Someone asked this question on Quora, so I answered it there, and thought I’d repost it here.
This question is based on a false premise.
Elon Musk doesn’t sit down at his desk every day and think, “Have I made enough money to quit and travel the world yet?”
Warren Buffett doesn’t get to Berkshire Hathaway head office in the morning and check his portfolio and say, “Can I afford to pay off my mortgage and live off dividends for the rest of my life?”
The answer, obviously, is yes. Elon could retire tomorrow. Warren hasn’t had to show up to work for 50 years. But they do anyway. Why?
Because money isn’t money when you’re a billionaire. It’s just points on a scorecard.
When you’re a billionaire, your problems don’t go away, but your money problems do. You never need to worry about credit card debt, paying the mortgage, putting money into your 401(k) or anything like that.
You’re focused on bigger things.
You’re focused on questions like:
- Is my business the best it can be?
- Does anyone in my industry have a better business than me? If so, why?
- Does anyone in any other industry have a better business than me? If so, why?
- What impact have I made on the world?
- Do I have a legacy that will outlast me?
- Have I done the best in terms of investing and re-investing my wealth as I could have?
- How much wealth should I give away to charitable causes?
So Elon isn’t focusing on whether he has enough to retire on. He’s wondering whether humanity will become an interplanetary species.
Warren isn’t sat in front of a spreadsheet, calculating if he can afford to live off dividend income for the rest of his life. He’s wondering if he truly is the best allocator of capital of all time, whether his deployment of capital has led to the greatest good, and how he should give away his money when he dies.
In both cases, these billionaires aren’t thinking, “Do I need more money? Should I quit working?”. They’re thinking, “Have I made the most positive impact on the world that I could have?”
And in both cases, Elon and Warren care much more about building something fantastic than they do about cashing out and travelling the world. They prefer work to relaxation.
Which, coincidentally, is the fastest way to get rich. Don’t focus on how much money you’re earning. Focus on what impact you’re having, and how much value you’re creating for other people. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”