A couple of weeks ago, I revisited my former summer job as a house painter. All through college, I spent my summers scraping, staining and attempting not to fall off ladders, even when hornets suddenly flew out and into my mouth. It was hard work, but not as hard as my previous summer job, which was as a lobsterman. Once you’ve spent your days covered in kelp, attempting to keep your boat off the rocks while an ancient dinosaur insect plays got-your-nose with its primordial claws, huffing a pail of Nantucket Gray on dry land looks pretty good. House painters are very rarely lost at sea.
As I helped stain the trim on my sister-in-law’s wraparound deck, I reflected that my work life continues to move in the right direction, which is to say, toward less of anything that really resembles work. Sure, I have deadlines and travel, but spending eight hours with my old friend Sherwin-Williams reminded me that I’ve got a pretty cush gig. To name just one advantage, writing is a fairly hornet-proof enterprise unless you’re really doing it wrong.
But there’s room for improvement, and my hours wielding the brush gave me plenty of time to contemplate get-rich-quick schemes. You see, my parents very selfishly decided not to become rich themselves, which rules out the easiest path to a life of leisure. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was born in a bathtub, though. There’s a house somewhere in Newburyport that’s hopefully had a gut remodel sometime in the past few decades. You ever see a baby being born? Me neither, but I bet the aftermath is beyond the scrubbing bubbles.
So I need to create my own fortune, like Jessica Alba did. Perhaps you’ve seen her inspirational ad about how she overcame being rich and beautiful to become super-rich and beautiful, all because she believed in herself and her vision for kale kombucha sunscreen and organic farm-to-table diapers. I mean, I’m kicking myself for not thinking of that business plan, because I too surely would’ve raised $70 million in venture capital after getting outraged that some baby product almost gave my kid, Honor, a rash. It’s just like how I could’ve founded Casamigos Tequila and sold it for a billion dollars, like George Clooney did. Why didn’t I think of that? Of course people like tequila! George Clooney’s just the only one who knew it.
For those of us who can’t come up with products that nobody’s ever thought of, like tequila or gluten-free toilet paper, the path to riches might have to involve some kind of new service. For instance, the sharing economy is big right now, so maybe you could make an app that allows northern landscapers to send their tractors to Florida for the winter. You just get big trucks and collect all the lawn mowers and stuff, then send them to the south and rent it all out. You’d have to have a Silicon Valley name, like ’ScapR. And this idea would also work for boats and anything else you don’t use all winter. Is ’ScapR eventually going to ship your kids’ beach toys to Fort Lauderdale for six months a year? We’re not ruling it out, but that’s probably at least Phase 3.
The important thing is just to start a company and keep it going no matter what. Remember how Amazon was an online bookstore before it became an all-knowing robot that sends you dog food before you even know you need it? ’ScapR might turn out to be the world leader in dromedary health care and supplies, but right now we’re focused on disrupting regionality vis-à-vis capital expenditures in the horticulture segment. See, you learn to talk like that, and the next thing you know people are giving you money to start Juicero or the Fyre Festival. You don’t even have to be friends with Ja Rule, who frankly seems like a liability.
Other than being born into it or selling your app, the other path to financial independence/total laziness is investing. This one is tricky, because whether you’re playing the lottery or picking stocks, you’re playing the lottery. Last year I was on a plane next to a guy who worked for Verizon and was telling me about this great 5G service they’re rolling out that will stomp everyone else. “I should buy some Verizon stock!” I thought. Then I didn’t, because I remembered that I’m an idiot and if I think something’s a good idea then it’s probably not. Lo and behold, I recently decided to see how Verizon is doing, and the top headline was “Verizon the worst stock of 2017.” I mean, they bought Yahoo! And I include that exclamation point out of actual incredulity, not because it’s part of your silly name, Yahoo!
Maybe that’s my angle: a consulting company that gives advice you should ignore. I’ll get Ben Affleck to be the face of it. Eventually it’ll morph into a home-birth-assistance company called Bathtub Babies that we’ll sell for millions. And then I’ll retire—from helping relatives paint their houses. The fumes really do give you some crazy ideas. ♦
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