Important as it is, can money ever be useless?

A while back, I got caught up in a time consuming phone game: subway surfer. Initially, I got into it out of boredom and curiosity but when I found it quite difficult to play, it became a challenge I felt I had to overcome. I researched a little bit online and discovered that there were fellow human beings who had achieved tremendous high scores. Never the one to give up easily, I set out to prove that I could do better.

The game concept is simple: you are the protagonist, running away from railway security, while dodging trains. In the process, you collect coins. The more coins you collect the better off you are as with the coins, you could buy several things: additional powers, better shoes, better skates with greater ability and lots of other pleasant stuff. In the process of playing the game, I realised that instead of buying the good stuff, I could save the coins and wait to for Tuesday to buy mystery boxes. On this day, there would be a double jackpot and if one were persistent enough over a period of about 2 hours, one would likely score big in the way of a mega jackpot. I further realized that instead of putting in 2 hours, I could put in upto eight hours and win three to four double jackpots. Every Tuesday, I worked smart, put in the hours and grew very rich in Subway surfer terms. I could then buy everything the coins could buy and still have millions of coins in reserve, if ever I were to need them. It felt very good. However, there was also a limit to what you could buy, as once you had the best of everything, you just couldn’t buy more. Additionally, there were things that no matter how many coins you collected, you just couldn’t buy . You required different resources to get them. In subway surfer terms, I accumulated more coins than I ever had use for, but many Tuesdays, I still spent hours of real time to accumulate yet more coins. It made me happy having those coins. When my phone crashed and I had to reinstall the game, all those coins would be lost and I would start from scratch and build up again. Every week I emerged tops in the ranked competition in Kenya, I felt content and a sense of accomplishment.

Looking back, save for this article, I consider this game utterly useless and the time spent on it amounting to several 24 hour days, completely wasted. This article allows me redeem to some extent that time by drawing parallels to life.

Here’s the thing. In some ways, life is like this. We are happy to amass all the wealth we can and derive a lot of joy from doing so. We spend years of life pursuing money and set aside all else. We consider ourselves smart when we device new ways of making more money and justify putting in long hours provided it resulted in more money.

There are two fundamental truths that are hardly ever understood:
1. Money is a means to an end, not an end to itself, or is it? 2. Money itself has no intrinsic value other than that of the paper on which it is printed. It derives its value from what it is used for. Let me illustrate the last point with the following examples:

There once was a billionaire businessman and a pre-school teacher. One day, both of them felt like eating Chiken. Now Wanjala supplied chicken to the local five star hotel. Whatever was left over was sold at the local market. The billionaire bought Wanjala’s chicken at KES 7,000 at the hotel while the teacher bought another one of Wanjala’s chicken for KES 600. Despite the apparent difference in monetary value, the actual value of both monies spent is the same: 1 Wanjala Chicken. The billionaire’s son came home and found the chicken on the table. To show off to his friends, he opened a bottle of alcohol worth KES 6,000,000 and used all the contents to wash his hands. The teacher’s son used soap and water worth KES. 27 to wash his hands. Still, the soap remained and would be used for several other washes. The difference in amounts seems huge, but the clean hands for eating food was all the expenditure amounted to. One day, an unfortunate incident happened. A landcruiser was overtaking on a blind corner and came across a speeding bus. There was no time to adjust and a horrible head-on collision ensued. The billionaire lost his life in the cruiser, the teacher, his in the bus. The billionaire’s net balance in his account was KES 4B na upuzi, the teacher 84,000. Regardless of the immense difference in amount, the net value of the savings to each of them at the point of death was exactly the same: zero. Or was it the comfort of knowing they’d left something for the children? I suspect that in death, comfort and peace are derived from other factors quite far from the pursuit of money.

The teacher’s son was a doctor, he inherited the 84,000 but didn’t require it to make a living. The billionaire’s son didn’t have job but didn’t need one. The billions of shillings in inheritance was enough. He was however a drunk and struggled to find meaning in life. Still, he could afford the finest things in life…of the things money could buy. Still, the doctor envied the billionaire’s son and wished to trade places, not knowing the much he didn’t know.

Contentment is a choice, wisdom a rare gift that even the best formal education may not confer.

Ever wonder how the person earning a tenth of your salary seems to make it and seems happy and cheerful while you can’t imagine a different way forward even with a pay hike? The reality is that most of us are attracted to the prospect of being rich without knowing what exactly we want. Often we think we know what we want. Yet we fail to learn from those who’ve gone before and warned us that we should re-evaluate what our priorities are. Many keep working to the mouth of their graves to amass fortunes they will never touch. Many of us find contentment in our fat bank accounts and accumulated wealth. Many of us set aside everything to pursue money above all else. The result can be disastrous.

Yet contentment is a choice.

Is it wrong to be rich? Not at all! However, know what you want to be rich for. If you do not define this, on your death bed, you will look back at your life pursuits and realize that the money you accumulated, and are about to leave behind, is of no greater value than the coins I collected on subway surfer. By the way subway surfer is an endless game. You run until it finally hits you how futile your pursuit is. Such is the pursuit of money above all else in life. Define your purpose early.

There once lived a brilliant man. He worked very smart and very hard and earned a lot of money. His father had taught him well and he never wasted a dime. He was not at all charitable and never gave to a needy cause, but he also did not reap where he had not sown. He never stole from anyone, nor engaged in corruption. He never indulged in excesses, nor drugs. He was averse to luxuries. The small house he stayed in as a young man starting out is the same house he retained in his successful years. The same applied to his car and many other things. The one thing that changed about him was his bank account: it grew exponentially and was a good friend to compound interest. Despite his modest ways, he was one of the richest men in the region. Then one day, he died.

The END

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