The True Power of Money

When we say “money is power,” we usually mean it in terms of “wealth accumulated.” Underlying this definition is the belief that money only retains its power as long as we don’t spend it.

As a simple example, we would say that someone who has $100 million can “buy or do anything they want.” They could own a fancy mansion, buy their way into a VIP table at an exclusive restaurant, or kickstart an influencer business much more aggressively than a non-wealthy person — but whichever of these moves they choose to make, each one would weaken their power insofar as it reduces their overall net worth. If that person spends the entire $100 million on a single real estate properly which ends up decreasing in value, we would say they’ve lost, or perhaps even wasted, all of their financial power.

This is a narrow but pervasive view of money, and it is why so many of us play the “get-rich-any-way-whichever” game. We equate money to potential, and we think the more potential we can rack up, the more powerful we’ll be.

The truth, however, is the opposite: The person who sits on $100 million but never spends it has zero power, and the person who spends their $1,500 deliberately each month has a lot of it — because they exercise their potential rather than just collect it.

We all understand this when it comes to our “personal” potential: It doesn’t matter what talents, skills, or good traits you might have if you don’t use any of them. “You’re wasting your potential!” we might implore someone who is hanging up their tennis rack too soon, but then we turn around and praise people who made fortunes only to hog them for three generations.

The true power of money lies in how you spend it. Some of the wealthiest people are starting to understand this. Bill Gates, MacKenzie Bezos, Warren Buffett — they have realized that their (financial) potential is growing faster than they can use it, and so they’ve begun making efforts to ensure all of it will actually be used, aka spent towards meaningful ends. Hence the giving pledge and massive charitable organizations in their names, employing thousands of people tasked only with finding good causes to give to and for.

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck or only have a very modest amount of savings and investments, it’s easy to feel as if you don’t have any financial power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you spend $500, $1,000, or $10,000 each month, each of those dollars is a vote. A vote for the person you want to become. A vote for the world you wish to see. A vote for which causes, companies, and people you are supporting. You can vote blindly, or you can spend your dollars deliberately — and that determines your true financial power more so than how many votes you cast.

Let’s say you believe a certain brand of goat cheese is bad for the environment. You want to stop buying it, but you don’t think your $10 spent on goat cheese each month will make a difference, and so, at least if the store doesn’t have any other kind, you keep buying it regardless. This is a true example of wasting your financial power. Because our own numbers are small, we stop believing in “strength in numbers” altogether. But if everyone who has these same feelings about that particular brand of goat cheese also keeps buying it because they don’t think they can make a difference, well, everyone will be right!

The opposite scenario starts with one person, and that one person may as well be you: You boycott the brand of goat cheese, and you tell your friends why you’re doing it. Before you know it, five more people also stop spending $10 on that brand, and then 50, and then 5,000. If a million people choose to not spend $10 on that goat cheese each month, that’s a $120 million hole in one company’s revenue. It could easily be the difference between record profits and bankruptcy. But we rarely think about what’s possible. We think about the size of our wallets and conclude they’re not big enough — and then we go back to trying to accumulate more money.

None of this is to say that saving, investing, and planning for retirement are inherently bad. As with your personal potential, you need to decide which parts of it to capitalize on when, and going all-in all the time is neither possible nor advisable. Up to a certain amount, it is reassuring and inspiring to save some of your potential. But what that amount is for you, only you can determine, and it’s probably less than you think.

Regardless of how much you choose to save, what’s important is being deliberate in how you spend whatever money you do choose to employ. Which electricity company are you supporting? Are you becoming a learner, for example by buying books, or are you just idling, entertaining yourself with silly movies? Do you support a friend’s art project with a $10 donation, or do you blow your weekend budget on alcohol? These questions will reveal more about your financial power than the balance of your bank account ever could.

As long as we accumulate it, money is nothing but potential, and we all know potential is an easy thing to waste. Wealth is not strength, and riches aren’t supremacy. The power of money lies in how you spend it.

Hope Is Never Mere

In The Rings of Power, elven lord Elrond must make a tough decision: Will he spill his dwarf friend’s secrets, or risk the demise of his entire race?

When his king asks him to reveal information about a special raw material the dwarves may have discovered, Elrond responds: “I swore an oath to Durin. To some, that may now hold little weight. But in my esteem, it is by such things our very souls are bound. I do not intend to let mine slip away on the basis of mere hope.”

While Elrond’s aspirations are noble, king Gil-Galad then reminds him of an important truth: “Hope is never mere — even when it is meager.”

