Monday, June 02, 2008

The Four-Letter Word of Independence

For a long time I've been rather vague in describing my ultimate goal - the attainment of freedom - only because the definition of freedom itself is rather broad and I had found it difficult to frame it in my own way. But I've actually found the version of 'freedom' that matches closely to what I'm thinking of from Nassim Taleb's book 'The Black Swan' (I'm retyping from his book, so there might be inaccuracies from me. Also the emphasis in bold is mine):

... It was hard to tell my friends, all hurt in some manner by the crash[1], about this feeling of vindication. Bonuses at the time were a fraction of what they are today, but if my employer, First Boston, and the financial system survived until year-end, I would get the equivalent of a fellowship. This is sometimes called "f*** you money," which, in spite of its coarseness, means that it allows you to act like a Victorian gentleman, free from slavery. It is a psychological buffer: the capital is not so large as to make you spoiled-rich, but large enough to give you the freedom to choose a new occupation without excessive consideration of the financial rewards. It shields you from prostituting your mind and frees you from outside authority--any outside authority. (Independence is person-specific: I have always been taken aback at the high number of people in whom an astonishingly high income led to additional sycophancy as they became more dependent on their clients and employers and more addicted to making even more money.) While not substantial by some standards, it literally cured me of all financial ambition--it made me feel ashamed whenever I diverted time away from the study for the pursuit of material wealth. Note that the designation f*** you corresponds to the exhilarating ability to pronounce that compact phrase before hanging up the phone. ...

Yes, I'm looking for that same psychological buffer to ease me from having to worry about the vicissitudes of everyday life, and to attain the ultimate goal of being the master of my own fate, rather than a serf of others. I'm not sure if this applies to any of you out there, but the very quality of independence is one that I see as keystone - nothing else ranks higher (except good health maybe), given most other things in life can be subsequently attained once you have the freedom to seek them out.

And like how Taleb describes the rich, I do not understand why are there people out there who, even after having an obscene amount of money, will still need to prostate themselves in the never-ending quest to seek out more. I have a target, and its reasonably modest compared to most people - a number of people I know had a definition of wealth that's in the range of $6m and above (don't ask me how they came up with that figure - ask them!), the ability to own at least a few Lamborghini-type cars, a private yacht and a Gulfstream jet.

Well, I'll be quite happy if I have the capability to pay for my own place to live in, a recurring income stream that satisfies my daily expenditure (which is modest, compared to most people), and possibly some excess money left to afford a yearly vacation (business-class tickets are nice, but not necessary!). Given I'm not the kind of person who needs to rinse my mouth with 'Chateau Lafite' every morning, mandate my meals to be caviar and foie gras every day, I hope it is a goal that I can attain at a reasonable young age, so that I can become a flâneur - someone who has attained the freedom to seek out whatever experiences he desires and being able to live by his own rules.


[1] Referring to the stock market crash of 1987 ( Black Monday )

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