Do You Want It? Or Do You Want to Be the Guy Who Has It?

This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes — it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up.
— Marilyn Monroe

I spent much of my childhood in Los Angeles. I’m convinced that people in Los Angeles are more image obsessed than any other city in the world. This leads to a number of odd phenomena.

While the aspirational in the rest of the country are often house poor, for example, many in Los Angeles are what I’ll call “car poor” — guys making $30,000 per year driving a Porsche while living in a microscopic concrete box with one window and no furniture.

A Porsche doesn’t do you much good in L.A. — after all, you can rarely break 30 MPH, what with the traffic and all. But we all know it’s not really about going fast. These guys aren’t even all that into cars, per se. They just want to look cool.

In short, in their heart of hearts, they don’t really want a Porsche. What they want is to be the guy who has a Porsche. That guy is cool. He gets invited to the hottest parties in town. He gets laid. And the car-poor guy wants you to think he’s that guy, even though he is in fact the guy who can barely afford a Kia.

We can laugh at the folly of the car-poor guy, but are the house-poor in the rest of the country all that different? We already know they don’t need a McMansion, but do they even want one? Or do they just want to be the family that has one? I wonder.

The same sort of thinking can land you in the wrong career, if you’re not careful. If you recall, I went to law school. It didn’t work out so well. When I look back on my decision to go in the first place, I wonder — Did I want to practice law? Or did I just want to be a lawyer? I honestly don’t know the answer, now — but I have my suspicions.

Life isn’t about what you “are,” or what you have. It’s about what you do. If you devote your life to being something, or owning something (or many somethings), chances are you’ll wind up disappointed.

Epilogue: The Challenge Comes to an End

I’ve dreamed all my life of being a writer, but did I actually want to write? Or did I just want to be a writer? To have written?

I embarked on this 30-day posting commitment in part to help answer that question once and for all. It’s been a challenge. I’ve written on nights when I was exhausted and really wanted to be doing something else. On a number of nights I struggled to decide what to write about. The quality of the posts was mixed, in my estimation, but I expected that going in.

The challenge ends today. And while I’m looking forward to a break, I think I have an answer to my question: I want to write.

Thanks to all of you who take time out of your days to read my ramblings.

“Confessions of an Index Investing Skeptic” will continue next week.

10 Comments

  1. If I didn’t know better I’d say you’d found your passion ;-)

  2. Eric

    Cool, I’m glad you decided you enjoy writing. Your posts are good education, so it would be a shame if you decided you didn’t like writing and stopped this blog.

  3. It took me a long time to figure out what I truly want instead of what others want for me. My parents tried to influence me one way but I could never fit that mold.

    Now I only do things that please myself and my husband and my parents have finally let me be me. Sure they are never going to be the most positive people in the world but neither will they keep raining down on my parade.

  4. MBo

    Please don’t disappear Sean. I really enjoyed your daily posts. Maybe you could set a once a week post minimum goal. Hope to read more from you.
    MBo

  5. Danny

    People are routinely told to follow their dreams, but frankly I think that’s terrible advice. Most people’s dreams are based upon dreams, and not concrete, day-to-day reality. I wanted to be a physicist but, while I did love physics, that job isn’t about sitting in an office, being eccentric, teaching people cool things, and looking smart. (Unless you’re Richard Feynman.) It’s about slogging through the academic treadmill and constantly writing papers. Fine for some, but ultimately not what I’d like to be doing with my life.

    Now, I’m working a chill corporate job doing programming/IT stuff. I only have to work 40 hours a week and my job involves geeking around on computers. It’s not nearly as cool as some of the stuff my friends are doing, and I’m sure there are some who thought I’ve sold out, but who cares?! I enjoy what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. That’s ultimately all that matters.

  6. Sean, I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve caught up on your newest posts. AND, I used to be the “guy (well, girl), who wants it all. That led me to not only spend 15 years in a super stressful corporate gig, but also spend most of the money I earned. Luckily in the last two years I got wise, got out of debt, and saved a bunch of money. Now I’m on sabbatical and considering my next step. Anyways, your posts have been a support on my trip. Keep it up!

  7. I have tried doing that “car poor” thing in the past while in the military. It is easy to do if Uncle Sam pays for the rent and the food. It might be a little bit harder if you are the one that has to meet those obligations…never again.

  8. Man I know a few guys who want to be the guy who owns the porsche and I never thought about it this way. I tried to explain to a business partner of mine that a porsche wasn’t a good idea, he went ahead and bought it anyway. He can barely afford the fuel bill on that thing each month. He admitted that he’d have to sell it again soon but tried to justify it nonetheless. Madness.

  9. Jackson

    Hey Sean,

    I found your blog a few days ago and just got done reading all your posts. Of course I enjoy your stories of how you achieved financial independence but I especially enjoy your articles on finance in general. I really liked reading the index fund series and I would love to see more of these in-depth writings about finance. And I know that this article is the last in your 30 day challenge and I personally think you should not feel pressured to pump out articles everyday. I would much rather have a well written, polished article once a month or even more infrequently than read a bunch of rushed non-substantive articles.

    Take care!

  10. Gerard

    Thanks for writing this. I got a little queasy partway through when I realized it described some of my travel choices. Do I like being interesting places, or do I like Having Been Interesting Places?

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  1. [...] Sean Owen has a great write up on figuring out his passion and doing what he loves. It’s a fresh reminder that we don’t have time to waste working on things we [...]

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