Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side?

Physician's Money Digest, August31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 16


Albert Einstein, "Man of theMillennium," imagined himself sitting on abeam of light, traveling 186,000 miles asecond. How did the world look from that vantage?It looked very, very different from a stationaryperspective. Time slowed down dramaticallyat this speed. Time and space, itseemed to him, were "relative." Fromthat novel thought sprang the currentatomic age.

I imagine myself someday beingrich, riding on an income stream thatwill grant my every desire.What wouldthe world look like to me then? Howwould it be different from my currentperspective? In short, how do the veryrich view their money and handle it ona day-to-day basis? Not being Einstein,I didn't come up with any answers.All Ihave so far is a series of questions.

Why is there an inverse relationshipbetween the amount ofmoney we have and the sense ofsecurity we have about money? Itcertainly seems paradoxical that ourminds work this way. When I was just out ofmedical school, I had nothing, and yet I nevergave money a second thought. Now that I'm"loaded," I think and worry about money all thetime. Is this the way the rich think?

Do rich people have to deal with the aggravationsof malfunctioning technology?When I'm interested in purchasing a new gadget,I'll read about the product and decidewhich model gives me the most features for thelowest price. Then I go ahead and make theinvestment—sometimes over the objectionof my wife, who doesn'talways understand why I need yetanother "toy."

After I receive a new gadget, sometimesI can't get it to work properly.When this happens, I eitherhave to waste my time callingcustomer support orreturning the product to thestore. Does this happen torich people? Do they have towait on the phone for ateenager to help them diagnosethe problem? Or when somethingmalfunctions, do they just toss it andbuy a new one?

Do rich people get personaladvice from the big-shot financialadvisors, such as the ones you seeon CNN? These financial "experts"always seem to know what's going on inthe markets and what to do about theirinvestments. But are they really thesmartest minds in investing and do richpeople hire them? Or, like normal people, do richpeople have trouble finding competent advisors?Secret society: Is it only the rich who are aware ofthe smartest minds in investing?

How do rich people handle minor financialannoyances? When I read my personalfinancial statements, it's not unusual for them tocontain errors. For example, a bank clerk maymake a mistake by putting the decimal point over1 space to the left. When this happens, the consequencescan be costly. Instead of a $1000 deposit,it's listed as a $100 deposit. That'sa lot of money for a guy like me.

What do rich people do whena bank clerk accidentally moves adecimal point over 1 space to theleft? When they deposit $100,000and only get credit for $10,000,how do they respond? How wouldBill Gates respond? It's only a paltry$90,000. That's loose changeto him. Since Mr. Gates couldeasily earn $1 million or $2 millionin the time it takes him to callthe bank and complain, does hewaste his time complaining?

Do rich people get frustrated with havingto wait or do they have a totally different conceptof "a waste of time"? It seems as though Ispend a lot of time waiting for something. If I didnot have to wait so much, I could be more productiveand make more money. I consider all thiswaiting to be a waste of my time. However, isn't itimportant that we don't get trapped into the ideathat income-producing time is somehow moreimportant than non–income-producing time?

I recently spent an entire afternoon patientlystanding by while the computer guy worked on myoffice computer (I had to be there to help him con-figure the program). Sure, I could have viewed thistime as wasted time; however, the free time I hadwhile he was waiting for things to boot gave mesome time to start thinking about the content ofthis article. Because I like to spend time contemplatingissues and writing them down in entertainingways, it wasn't time wasted for me—but I'll letyou be the judge of that.

Louis L. Constan, afamily practice physicianin Saginaw, Mich,is the editor of theSaginaw County MedicalSociety Bulletin andMichigan Family Practice.He welcomes questionsor comments at3350 Shattuck Road,Saginaw, MI 48603;989-792-1899; or