On some days, we’ll have less of a silver lining to hold on to than others. When you get fired, broken up with, or laughed out the door, hope will feel far away. In times of despair, it matters not what reignites the spark of hope — what matters is that we capture it.

If the bartender tells a funny joke while you’re sipping your third whiskey by yourself, hold on to the laughter. If a stranger smiles at you on the bus, remember the gentleness in their face. And if a kind newsstand stand owner chucks in a bubble gum for free on your way home from yet another rejection, savor every bite of the minty flavor.

Hope may sometimes elude us, but it is never really gone. Even if the only light we can find is a tea candle, it is still a flame worth kindling — for hope is never mere, and it only takes a candle to ignite the biggest fire.

Creative Freedom Must Be Earned

It is probably a mistake that we instruct children to do whatever they want with the majority of their time for the first 18 years, then tell them that’s no longer how it works. What if we afforded adults that same creative freedom? Would the economy collapse? Would it thrive?

I think it could work. The world would probably look a lot different than it does now. We’d have more writers and fewer plant managers, more Youtubers and fewer farmers, and perhaps that pressure would actually lead to faster innovation in industries like food, transportation, energy, and other critical infrastructure. After all, some people are deeply interested in those, too, and they’d get to work on them full-time!

Alas, as it stands — and perhaps I am wrong to assume it could be any other way — creative freedom must be earned. You can earn it with an unrelated, full-time job, or you can earn it by compromising what you work on, but anytime you say, “I will do this exactly the way I want to do it,” there will be a price to pay.

Ironically, exercising your creative freedom to its full extent is usually the fastest path towards pursuing it full-time — if that is your goal, and if there is a path to financial sustainability in the first place.

Let’s say you work a job in accounting, but in your spare time, you showcase your woodworking skills on TikTok. If you stick to your guns and make the figurines you like to make, the world may or may not like them, but if they do, you might have a business on your hands. The advantage here is that it’s easier to be authentic because there’s no financial pressure on your woodworking hobby to begin with. The drawback is that you only have a few hours a week to both perform the hobby and document it.

For the full-time creator, the tradeoff is a different one: How many videos will you make to pay the bills, and how many will you make because you want to make them? Chances are, the stuff you want to create and the stuff people want to buy won’t 100% overlap. In most cases, that percentage is much closer to zero than 100, and so the full-time creator can quickly find herself in a situation that’s similar to that of the employee, ghostwriting article after article with no time left to work on her own book. On the plus side, she gets to write all day long, and to the cubicle worker dreading to return to yet another spreadsheet, that too can seem enticing.

Regardless of the specifics, the time you spend creating the way you used to when you were nine will have to be earned with blood, sweat, and sometimes tears, and so you better not waste it. There are few things more saddening than to shovel free an entire Thursday only to realize you spent it chasing dumb get-rich-quick schemes two days later.

When you choose creativity, choose creativity all the way through. Insist on doing things your way, and let the chips fall where they may.

Until the world realizes children had the right approach all along and organizes itself around it, we may have to struggle for our creative freedom, but if we use what we earn well, it’ll be one of the few battles in life truly worth fighting.

Thinking Just to Think

When I told my grandma that I stopped drinking coffee because I’ll sleep a lot better, she immediately pointed at the true root of the problem: “You think too much.” Perhaps she knew because it’s an affliction she and my mom and I all share, or perhaps it was just the wisdom of age. Either way, grandma was right on the money.

I’ve always been an overthinker. It’s hard for me to turn off the gears whizzing away in my brain. I can lie in bed for hours, be it at night or in the morning, just thinking away. Becoming a self-employed creative has exacerbated that trend. There’s always another article to write, another project to tend to, an admin problem to take care of, taxes to file, or, finally, some free time to be filled with meaningful activities.

Given there are a million things that feel like they should rightfully occupy my mind at any given time, it’s easy for me to think just to think. My thinking sessions under my comforter rarely lead to a brilliant insight. Sometimes, I’ll take a note or two after I get up, but most of the time, I realize: Those two hours would have been better spent elsewhere. Doing things, perhaps, or at the very least not fretting, which is often synonymous with “thinking.”

Meditation has helped a lot. I can catch myself thinking away and say, “Oh, that’s not useful. Let me get up and do something instead.” At first, this felt almost wrong. In a society that values thinkers so highly, criticizing the very act of thinking is a contrarian take. “What do you mean, thinking isn’t useful? What about Einstein, and philosophy, and J. K. Rowling?” But not all thoughts are created equal, and almost all thoughts are squandered potential if we don’t act on them later — if only by writing them down.

