It’s the story of a selfish millionaire whose sole aim in life is to make even more money. One day, he comes across a mysterious book at a friend’s house. The book claims that by concentrating on a candle flame, he can train himself to read a playing card from the reverse side. He wants to use this skill to beat the casinos, so he starts training as hard as he can.
Day after day, night after night, he concentrates on the candle. He continues training for more than two years, never leaving his flat. Finally, he succeeds: He could read a playing card from the back in 4 seconds flat. With his newfound powers, he heads to the casino. Over the course of one night, he wins 6,600 pounds (this story was set in London). He could’ve won more, but he limited his winnings so that he wouldn’t draw attention to himself.
Even though he now has the power to earn as much money as he wants, he finds himself in an unexpected situation: He no longer cared about the money. So the next morning, he walks out to his hotel balcony and chucks all his winnings into the street, to the delight of the crowd below.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a great story, but it can also teach us some valuable lessons when it comes to our own pursuits.
We All Start Because We Want Validation
Like Henry Sugar, a lot of us get motivated to pursue something because of our need for external success: Money, fame, admiration, power, etc.
The whole reason why I started on this personal finance journey was because I wanted to be rich. As in roll-up-to-a-club-in-my-Porche-and-get-a-VIP-table rich. Yes, my ambitions as an 18-year old were embarrassingly influenced by Hollywood.
So what did I do? I started reading about investing. I bugged my dad to teach me trading. I built Excel models and read technical books. I did everything I could to learn how to get rich, driven by my superficial desire to own a Porche.
Life coaches and other woo-woo gurus will frown upon these motivations. They’ll say things like, “You should do something because you truly want to use your PASSIONS make the world a better place!” or some B.S. like that.
But let’s not kid ourselves here. These “superficial” achievements are the very reasons why most people start off in the first place!
- The intern who stays till midnight at the office because he wants that investment banking job
- The wantrepreneur who starts a tech company hoping to IPO and cash out
- The beginner blogger who starts a blog because he wants money, fame and fortune
These aren’t “bad” motivations per se. They’re simply our natural desires for external validation. And often, they’re the push we need to get started.
But a curious thing happens after that.
Learning To Respect The Craft
Let’s go back to my 18-year old self who wanted nothing more than to get rich so he could afford bottle service.
As I’ve blogged about before, I learnt trading, tried it for years, and lost thousands of dollars. Then I switched to index investing, had some success, and eventually started teaching people about it. As I made more and more progress, a strange thing happened to me: Money became less and less important.
I don’t mean it in a “I can now throw money in the streets” kinda way. But it’s more like I no longer tie my sense of self-worth to the value of my portfolio. I know that my investments fluctuate, and I’ve come to respect the craft of being a disciplined investor and growing my wealth over the long term.
For those of you who’ve spent some time honing a skill or becoming great at your career, I suspect that you might feel the same way.
You might have started off because you wanted to achieve some material goal: Whether it’s a glamorous job, or a fat paycheque, or an audience of ten thousand raving fans.
But as you get better at your craft, as you understand the nuances of your chosen discipline, you learn to respect it. You learn to appreciate the journey. And just like Henry Sugar, the material rewards that you were striving so hard for will eventually diminish in importance.
Don’t Vote For Me
Last week, I found out that I was one of the top 10 finalists for “Best Topical Blog” in the Singapore Blog Awards. (It’s funny, because up until last month, I’d never even heard of the Singapore Blog Awards)
Three years ago, when I was obsessed over my traffic and subscriber numbers, I would’ve killed for this opportunity. Fame! Fortune! Getting invited to a glamorous event with free ice cream!
I’m guessing that a lot of these finalists are harnessing their huge followings right now to vote for them. “Vote for me so that I can continue to write better blogposts for you!”
But after more than three years of blogging, it’s not that big of a deal to me.
I’m not saying that I’ve already “made it” in my blogging life. Far from it. But I’m saying that these external validations don’t really carry much weight for me anymore. Even if I wasn’t shortlisted, I’ll still wake up tomorrow doing the same thing that I’ve done for the past 3-ish years: doing my best to write great content.
So don’t vote for me.
No, this isn’t some B.S “I claim this isn’t important but I actually secretly want you to vote for me” reverse psychology tactic.
Instead, remember the Henry Sugar Effect.
Somewhere out there, there’s a new and enthusiastic blogger who needs the external validation because he/she’s just starting out. There’s nothing wrong with that. Give your vote to that person. Give it to someone who writes high-quality, engaging stories. Remember that when someone’s just starting out, they often just needs a little encouragement.
Me? I’ll continue blogging because I love it. I love helping other young people hatch a rich life. I love getting emails from readers talking about how an article inspired them to take action to improve their lives.
That’s what motivates me. That’s what gets me up in the morning.
That, and free ice cream. You can’t go wrong with that.
P.S: Have you ever experienced the Henry Sugar Effect in your own life? Let me know about your experiences in the comments below – I read every one.
P.P.S: I’m proud to highlight two other personal finance bloggers – Xeo Lye and Singapore’s Budget Babe – as finalists in the Best New Blog category. According to my “financial influencers” WhatsApp group (Don’t look at me – I didn’t come up with the name), this is the first time that finance bloggers have been shortlisted. So do vote for them.
Image credits: incurable_hippie,