One in 185 people is a millionaire. Credit Suisse counted 42.2 million of them in the 2018 Global Wealth Report. Divide that by the 7.7 billion people currently inhabiting this planet, and you get to that number — about 0.5%.
And just like you “get” to that number, we think “getting rich” is an activity. That it’s about movement, action, struggle. It’s implied. Think about how we use the word “get.” We get coffee. A job. To the top of a mountain.
It’s true, of course, that getting rich requires years of hard work. You’ll have to learn a lot, build skills, make the right decisions at the right time, and have a whole bunch of luck in the process. But if that’s all we focus on, we miss the most important aspect of how wealth is built: through compound growth.
This compounding happens in your choices, judgment calls, and financial decisions — but it also happens in the assets you own and, often, without you being fully aware of it, let alone doing anything to contribute.
After spending 5.5 years on the rollercoaster of building her own startup, Danielle Morrill ultimately sold the company with no big payday. Before that, however, she’d been the first employee at Twilio, a company that went public in 2016, and the growth of her share of that single stock was enough to retire.
Reflecting on the experience, Danielle writes:
After making my detailed spreadsheet it was undeniable: at a relatively conservative compounding growth rate, I could stop working and cover my expenses with my investment income and I would have more money than I’d ever need to spend in my life. It was very disorienting to have my net worth climb from something I hadn’t worked on since 2012, while my current efforts were amounting to nothing in economic terms.
Understanding that you’re most likely to build wealth on the back of something that grows exponentially is a huge perspective shift, but an important one to make. Otherwise, you might always be working on something, but be so busy hustling that you forget to build and hold stakes in ventures that can still work out after you leave them alone.
As you can see, getting rich is equally as much, if not more, about what you don’t do as it is about what you say yes to. The stock you didn’t sell, the side project you held on to, the old buddy you stayed in touch with.
In the same vein, it’s much harder to point to a set of wealth-building patterns than it is to spot what keeps people from getting rich and rid yourself of these behaviors. Once you’ve unlearned whatever wealth-rejecting habits you might have, all that’s left is to take action and wait for exponential growth to kick in.
Here are five of those habits I’ve spotted in myself and others over the years.
1. Stop Telling Yourself Money Is Evil
Have you ever noticed that people who claim money is dirty never seem to have any? It’s as if by rejecting it, they could keep their hands clean. That’s nonsense, of course.
Money doesn’t come in different ethical flavors. It has no flavor at all. It’s like a shovel, or a computer, or a typewriter — a tool with no inherent intentions. A purpose, maybe, but no intentions. In order for us to judge something as ethical or unethical, humans have to be involved. Only their intentions matter.
In that sense, money is just a consequence and an amplifier. It can be a consequence of ethical behavior or of unethical behavior. And it can enhance a person’s already ethical or unethical intentions. Nothing more, nothing less.
When you think “this person doesn’t deserve their money” or “they must be doing something fishy,” that’s jealousy in clever disguise. In that moment, you’re the one with questionable ethics. Instead, you should be happy for them and get back to what you can do, who you can do it for, and how to do it the right way.
Speaking of focusing on yourself…
2. Stop Playing Status Games
Think of the most popular person in your high school. Where are they now? Chances are, they peaked early. They got stuck playing status games.
The problem with status games is that they’re zero-sum games: The only way you win is if someone else loses. Politics, fame, prestige, these are all ranked hierarchies. For you to move up a slot, another person must move one down.
Naval Ravikant explains:
“The problem is that to win at a status game, you have to put somebody else down. That’s why you should avoid status games in your life because they make you into an angry combative person. You’re always fighting to put other people down, to put yourself and the people you like up.”
Building wealth by making things people want, however, is a positive-sum game: the more people do it, the better. If you and I both build cars, chances are, we’ll figure out a better way to do it together.
Getting the life you want depends on you playing wealth games, not status games. If you’re always busy trying to look good, you’ll have no time and energy left to actually do good. Sometimes, doing good is a thankless job, but you’ll have to keep doing it anyway to succeed.
