When You’re Young, Work For The Money…

… so you don’t have to work for the money later.

Second Chances

Probably the second most misunderstood quote in literature is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “There are no second acts in American lives” from the notes of Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon. (Number one?  Nietzsche’s “God is dead.”, which appears in a few places, most notably Thus Spoke Zarathustra).

Expand that sad misunderstanding to all of North America, and you pretty closely approximate the attitudes of the young and their relationship with career choices.  Truth is, actuarial tables in the United States say that a 22 year old will live on average 55 more years (as a male) and 60 more years (as a female).

If a human can go from knowing literally nothing to being formally trained in a career in around 20 years… how, exactly, is 3 times that period limiting?

Your First Act

The inspiration for this story comes from a sadder tale – that of former hedge fund manager Robert Wilson’s suicide… and, strangely, his great advice for young people.

During an email conversation with Bill Gates (‘you’, in this quote), he dropped this:

When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them to forget about charities and giving. Concentrate on your family and getting rich—which I found very hard work. I personally and the world at large are very glad you were more interested in computer software than the underprivileged when you were young. And don’t forget that those who don’t make money never become philanthropists.

I’m not the only blogger who seized on those lines – our friend Greg at Control Your Cash also noted how true that statement really was.

Really, it’s leverage.  Sure, as a 20-something year old you can make a minor, localized change in the lines of the unfortunate by physically volunteering for causes.  Yeah, you can go straight from an overpriced college to the underfunded career of your dreams.  And, maybe, you can affect a few hearts and minds with your impassioned twenty-something thoughts…

But, no, you can’t make as much of a difference as a 50-year-old ex-hedge fund manager.  Or, for that matter, you can’t teach Biology as well as my High School teacher who also ran a funeral home… or my college professors who worked in the computer ndustry before becoming professors  (Or, if you prefer, the rich alumni who sent USC money and continued to work).  That hedge fund manager probably can’t produce the same physical result as he or she could in her twenties – but also has an entire career of social connections, political experience and funding to dwarf the corresponding assets of the twenty-something.  There’s no competition.

Your Second Act

Sure, this all goes back to the difference between being Financially Independent and being Retired.  You can have a second act in America – and you can leverage the things you acquire in your first act to make the second act all the more successful.  Financial Independence earned in your first career means you can be worry free for what truly makes you happy.

The world is better off for Bill Gates becoming rich in software before trying to eliminate malaria.  We’re better off that Warren Buffett became rich before giving Bill Gates his money.

And, the world is better off having a person like Mark Zuckerberg with billions of dollars in net worth, still at the helm of Facebook, and promising to eventually be a philanthropist.  The alternative?  An anonymous person with the same physical talents and age as Mark Zuckerberg building homes or digging wells in the third world.  No contest.

How could you believe otherwise?  Make your money first.




  1. says

    Charitable giving is required and appreciated at all levels. However, I completely agree that if you can earn a lot of money early in your life, you can reap the benefits (including allowing others to share those benefits) later in your life.

    • says

      Don’t get me wrong – we’re charitable today, but we are both still in the first act. There will be a second.

  2. says

    While we give a little monetarily now, what we give will have a much greater value after we reach FI, I am sure. However, I won’t be surprised if that’s mostly in the value of our time. Those we know whose second acts we respect the most have spent their “retired” time on things like political activism for their pet cause, establishing new charities, writing grant proposals, etc. It sounds like a not-so-bad second act.

    • says

      We do as well – monetary gifts and items. It’s just that at this point my future giving will be a lot stronger if I, you know… continue to work, haha.