The Minimalists, (Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus) on A Rich Life With Less Stuff at TEDxWhitefish – Transcript
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Ryan Nicodemus: My name is Ryan Nicodemus and this is Joshua Fields Millburn, and the two of us run a website called The Minimalists.com and today we want to talk to you about what it means to be part of a community. But first, I want to share a story with you about how I became rich.
Imagine your life a year from now. Two years from now. Five years from now. What’s it going to look like? Imagine a life with less. Less stuff, less clutter. Less stress and debt and discontent. A life with fewer distractions.
You’re joking right now, right? Dude we’re trying to give a talk. Sorry about that.
Now imagine a life with more. More time, more meaningful relationships. More growth and contribution. A life of passion unencumbered by the trappings of the chaotic world around you.
Well, what you’re imagining is an intentional life. It’s not a perfect life, it’s not even an easy life, but a simple one. What you’re imagining is a rich life. The kind of rich that has nothing to do with wealth. You know, I used to think rich was earning $50,000 a year. Then when I started climbing the corporate ladder in my 20’s I quickly began earning $50,000, but I didn’t feel rich. So I tried to adjust for inflation. Maybe $70,000 a year was rich. Maybe $90,000, maybe six figures or maybe owning a bunch of stuff. Maybe that was rich.
Well, whatever rich was, I knew that once I got there, I would finally be happy. So as I made more money I spent more money all in the pursuit of the American Dream. All in the pursuit of happiness. But the closer I got, the farther away happiness was.
Five years ago, my entire life was different from what it is today. Radically different. I had everything I ever wanted. I had everything I was supposed to have. I had an impressive job title with a respectable corporation, a successful career managing hundreds of employees. I earned a six figure income. I bought a fancy new car every couple of years. I owned a huge three bedroom condo, it even had two living rooms. I have no idea why a single guy needs two living rooms. I was living the American Dream.
Everyone around me said I was successful, but I was only ostensibly successful. You see I also had a bunch of things that were hard to see from the outside. Even though I earned a lot of money, I had heaps of debt. But chasing the American Dream, it cost me a lot more than money. My life was filled with stress, anxiety, and discontent. I was miserable. I may have looked successful, but I certainly didn’t feel successful.
And I got to a point in my life where I didn’t know what was important anymore, but one thing was clear, there was this gaping void in my life. So I tried to fill that void the same way many people do, with stuff, lots of stuff. I was filling the void with consumer purchases, I bought new cars and electronics and closets full of expensive clothes. I bought furniture and expensive home decorations and I always made sure to have all the latest gadgets.
Oh, and when I didn’t have enough cash in the bank I paid for expensive meals, rounds of drinks, and frivolous vacations with credit cards. I was spending money faster than I earned it, attempting to buy my way to happiness and I thought I’d get there one day, eventually. I mean, happiness had to be somewhere just around the corner right? But the stuff didn’t fill the void, it widened it. And because I didn’t know what was important, I continued to fill the void with stuff. Going further into debt, working hard to buy things that weren’t making me happy.
This went on for years, a terrible cycle. Lather, rinse, repeat. By my late 20’s my life on the outside looked great, but on the inside I was a wreck. I was several years divorced, I was unhealthy. I was stuck. I drank, a lot. I did drugs a lot. I used as many pacifiers as I could. And I continued to work 60, 70, sometimes 80 hours a week and I forsook some of the most important aspects of my life.
I barely ever thought about my health, my relationships, my passions, and worst of all I felt stagnant. I certainly wasn’t contributing to others and I wasn’t growing. My life lacked meaning, purpose, passion. If you would have asked me what I was passionate about I would have looked at you like a deer in headlights. “What am I passionate about?” I had no idea. I was living paycheck to paycheck. Living for a paycheck. Living for stuff. Living for a career that I didn’t love, but I wasn’t really living at all.
I was depressed. Then, as I was approaching my 30’s I noticed something different about my best friend of 20 something years. Josh seemed happy for the first time in a really long time, like truly happy, ecstatic, but I didn’t understand why. We worked side by side at the same corporation throughout our 20’s, both climbing the ranks, and he had been just as miserable as me.
Something had to have changed. To boot, he had just gone through two of the most difficult events of his life. His mother had just passed away and his marriage ended, both in the same month. He wasn’t supposed to be happy. He certainly wasn’t supposed to be happier than me. So I did what any best friend would do, I took Josh out to lunch. I sat him down, and I asked him a question. “Why the hell are you so happy?”