Discomfort Creates Motivation, But Only If You Let It
Today is Christmas Eve, unless you happen to be reading this on a different day of course. Christmas Eve and Day were some of the most memorable and vivid memories I had as a child.
I grew up in a very financially strapped family. Through most of my childhood, my dad was a hard working, low income guy who supported a family of seven: himself, my mom who was his stay at home wife, and his five children, of which I was the oldest.
We weren’t “poor,” but we were seriously strapped. The only way my parents could afford to buy Christmas presents for their five kids was to scrape as best they could and put a little money away all year. Each child received only three or four presents, and only one of the five kids would receive a “big” present each year. “Big” was defined as more than about $50. My parents did their best to rotate which kid got the “big present” each year to make it as fair as they could.
This entire situation really bothered me. I was always a materialistic capitalist from the time I was very small. I started my first business at age nine selling Christmas cards door-to-door to all the neighborhood moms so I could have a little spending money in my pocket…money I didn’t get from my parents who couldn’t afford it. Soon this morphed into selling newspapers, mowing lawns, babysitting, and moving construction debris. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I’d never get any real money out of my parents, so I had to go make it myself.
Often I would ask my dad why he didn’t make more money, and why all of my friends always seemed to have more than we did. He would give me the usual false, left-wing Societal Programming about how money doesn’t make people happy. Even as a child I knew this was demonstrably untrue, since the parents of my more wealthier friends always seemed to be happy, and my parents, while they were good people and good parents, always seemed stressed out.
Every Christmas morning, I would walk into the living room and see the piles of presents under the Christmas tree, and it was like a spiritual experience. Seeing all those gifts was one of the most exciting things, perhaps the most exciting thing I experienced as a kid.
Yet, after we opened all the presents, I would look down on my lap and see the three or four small gifts that were mine, and then see one of my brothers or sisters get really excited about their one “big present,” usually a bicycle or something.
It didn’t seem right to me.
One day I went over to one of my friend’s houses. He was a hyper blonde kid named Barry. This was the first time I had actually visited his home. He showed me around his place. Eventually we came across an open door to a room he hadn’t shown me yet.
“What’s in there?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said, “That’s the toy room.”
“The TOY ROOM?” I exclaimed, “You have an entire room just for your toys?!?”
“Well, yeah,” he said in a confused tone, “Don’t you?”
I turned and entered the room, and it was like entering heaven. It was an entire playroom with all kinds of toys all lined up on three of its four walls. And I’m not just talking toys, I’m taking big expensive toys, like the Star Wars Death Star Playset and the Imperial Walker AT-AT and gigantic space LEGO sets, all of which I knew were way more than $50. $50 was a lot of money for a toy back in the 1980s, especially for kids in families like mine.
I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I screamed in excitement and ran to the toys and started playing with all of them. Barry was confused. “Why are you so excited?” This kind of thing was normal to him. To me it was almost better than Christmas.
My happiness was short-lived. I went home that evening furious. Why the hell did Barry get all these awesome toys and not me? Barry didn’t work any harder at school than I did. As as a matter of fact, I got better grades than he did. Yet he was allowed to live in a toy paradise while I was stuck in my low-income, toy-sparse family. It was bullshit. IT WASN’T FAIR!!!
I was so angry. I cursed the world as a dark and unfair place.
And I was wrong.
My nine-year-old perception of the world was thus. Someone had something I didn’t, therefore the world was unfair, people who had more than me were jerks, and life sucked.
I didn’t realize back then the rational, cause and effect explanations for this disparity. The reasons Barry had so much more than me were very simple. Barry’s dad chose to work in a high-income industry. My dad chose to work in a low-income industry. Barry’s dad chose to have two kids and stop. My dad chose to have five kids and keep going. (My mom was unable to have more past five, but my parents still tried.)
Barry lived in high-income family with only two kids to support. I lived in a low-income family with five kids to support. So of course Barry had more than I had. And in both cases, it wasn’t because the world was evil or unfair. It wasn’t because Barry’s dad, or my dad, was good or bad. It was because our fathers had made different conscious and purposeful life decisions.
Today I see a lot of hatred against people who make more money than others. Every time I see this, I can’t help but think about how I felt when I was dumb nine year-old kid. That guy makes more money than me. He sucks. The world is unfair. Grrr. But no, that’s not it at all. That guy made different decisions than you did. Yes, some guys inherit a lot of money without doing any work, but complaining about these guys is a red herring, since only 8% of today’s millionaires inherited their wealth. I certainly wasn’t in that category. As a young man I had to go out into the marketplace and earn my money.
On the news, in the last year or two, we’ve seen some ghastly and evil things perpetrated by angry men who aren’t successful with women. These men are just like the money-haters. That guy gets hot girls. I don’t. He sucks. The world is unfair. Grrr.
In with both money and women, this is the exact wrong way to channel dissatisfaction. You can either direct dissatisfaction outward into the world and be resentful the rest of your life, or you can channel it inward and transmute it into motivation to become a better, more successful, and more happy man.
As I explain in the Alpha Male 2.0 book, one of the only two times unhappiness is valid past the age of 25 is as a temporary motivator for you to improve your condition. You’re unhappy with something in your life, so you take positive right action to change that condition into something that makes you long-term happy.
I have a higher than average income, and have since I was in my twenties. Today I can buy more or less whatever I want. The only real factor when I buy something, even something expensive, is not if I can afford it but how it will affect my investments. (With my INTJ personality I tend to be pretty anal about those.)
There are many reasons for this financial success. The number one reason is that money creates freedom, and freedom is my highest value. I knew that if I wanted to be a truly free man, I had to make a certain amount of money. So I bit the bullet and did it.
But the number two reason, of all the many reasons, is because of the extreme dissatisfaction I felt for many years as a child in a big family with very little money. I remember how painful it was to want something badly and be unable to afford it. I grew up knowing that I never wanted to feel that negative emotion ever again. I wanted to make sure my future kids and future wife (if any) never felt that emotion either.
As I entered the work world at age 18, I again saw this financial lack with people all around me. Guys at work, in their 30s and 40s, would complain they couldn’t afford things. Women at work would complain they wanted to go on all these trips and other fun things “But my husband is a delivery truck driver and we can’t afford it.” This spurred me on even more. I didn’t want to be one of those guys.
So I put my head down and worked very hard for several years, sacrificing a few things, including a decent sex life, in order to do so. But it worked, as cause and effect always does. By the time I was 27 I was making six figures, and that was back in 1999 when six figures really meant something (since it was before Bush and Obama started printing all that money and jacking up inflation).
So relax tomorrow during Christmas, open your presents, eat a good dinner, try to ignore the Societal Programming of your family, and have a good time. On New Years Eve, go get drunk and party and get laid.
But on January 2nd when the new year really begins, you have a choice to make. You can cross your arms and frown at the world about how unfair everything is, or you can put in the work to better your condition and be happy.
I know which one I’ve always chosen, and which one I will continue to choose next year. I hope you do the same.