3. Stop Rejecting Responsibility
Exponential financial rewards are the result of taking on asymmetric risk. Asymmetric risk is when there’s a disproportional difference between how much you stand to gain vs. how much you stand to lose.
For Danielle, if Twilio had failed along the way, her stock options would have been worth zero. That would’ve sucked, but she could’ve just gotten another job. The upside, however, was only limited by how big of a company Twilio could become. Right now, it’s worth $17 billion dollars at $124 a share. The reason she received enough of them to retire is that she took responsibility for important work inside the company early on. It was risky, but not dangerous.
In contrast, many employees at big corporations only play games of shift-the-blame. Everyone wants to point to their boss when things go wrong, but this comes at the expense of their asymmetric risk. No responsibility, no rewards.
Most of the time when responsibility comes your way, it’s not dangerous to take it. It’s just uncomfortable. It takes effort. You must stand for something, and there’s a chance you might end up standing for the wrong thing. But it’s rarely something you can’t recover from.
Better yet, don’t wait for responsibility to show up on your doorstep. Just take some. Speak up. Say, “I’ll write two articles for you each week,” or, “I’ll make your shoes look brand new,” or, “this tool will save you 10 minutes a day.”
All of this is taking responsibility, and all of it has the power to come with asymmetric risk. Choose the right responsibilities and then live up to them.
4. Stop Wasting Your Leverage
Working hard is a requirement of getting rich, but it’s not going to be the deciding factor. In the end, your judgment matters more. Wealthy people are thinkers armed with leverage. I also learned this from Naval.
Leverage multiplies the results of your decisions. It comes in different forms.
Money is one of them. If I can invest $1,000 into a stock that doubles in value, I’ll make more money in return than someone who can only invest $100.
Labor is another form of leverage. If I can teach you how to sell two pairs of sneakers a day, you and I can sell more sneakers together.
The third and most powerful form of leverage is code. Next to software, this includes digital media, like podcasts, articles, and videos. Thanks to the internet, you can spread these around the world at no cost, and if people use them, you get paid in money or attention. This kind of leverage also compounds like wealth itself.
In the beginning, we all play without leverage, but if you continue playing without it, that’s on you. Most people can struggle to start accumulating leverage, but they also waste the little they have, which is however much money they make. Instead of investing it into podcast gear, books, or a writing course, they just spend it. If you want to be rich, that can’t be you.
You have to use your time to build leverage. Start compounding.
5. Stop Working on What’s Not Working
When someone else spends their time working for you, that’s leverage. When you spend your time working, that’s not. There’s no multiplier there. But it’s our most limited resource, and, therefore, you have to spend it well. Getting to a point where you spend the majority of your time building and acquiring leverage will greatly increase your chances of becoming wealthy.
Of course, working a lot to begin with helps, but you should do so at your own pace. What’s much more important — and much harder — is to let go of things that don’t work and to do so as soon as you realize it. Whatever is financially unfeasible or won’t lead to a meaningful jump in leverage in a decent time frame has to go.
This takes self-awareness and guts. You’ll regularly have to check in with yourself and ask: What’s actually working, and what am I telling myself is working because I wish it would? Harder still, you’ll have answer honestly.
Quitting enough of the wrong projects to work on a sufficient number of right ones is the only way to build up the array of assets and leverage you need.
All You Need to Know
It’s far easier to be patient and let a few good choices compound than to rush and be forced to compensate for a lot of bad ones. Clearing up your muddled thinking around money is one way to do just that.
Once your vision is sharp, you’ll feel comfortable working towards focused, specific goals, because you know they’ll serve the long game you play.
Stop vilifying money. Quit the status games. Take responsibility. Build leverage. Work as hard as you can and drop failures early.
Getting rich is a game but not a hectic one. Playing it the humble way is no guarantee you’ll win, but if you do, it’ll likely be from a move you long forgot.