The other thing about those who think for a living is that they do it in a focused, contained manner — at least if they’re good at it. A philosopher might spend three hours each day in deep focus on her topic, then take some notes and go grocery shopping. If she can do all her “work thinking” in the morning, why add more later when her brain is less capable of performing?

The problem isn’t thinking itself; it’s thinking just to think. When thinking becomes an end instead of a means, thoughts become the disease instead of the cure.

Think as much as you need to, then stop. When you hang up a painting in the morning, you don’t carry around your hammer all day either. But thinking is deceptive. As long as there’s any kind of activity in our brain, we feel like we’re using it and using it properly. Even if that’s not the case — if our thinking doesn’t go anywhere — our brain tells us we’re smart, and we get all gooey inside. It’s the equivalent of continuing to hold your hammer just because it feels so good in your hand.

Are you thinking with a purpose, or are you thinking just to think? Separate the two as best as you can — and if it takes a lower caffeine intake to do it, I think that’s a price well worth paying.

Work Is a Relationship With Strangers

Writing books is about as solitary a job as one can find, and yet…

Psychologist Alfred Adler, one of the “three greats of the 20th century” next to Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, saw only three “life tasks,” as he called them, for each human being: tasks of work, tasks of friendship, and tasks of love. You might look at this trifecta and think, “Oh, sure, that makes sense. It is our relationships and our work that matter most,” but actually, Adler thought work, like the other two, is just another form of relationship.

You see, Adler also believed that “all problems are people problems.” Whatever our challenge might be, in one way or another, it would inevitably come back to our connection to other human beings. Someone who’s lonely is only lonely because they feel as if they don’t fit in with others — a group of friends, at work, or society at large. Addiction might be a way to rebel against one’s parents, and so on.

From this perspective, work is just a set of relationships with people you know a little (or a lot) less than your friends or your family.

Going back to writing books, on the surface, it seems like it’s the most solo gig there ever was, right? You’re sitting in a room, alone, trying to come up with words, alone, and then structuring it all in a way that makes sense, also alone. Forget editors, sources, or being a journalist. I’m talking about a hardcore self-publisher. Someone like Steve Scott, who, for a while, published a new, short book every month. What does that kind of work have to do with relationships? Actually, a whole lot — because at the end of the day, who are the books for? People.

As soon as I had finished my first blog post, I couldn’t wait to see what people might think. I showed it to my parents, my sister, and my friends. I posted it on Facebook and other social media. I’ve enjoyed writing from the first second I took it seriously, but from that same second, I also wrote so people might one day read my work. At first, I only had a tiny audience, but it was an audience nonetheless.

Today, a few hundred people read my work every day, but little has changed: I still write hoping more people will read my work, but I now also write so the people who already do may have something to read. I want people to say, “Oh, that’s a typical Nik post!” It’s the highest compliment.

In your work, the necessity of relationships might be more obvious than in mine, but the point is that, whichever relationships lie at its core, work has no purpose without its human element. Work is always for something — and, in turn, that something is always for people.

If all of our “life tasks” relate around people, and if work is nothing more than the tasks involving those with whom our ties are the loosest, that raises an important question: Do you really want to spend more time working? In essence, whenever you are working, you are working on your relationships with the people you might have the weakest connection with.

In my case, most of the time, it is a connection with literal strangers. I don’t know most of my readers. I know some, and they’re wonderful, but at the end of the day, I’m writing books for people halfway around the globe whom I’ll never meet, see, or hear from. There are also colleagues and peers, of course, some of which I’ve come to call friends, but none of whom are as important to me as my family.

Even if you’re very familiar with the people at work — after all, you spend close to a third of your time around them — chances are, you don’t dig as deep in your conversations with co-workers as you do with your best bud from high school or your wife. Whenever you choose to work more, to put in another hour, you are essentially prioritizing those people over the ones closer to your heart.

This isn’t to say that working more is always bad. It feels great to make something useful for others, and sometimes, especially the fact that those others are strangers adds to our sense of accomplishment. You can feel a sense of camaraderie with your co-workers, too, and some may even become friends. But it is worth reflecting on this dynamic.

All you have in life is relationships. Work is just one of three flavors — and most likely, it’s the least important kind.

Life Is Not a Recipe

You don’t have to do the steps in sequence to get the same result.

When you make carbonara, pouring in the cheese before the egg can be disastrous. It changes the consistency of the sauce. In life, changing it up may be the very thing allowing you to maintain consistency rather than destroy it.

