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What went wrong with my life? I have the outward trappings of success at 50 years old. I live in a mansion, have servants and a chauffeur, travel extensively to nice places and resort areas, and spend much time giving motivational and political speeches around the country. I have three successful adult sons, a beautiful, accomplished and brilliant wife with whom I’ve been married 25 years, and have enough money that I could retire tomorrow (if I were willing to downsize, which I am not). I occasionally write for the national press — indeed, I’ve written a not terribly good book, and have yet to publish it. Interviews with me are eagerly sought in my specialty. My picture graces trade publications, magazines and books. I have done far better than almost all of my peers. I suspect that most of them envy me.
Yes, I realize that other people looking at me must think I live the charmed life; yet that same life seems completely devoid of interest or charm to me. I have absolutely everything except, say, $20 million; but I live a generous lifestyle that the vast majority of denizens of this planet, including many far richer than I, would eagerly take from me. I am considered good-looking; women are constantly hitting on me, and I have become a master of the polite refusal. (Although I realize that this is a woman thing: They like to test men who seem happily married.) I write these words unable to sleep. I haven’t read a book in a year or two; nor have I taken a vacation. My attention span is zero. While I can turn on whenever I need to do so, most of the time I don’t. I feel like a lost soul. And yet I am not depressed! How could I be? Our parties are sought after; my employees admire me, my competition is intimidated by me. This is not a joke, nor an exaggeration. Recently I picked up a business magazine in a doctor’s office out of boredom and read to my surprise (because nobody had informed me) that the journalists responsible for that publication had written that I am one of the 50 most influential people in my region of the country. The accompanying profile was actually pretty accurate — about my professional achievements. I regularly pick up the press and find interviews with me that I don’t recall having given.
There are signs that something is wrong. My friends, over the years, have fallen away, largely because I don’t have time to keep up with them. I don’t participate in non-professional-related entertainment activities, but because my business involves entertainment I go out very often.
Business contacts praise me to the skies; organizations fight to get me to speak to them. I am widely known as one of the most successful men of my part of the the country, for my time and place. There is not a member of the establishment within 250 miles of me who would not return a phone call from me within an hour without an excellent excuse.
What is wrong with me? I feel dead inside. There is nothing here.
This is not a joke or a trick. This is my life. How do I fix it?
Poor Mister Rich Man
Dear Poor Mister Rich Man,
In case it has slipped your mind, in Judeo-Christian tradition the general take on Riches: Likelihood That They Will Bring Happiness, etc., runs like this:
“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire.”
The idea is, old chap, you have to let go of what you have. As long as you hold on to it, you’re stuck. It’s our attachments that cause us pain, to put it like a Buddhist.
You’re supposed to know this. Maybe you just forgot. Worldly success can be so distracting.
So this young man comes up to Jesus as he is being followed around by multitudes and tells Jesus he’s done all the recommended good things — not stealing, not committing adultery, etc., and life still isn’t peaches.
“All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” says the young man. And that’s where Jesus says those famous lines:
“Jesus said unto him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’”
In other words, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.
I would suggest therapy but you might find it too tempting to bullshit a therapist. You can’t bullshit wilderness. It will eat you alive. So I suggest a wilderness trek that involves intense solitude and some form of deprivation. Such things can be found, and you’ve got the money. You would be doing all of us a favor if you were to undertake such a thing, because apparently each generation needs to be reminded anew of the eternal truths referenced above.
Go! Strip yourself naked of your attachments! Hike the Pacific Crest Trail! Encounter and be humbled by the vast, terrifying power of indifferent nature! Do something! You can’t go on like this!