #6 to make a payment.” I heard that voice over and over again and I started to miss the diabolical Capital One lady. At least I could be called names by a real person instead of a machine.
Later on the same day, I heard a shuffling noise and hard steps at my apartment entrance. A piece of paper was slid underneath the front door. It was a notice explaining to me that in 10 days, I would be evicted from the apartment if I didn’t pay my rent. Apparently, the person left the note in a hurry so she didn’t have to risk me opening the door and asking questions. Not everyone enjoyed delivering bad news and confrontations the way the Capital One lady did.
And the very next day, my 1999 Toyota Corolla was nowhere to be found in the parking lot. In a panic, I borrowed my roommate’s phone to call the police, who directed me to a towing company telling me that Toyota has repossessed my car because of failure to pay back my car loans. My car was on a big truck heading to a Las Vegas auction yard as we spoke.
That day, I still had to go to school, try to complete my last assignment of my last class so I could finally graduate from college, and get that elusive college degree so I could be legally allowed to work in America and earn a living. Without the car, I walked to school. The sun was punishing that day, and the humidity was suffocating. I walked past construction sites where excavators were removing dirt from the ground.
There were the heat, the sweat, and the dust. And there were no money, no phone, no place to live, and no car to go anywhere. More importantly, there were also the shame, the indignity, and the helplessness.
It was the lowest point of my life.
I have never had serious suicidal thoughts. But I could understand that a person in my situation might have considered taking the easy way out.
They say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Somewhere along the walk, my mind wandered to Martin Luther King Jr., his March on Washington, and Letter from Birmingham Jail. No, I wasn’t fighting for any freedom from oppression or civil rights. But I was fighting for my personal freedom from poverty and in a way, my life. “I am going to remember this day and this walk; I am going to graduate; I am going to work; I am going to make lots of money; I am going to invest my money; And I am going to be rich,” I said to myself.
That was 15 years ago. Today, I am writing this article sitting in a first-class seat, flying back from a conference where I was the keynote speaker. I am an established author, a TED speaker. I have an awesome wife, two beautiful kids, a millionaire net worth, and am living my dream of being an entrepreneur every day.
Yes I know what poverty is like, and it sucks. That’s why I hate it when people say “money doesn’t matter.” Guess what, it matters a lot! It’s the difference between living with and without dignity. It’s the difference between having a dream and facing extinction. And it’s the difference between spending every ounce of energy on making an impact in the world versus trying to make ends meet.
Today, I no longer work for money. I don’t exchange my limited time for money anymore. Instead, my money is working for me. I have enough love investment that will grow on its own, and will become much, much bigger in the coming decades regardless of my working status. My focus is changing the world for the better. My energy is on impacting others’ lives rather than my own. And I know I will never have to talk to the collection lady again (I have signed up for countless credit cards for rewards since, not one of them is Capital One). That’s also why I am writing this blog. I want to help you to make and grow enough money so you can go after your dream as well. Maybe you will have to take your personal walk toward wealth and financial freedom. But if you follow my advice, have patience, and don’t give up, you will also complete that journey.