When I was 14 I started working at a mobile gaming company. I was paid a grand total of $8 / hour and I was RICH! Well, I was rich because 14 year olds don’t have to buy much & everything I did want was pretty cheap anyways (plus there was always christmas & birthdays).
The odd thing at the time was my heuristic on money started changing: I began pricing things not in dollars but in hours. That chipotle burrito was fucking one and a half hours of my life! The new tennis racquet? 25 hours! That’s more than a day of constant working! It gave me a certain appreciation for money that I had never had before that moment & gave me a certain respect to working.
This heuristic continued when I was working at in-n-out just things started getting a little bit cheaper. That burrito became less than an hour, the tennis racquet started to seem like a good trade-off, and the xbox obtainable. Cars, homes, and the “expensive” things in life didn’t seem feasible, but at least surviving didn’t look so grim.
Then I became a big boy… I became a software engineer. It’s no lie that we’re paid exceptionally well to sit around & type some characters on the screen (and that’s in between joking with pod-mates). Something changed in me as well: I started to absolutely disregard money. I had no appreciation to its power. Now, I’ve been investing in the stock market since I was 13 so I know the power of compound growth and I’ve been buying a lot of investments in spite of my disregard to money, but I still nonetheless sort of disregarded it.
Sure I thought about things in terms of “this would take me X hours to obtain” perspective, but it was on a much grander scale: that house across the street from my grandparents? I could buy that in one year’s time (they live in the the middle of nowhere WI). I could literally own a house in a year AFTER taxes. I can get a nice car. I can buy an xbox a day and still have some left over! So all the sudden it just doesn’t fucking matter so why should I keep track of it?
One night I figured “I should probably donate some of this money otherwise I’m going to piss it away anyways”. The next day, I sponsored a 16 year old kid named Emmanuel. That was the day my heuristic started changing.
For $30 / month, you can give a kid in Africa a chance at a better life. Thirty dollars. That’s it. To be honest, I sponsored him semi-apathetically; it’s not that I don’t care about him but it’s hard to care about the situation since I don’t care about what I’m giving away and I’m removed from the situation so I can’t see the impact the money is having. I just shrugged and thought that I did my good deed for the day.
And then I went to lunch.
It clicked in me like that fateful day as a 14 year old: I didn’t price that burrito in terms of money, I priced it in terms of Emmanuels. Once I did that, I had to brace myself… because here comes the big-ass fucking tsunami of regret. The FitBit I bought I had just received a few hours prior? 5 months of giving a kid a chance. That server I bought literally after an hour of debate? more than a year of giving a kid a chance. The laptop I type this on? 12 and a half years of giving a kid a chance. I SPENT ALMOST AN ENTIRE CHILDHOOD ON THIS! Hooo Leee Fuck.
Dear younger Jacob: you fucked up.
I have two promises I’ve made to myself in life: 1) donate all my money after I die to a good cause 2) work like hell to push technology forward in an effort to improve everyone’s life. I never really had a good barometer to see how I was objectively doing for #1. Well, I do now.
Clarification: I do not mean to say I cannot let myself live (I have the right to make myself happy first) but all those spur of the moment purchases now are subject to this new heuristic… and I know I’ll be spending a lot less here on out.