How Much Is Enough?

When talking to people about money the “how much is enough” question often comes up. I usually end up telling some version of this story: Two famous authors are talking at a party thrown by a billionaire. One leans over to the other and says, “our host has made more money in a single day than you’ve made over the life of your best-selling book.” The author thinks about it for a moment and says, “Yes, but I have something he will never have.” The questioning author gives him a look, “Ok, well go on – what on earth could that possibly be? This man has everything.” “I have enough.”

Morgan Housel has a post up titled, “Fat, Happy, And In Over Your Head.” He opens it with,

Having more than you need can be a liability masquerading as an advantage, and no sense of “enough” can look like ambition but often leads you over the edge. This applies to everyone, from companies to careers to investments.

When we don’t know what enough is, we don’t know when to quit. When we don’t know when to quit, we might forsake our own happiness for an endless chase. Housel tells the story of world-renowned skier Marcel Hirscher retiring in his prime. Hirscher told the press that he just wanted to quit before his luck ran out. He wanted to get to enjoy playing with his young son without injury or pain. He had success skiing, and he had had enough.

Housel continues,

The idea of having “enough” might look like conservatism, leaving opportunity and potential on the table. I don’t think that’s right. “Enough” is realizing that the opposite – an insatiable appetite for more – will push you to the point of regret.

As professionals, helping people look beyond whatever number equals enough and into the why behind whatever they’re chasing can be very powerful. The fear can’t be of the opportunity left on the table. Our job is to help people find focus. Often it’s a balance between what’s already under their noses and whatever joy they get from the journey they’re on. It’s not just about solving for enough, it’s understanding why it’s enough in the first place.

Here’s to getting fat and happy, and not in over our heads.

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