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“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus

Are you wealthy?

I asked a friend this question several years ago. We sat at a large kitchen island, with 13-foot-high ceilings above us, Brazilian Cherry wood floors below us and lavish furnishings around us.

The answer seemed obvious, but the reason I wanted to hear it less so. Let me explain.

The owner was a friend and we were catching up on work, family and life. As we chatted I told him that his house was stunning. He responded brusquely, “It’s all in disrepair. All of it.”

I reminded him that my previous profession was renovating older homes and that this home was far, far from disrepair.

He explained that the house was actually not his anymore, but the bank’s.

He’d over-spent during the good times and wasn’t able to keep up with payments during the tough times. He went on to say, “It’s not our home and it’s just a matter of time before we are asked to leave it.”

Turns out it wasn’t just his finances, but his relationship with his spouse, too. The added stress from both were affecting his health and he was feeling beat down by life.

Sitting in this luxury kitchen, sipping a glass of wine, he looked over at me and said, “I’ve got nothing.”

After listening, asking a few questions, giving him a hug and telling him I was sorry, it was time to shift gears. I asked him four questions I once used in a leadership discussion about real wealth, true success and proper perspective.

  1. Answer the question: Are you wealthy?
    Almost everyone I’ve asked this question – including my friend – responds, “No!” They then explain they haven’t prepared appropriately for their kids’ college, don’t have enough to retire, have too much debt, are living paycheck to paycheck…
  2. Make a list of everything that matters to you.
    Take a couple minutes, a big sip of coffee (or wine) and take inventory of all you value. Write down as many things, people, events, as you can. Spouse. Children. Home. Health. Family. Values. Faith. Love. Baseball collection from childhood. Friends. Job. Hobbies. Sunsets. Sounds of birds. Freshly baked cookies. Memories. Freedoms. Mistakes. Vacations. Hot baths. Knowledge. Dancing. Life.
  3. Circle every item on that list you still have (or could earn, enjoy, experience again).
    The surprising gift within this exercise is that the majority of items shared are circled and the realization that, although the house may be in foreclosure, the opportunity to work, earn, save and buy again remains. The relationship may be challenged, but the opportunity to reconcile remains. Things may be far from perfect, but the opportunity to savor memories and pivot into a new direction remains.
  4. Finally, answer this question: So, are you wealthy?
    We too frequently confuse status or square footage or retirement accounts as wealth. This question doesn’t ignore the benefit of saving for tomorrow or building a substantial nest egg, but it does remind us the real measure of wealth sometimes means realizing how valuable your life remains even if you lost all your money. [Tweet this] | [Share on Facebook]

(I thought back to this visit with my friend recently when I heard these wise words: “Just because someone may wear Prada, doesn’t mean they have two nickels to rub together.” Chris Hogan, author and expert on retiring inspired, shared these words with me. He’s one of the most charismatic, passionate, articulate people I’ve met and he joined me on my most recent episode of Live Inspired Podcast. Listen here.)

My friend, these questions aren’t intended to trivialize the intense struggles that come with financial stress. Far from it! Instead, they are meant to free us to own those struggles and the hope that in spite of the things we’ve lost, so much of what we value remains… And that the best is yet to come.

This is your day to remember that real wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

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