Spiritual Insights From A Rich Idiot
The last person I thought would impart valuable spiritual wisdom is self-proclaimed rich idiot and wealth guru Robert Shemin, author of “How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not?" (release date of March 4, 2008). I spoke to him by telephone during a break from his charity work with street children in Medellín, Colombia. The question I posed to him, “Of the four spiritual concepts from your book: abundance, forgiveness, commitment, and gratitude, which is most essential to being wealthy?” His answer surprised me.
After some deliberation to absorb my question (I had taken 4 of the concepts most intriguing to me though there were others), Robert decisively stated “gratitude.” He tells me that (North) Americans don’t seem to be grateful for what they do have but rather focused on what they don’t have.
Compared to the poverty of Brazilian street children that he works with through Brazos Abiertos (Open Arms), even those on welfare in the USA have a standard of living that seems wealthy, according to my informed source. Robert recommends volunteering at a homeless shelter or with another charitable agency to put your life and financial status into perspective.
Independent of my discussion with Robert, I have been considering gratitude and its value, not necessarily for building wealth but for enjoying life and coping with difficult circumstances. Recently, I discovered a new meaning in the New Testament miracle story of a few loaves and fish feeding several thousand people. Just in case you’ve never heard the story (an account is found in the book of Matthew, Chapter 15, verses 32-39), Jesus is talking to a large crowd for a few days and someone realizes that it’s time to eat. They’re in the wilderness with no grocery stores or restaurants nearby. Jesus wants to feed everyone (4,000 men plus women and children) before they go home so he figures out what is available food-wise and it is seven loaves and a few small fish.
Normally, what would happen?
- Economists would declare a scarcity
- Financial planners would blame poor planning or lack of food insurance
- Blogosphere residents would proclaim poor life choices or lousy decision-making skills on the part of Jesus and his disciples or the crowd
What did Jesus do? He gave thanks. Clearly, there was not enough but he gives thanks for the small amount that he has.
This morning, I checked some friends’ blog as mom, dad, and 20-something daughter chronicle the daughter’s battle with leukemia. She has had a bone marrow transplant and recently developed pneumonia as a result of her still growing strong but less than perfect immune system. Their updates (while in the hospital) are peppered with mentions of gratitude and thankfulness. Meanwhile, the illness has created a financial hardship, despite all working and having health insurance.
Will being grateful mean that everything will turn out rosy? Does being grateful make you wealthy? No. In his book, Robert proposes gratitude as a preparation to becoming wealthy. Why? Because no matter what your net worth, if you aren’t grateful, then your riches won’t bring you contentment, happiness, or freedom.
Though gratitude was #1 in Robert’s mind, I also want to mention some of his other spiritual ideas, beginning with part of the Rich Idiot quiz (designed to determine readiness for rich idiocy):
“The Universe is an abundant place and there’s more than enough for everyone.
a) I believe we live in a world of scarcity and that if one person gets a big slice of the pie another winds up in need.
b) I agree that the Universe is an abundant place and that there’s more than enough for everyone.
c) I believe that the Universe favors some people over others and distributes wealth unevenly.”
According to Robert, (b) is correct and if you want to be rich, then you need to think that there is plenty for all.
This idea reminded me of a book by Henri Nouwen called "The Life of the Beloved." He contrasted the worldly notion of being chosen with a Christian perspective. Typically the act of being chosen means that one has been selected for the basketball team, a college scholarship, a management training position, etc. and that someone else has been rejected. Christians, presumably, believe that all can be chosen or beloved, and one person's chosenness does not automatically exclude another from being selected.
Consider how having the idea that we can all be wealthy vs. thinking that one person’s wealth always takes away from another person’s wealth manifests itself in day-to-day interactions.
As a career-services professional, I provide writing services for business clients. Those who believe in positive outcomes for all tend to be pleasant and successful; they engage me, willingly pay what I consider reasonable rates, and receive services that allow them to land new positions or earn promotions, often with pay increases 10-30x (or more) the amount they paid me.
There are others, fortunately few, who seem to feel pressed upon to hire me, as if my free time were spent concocting ways of extracting more money from them. Though I endorse skepticism when appropriate, I do wonder if such a win-lose approach saturates their thinking, shades conversations, and prevents them from cultivating collaborative, profitable relationships.
Are there times that one person wins (market share, a new account, a college scholarship, the race) and another loses? Yes. Still, thinking abundantly can help you approach opportunities and make moves that will benefit you and your customers, employees, shareholders, etc.
Robert proposes that forgiveness is part of spiritual preparation to become wealthy: “The first thing you have to do is to forgive. ‘But I’m not holding any grudges,’ you protest. Give me a break. Let’s do a quick checklist of possible forgiveness targets.” He lists many who may have wronged or angered others:
“But our list isn’t complete. One of the most important acts of forgiveness is forgiving yourself.”
Forgive yourself for (my list):
- real estate you sold too early
- real estate you should have bought but didn’t
- investment you didn’t make
- investment you did make and shouldn’t have
- credit card debt you ran up
This idea may not have resonated with me if I had not read Philip’s post on letting things go about a couple who still mourned the perceived loss of wealth when they sold real estate that later became extremely valuable. “Move on,” we want to shout to the couple and others like them, who are so focused on the past that they likely miss the opportunities of the present.
Robert proposes that instead of focusing on not being broke or not having debt you should commit to pursuing a healthy income and wealth; that is, be bold and take positive actions that will lead to new and better results. Commitment itself doesn’t lead directly to riches but achieving a goal requires commitment.
I’m not saying that you should get all your spiritual guidance from a book entitled “How Come That Idiot Is Rich and I’m Not?” but the book may help you (as it did me) change your mindset and remove some mental blocks about pursuing wealth. And, I found his idea that true wealth = time to do what you want to do with no money worries refreshing.
I’ll explore his practical advice on becoming rich in an upcoming post.
Robert Shemin, JD/MBA, made his fortune in real estate, and has diversified into other businesses and equity investments. He has written several books on real estate investing and is a motivational speaker. I received a preview copy of “How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not?” in exchange for a book review.