“You could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.” — Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”
The lyrics to the song “Hurt” remind me of a man by the name of William Randolph Hearst. He made and lost fortunes from pioneering “yellow newspaper,” a simple term for gossip papers that had a way of twisting the truth.
He lived an eventful life; he employed Mark Twain, interviewed Hitler, and even ran for public office. It is widely rumored that he died alone and broke, after having so much of his focus on purchasing items for a home that he never finished. Today, we mainly know his legacy as Hearst Castle.
“The greatest mentors are often those we choose to guide us even when the advice stops.” — Culture Inc. & The Seven Scrolls
One of my mentors, along with his wife, made a family decision to take in foster children. They had kids of their own, yet they felt called to take care of children outside of their nuclear family who were in need. Bill and his wife took in two siblings that came from a broken home where food was scarce and a history of abuse was the norm.
One day, Bill’s wife had prepared dinner and the foster kids came into the dining area to eat. As dinner time came to an end, Bill noticed some odd behavior. Both kids were hiding chicken and bread in their pockets to eat later.
Bill sat both kids down. “Listen,” he said. “I want you to take what is in your pockets and put it back on the table. You both need to understand that there will be plenty of food here every meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And if you are still hungry, you can go into the kitchen and my wife will provide snacks for you. We are a family here, and neither of you will ever have to go hungry for as long as you live in this home.” I wish I had met Bill earlier in my life to hear his wisdom and adopt his spirit of abundance. Bill, has never stopped giving, and each year he has grown in terms of financial wealth to be one of the richest people I have ever met.
My family grew up on welfare for a season. I was born to a single mom, who, at seventeen, worked various jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. She had a knack for survival, and an incredible work ethic. I have her to thank for many of the skills I draw from today.
I was always grateful for the help we received during the most difficult periods in our lives. Even with the assistance of welfare agencies, and a mother who worked hard and budgeted every penny, we didn’t always have enough to make it from one week to the next. In those tough times, often the local church would drop off groceries at our home.
Although I drew many positive values from these experiences, I also developed some negative patterns. I became fearful of being poor. I witnessed the hardship that poverty brought on my family, and hardened my heart around the memories of having little.
As my fear overshadowed the blessings and small joys of our lives, I dismissed and forgot the great times and enjoyable moments. My mom had been beautiful and free. Despite the heavy burdens that she carried from day to day, she would still take the time to “play toys” with me on the floor. She would dance and act like a goofball. She was amazing. This was truly one of the most spiritually rich seasons of my life.
I am saddened, even now, to have buried my good memories with the bad. I thought money was the answer. This was, in my mind, the pathway to breaking free from misery. I would eventually learn how misguided I was in my own thinking.
As I grew older, I accumulated things. By the age of twenty-nine I owned four houses, two companies, and a decent sized bank account. I felt accomplished. I had separated myself from my childhood upbringing. I made it, or so I thought. As I contemplated my life and my success, I realized that I was alone, like Hearst, even in my marriage. I had spent most of my time and money on myself. Like the foster kids at the table, I was stuffing my own pockets instead of trusting there would be new, fresh things on the table tomorrow.
Here’s what I learned the hard way: more money and things only deepened my spirit of poverty. They did not hold the most value for me. I would feel accomplished for only a moment that would rapidly fade each time I acquired more stuff. I was building an empire of dirt; I had money in my pockets, but I lacked purpose in my life.
When I was a young kid, I had the experience of being free. I was not shackled to things, obligations, debts, and desires. It took me many years to learn that it was the liberation from the things of the world, and giving to others, that built my greatest sense of wealth as an entrepreneur.