Why do Billionaires still work?

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My friend tells me he would be happy with $10 million. Another sets his limit at $10 billion. All of us have calculated a number that would enable us to quit the daily grind. We dream of the day when we can say adios to the rat race. We aspire to a life free from commutes, meetings, deadlines, office politics, and expense reports.

But there are some who have managed to accumulate enough cash to quit working forever. Yet, instead of heading off on a permanent vacation, many of the mega rich remain in the workforce. And these affluent professionals really work. Many devote more than 40 hours a week in jobs that are oftentimes banal and stressful.

The question is, why?

For one, oftentimes they have nothing better to do. Usually in order to become that wealthy, you typically have to work more than 40 hours a week. Being a workaholic doesn’t leave much time for other things. So when you drop out, what else are you going to do? Your whole life was work.

For many, call it ego, insecurity, or the need to be the big kahuna, but it’s also hard to give up an exalted status. Or they tell themselves they will get out when they are the king of the hill, except there’s always a bigger hill to climb and conquer. 

Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, had a particularly elegant model for understanding this. Norton says that research points to two questions people ask themselves when determining whether they’re satisfied with something in their life: Am I doing better than I was before? And am I doing better than other people? 

Many achievements in life are hard to quantify or compare.  So people turn to money as a comparison that can be quantified. “Am I making more money? or Does my house have more square feet? or Do I have more houses than I used to?”

This instinct to measure and compare doesn’t disappear once people have an obscene amount of money. And if a family amasses, say, $50 million but upgrades to a neighborhood where everyone has that much money (or more), they feel a lot less rich… Hence the ever-shifting goalposts of wealth and satisfaction.

However for some mega rich, they never set out to be rich. They set out to pursue a passion.  That enthusiasm doesn’t go away even when people hit that mega level of wealth.

Happy Tuesday & Happy Selling! Kevin