A few years ago, during the precipitous fall of the real estate market, I took a ride with an affected builder client to eastern Washington. He had been my premier client and our work together had spanned about 20 years and maybe 250 transactions. We had taken some trips before but this one was kind of sad. We were on our way to list for sale a recreational property he owned in eastern Washington. The truth is, he needed money to pay off some debt caused by the downturn. Actually, he sold most of his possessions, including a second home in Palm Springs. While he never filed bankruptcy, this was a deep cut.
To make matters worse, he would in time develop debilitating nerve pain in his neck and need neck surgery. Shortly thereafter he also developed stage 3 skin cancer and would need to take chemotherapy for a year. His business that employed family members and a long term employee would dwindle and their jobs would be lost. On this trip we talked man to man and he was dealing with how unfair this situation was. He, a very honest and good man, had come out on the short end.
As we rode and I stared out the windshield I had an impression. While I didn’t want to be a “Job’s counselor” I reluctantly, and hopefully humbly, shared an observation with him (the recent subsequent passing of Paul Allen underscores the reality of what I went on to share with my friend).
I remember saying to him, “What if you died today, and Bill Gates died today too. Since you live in the same general area, there is a remote but possible chance you and Gates could be in the same funeral home. If that happened, you would be lying down the hall from one of the world’s wealthiest men. One man would be leaving this world a billionaire. Another man would be leaving this world with not too much wealth. But neither would be taking anything with them but their integrity and their reputation.” To this day, I don’t know if it helped him but it helped me see some perspective.
My friend now is mostly retired, doing some odd jobs and is happier than I ever remember him being. He no longer has a crew, massive debt and a staggering to-do list. He no longer wakes up at 3 AM wondering how it will all turn out. Through the real estate depression, he managed to save his home and pay it off. He still has some meager assets but nothing like he once had. But he is at peace, has his health, his wife of nearly 50 years and 10 grandkids. He no longer flies an airplane or takes trips to Africa. But, he recently bought a camper trailer, goes on walks with his wife, attends services at his faith community and does mostly what he wants on a daily basis. He is happy, at peace and is respected by all who know him.
The takeaway. Life isn’t about how much net worth you have or how high you climb. Your true net worth is about being thankful for the existential realities of life and about being a steward of the short time you have on this planet. It is about being at peace with yourself, your family, your accomplishments and your core values.