In your daily routine, it sometimes pays to take out a step and do it later. I rarely work out early on weekends. The mornings are my recovery time. Today, I looked into the mirror and saw it was time to shave. But I don’t have to do it before I shower. I can skip it in the morning, then use it as a quick afternoon break.

In cooking, accounting, and a dance choreography, too much leeway compromises the results. Most elsewhere, flexibility is our very source of stability.

Don’t feel bad for going off script. Rewrite it as you need to keep walking your path.

Beauty and Madness

This is my blog. I can write whatever I want. Any word, any phrase, any sentence. Any sentence! Picture this freedom. Try to imagine it for a second. I can’t. Can you? It’s too big! Where do I even begin imagining? The vastness of it is overwhelming.

On some days, the freedom of what to write about drives me mad. The choice is a great burden. How do I pick among thousands of topics and trillions of word combinations? At the same time, it is only from this chaos that beauty can emerge. If I pick the right words, if I make the letters sing, it’s a feat for the ages. “How did he wrestle those lines from infinite possibility?” Usually, I’m the one least inclined to have an answer.

Beauty is what happens when we look square at the madness and bring something back. Without madness, there can be no beauty — and vice versa.

You don’t have to wear old rags and live in the woods to be a great painter, but if you want the potential for beauty, you must also accept the potential for madness. Will the painting you imagine make it onto the canvas? Or will your mind distract you too much with its constantly moving images?

Every day could be the day a sprinter breaks her personal record. It could also be the day she trips, falls, and will never run again. Where there’s beauty, there’s madness.

Humans aren’t built to run organizations with thousands of people. Does the CEO go with this proposal or that, this schedule or that one, her gut or her trusted advisors? She must get thousands of tiny decisions right in sequence, but if she does, the resulting product will be astonishing.

Chaos, chance, and choice all start with the same two letters. Coincidence? Maybe they’re the madness side of the equation. The oppressors trying to get the best of us. But a chance can also be a break. A gap in the chaos. An opportunity.

Composure, conviction, and compassion. Those also start with the same two letters. Are they the stewards of beauty? We need to be patient, passionate, and forgiving. That’s how we fly through the hole in the chaos, first to steal from it and then to return home safely with our loot.

When you see beauty, remember that, at some point, a sacrifice was made to attain it. And when you’re making beauty — and, every day, you are making beauty — don’t step too close to the madness.

Because We Can

A friend of mine does a lot of cycling. He recently did a long tour with two of his friends. Let’s call them Björn and Barbara. For some reason, Barbara was cycling as if the devil himself was chasing her. At one point, my friend caught up with her and asked: “What are you cycling away from?”

Barbara thought about his question for a second. There was a lot going on in her life. She was moving flats, had a busy job, and struggled with some health issues. But she didn’t feel unhappy.

Barbara relayed the question to Björn, who was even further ahead than she was. “Hey Björn, why are we cycling 200 kilometers in a day like madmen?” And Björn only said three words: “Because we can.”

You don’t need a reason for everything you do, and you especially don’t need a reason to do something great. What a magnificent achievement of the human body, to cover 200,000 meters in a day, using nothing but one’s legs and a simple device. How awe-inspiring that we can do that! So why wouldn’t we?

Later in the day, Björn elaborated on his stance: “We are free. We are here. We are awesome. We have the power to pull off this feat, and that’s why we’re doing it. To have fun. To enjoy the challenge. To remind ourselves that we can.”

“Because we can” is the best motivation there is. It is not clouded by incentives or worries or regret. It acknowledges the infinite genius, inspiration, and creativity of the human spirit. It reminds us to be playful, to stay curious, and to not prematurely give up on things that have never been tried.

The next time you catch yourself chasing the wind, don’t doubt your intentions. You’re not doing it for some ulterior motive. You’re doing it because you can — and that’s the best part about it.

What Does It Take for a Week to End?

We use the word “weekend” all the time, but we rarely think about its transformative power. Every seven days something is ending — and it brings with it the magic of a new beginning.

But that’s where the problem starts, isn’t it? When does the old week end and the new one begin? Is it Friday? Saturday? Sunday? When you launch a WordPress website, there’s a setting for you to choose between new weeks starting on either Sunday or Monday. In the US, many people would say Sunday. In Europe, it’s mostly Monday.

In Jewish culture, each week’s resting day is the Sabbath, Saturday. In Germany, church services are held on Sunday, which is also when shops are closed. Other geographies seem to never break business hours at all.

As a self-employed creative, my weekends often look rather similar to my weekdays. Lately, I’ve been so busy, I’ve mostly turned them into “days for admin tasks with slightly shorter to-do lists.” I might change the order of my daily routine a bit or play some video games, but that’s not enough to mark a real break from what happens Monday through Friday — a real weekend that can symbol a new beginning.

In the end, I don’t think it matters much which day we think comes first or which one we pick to deviate from our usual patterns. But the weekly ritual of deliberately soldering one week shut and pausing to form a conscious plan for the next? That feels rather important.

When our weekends merge quietly into the blur of repetitive weekdays, that’s when months seem to suddenly turn into years. “Where did the last half year go?” Well, you never paused! You rushed through it without looking at your map. But did you end up at the right destination?

To my defense, I do love “the magic of Monday.” That’s when I feel I get a fresh start. I might think about the coming week a bit on Sunday night, but Monday is when the next chapter truly begins. Monday always seems full of potential. How far will you go in the next five days? What surprises will you look back on by Friday? It’s not perfect, and I need to work on my recovery, but at least it allows me to acknowledge the door-like mechanic that lies somewhere between each week and the next.

Whether you throw your laptop into a corner and hit a big pause button for 48 hours or practice a quiet tea ritual on Sunday afternoon, ask yourself: What does it take for a week to end for me? What will help me feel satisfied about the seven days that have passed, and what must I do to feel properly prepared for the seven next ones coming?

Life is never short on second chances. Each year, 52 of them are printed right onto our calendars. In reality, we get thousands more, but it still won’t hurt to turn each weekend into whatever springboard it needs to be. Let’s make sure our endings enable the right beginnings.

Reservations Are For Restaurants

Sometimes, I message other creators out of the blue. Maybe I’ve watched their Youtube channel for a while or just stumbled across their blog and ended up reading six posts in a row. My emails to those people usually go like this:

“Heyo! I’m Nik, a writer from Germany. Just found your blog and wanted to say hi. I loved the story about your grandma’s weirdly delicious recipes. It reminded me of my grandma’s odd but tasty meals. She has one where she stuffs a chicken with knödel and then you eat it with apple mousse. Sounds wrong, but works. Anyway, just happy I found your work. Thank you for doing it. Keep at it!”

It’s the equivalent of someone you’re not entirely sure you even know coming at you on the street with open arms, yelling: “There you are! SO nice to finally meet you!” The initial hug might be awkward, but usually, if you realize the person’s genuine, you might strike up a meaningful connection.

Most people, however, are not like that. Not in their private life and especially not in business. I think that’s sad. I don’t want to walk on egg shells wherever I go. I want to be myself everywhere, not just at home.

If a potential friend, business partner, or peer creative thinks me talking about my grandma’s stuffing in my first email is a dealbreaker, then, actually, we both win: They don’t have to reply, and I don’t have to play some weird social game to try and get them to like me. We can either meet at a similar level of trust and open-mindedness or not at all.

Sometimes, people will send reserved, nondescript answers to my emails. “Thank you! It’s always nice to hear from fans.” Actually, it’s always sad when a fan showed the courage to reach out to you, and then you lumped them in with 10,000 other people and showed them that’s what you’re doing. On the other hand, I get it. People are busy. “Better to answer than not answer at all,” they might think. We’ve all gotten burned too, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to walk around like an open book.

The best connections often emerge when those people come around later. “When we first met, I thought you were a weirdo, but then I realized: This guy’s legit!” To the person who initially reached out, that’s both satisfying and heartwarming. They handed you a big trust advance, and though you were skeptical, you eventually returned the favor.

There’s a lesson in here about how to react when a big teddy bear stumbles into your life and knocks you over. You can catch them in your arms, take a careful step back, or turn around and run away. It takes courage to reciprocate an awkward hug, but when in doubt, a somber handshake at least keeps all doors into the future open.

The biggest takeaway, however, is not about what you do when someone super-authentic appears in your life. It’s about how you should walk down the street. Reservations are for restaurants. You can’t go through life holding back 50% all the time. The only thing that guarantees is regret.

Be the open book that gets others to break out of their shell. If we all overshare a little, being more honest will become the new norm. See the opportunity in every genuine interaction rather than the risk of exposing one of your quirks. We’re all special in our own ways, and life is about discovering those mutual idiosyncrasies, not hiding them.

The next time someone strikes you — with their work, their charm, or their curiosity — tell them exactly why you felt connected. It may not be the email they wanted, but beyond the chance of making a new friend, it might be the very message they need.