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If I’m So Smart, Why Aren’t I Rich?

Are you infinitely smarter than some people you know, who are, in turn, infinitely wealthier than you? Does that burn you up?

Well, get over it, and let me tell you why.

Becoming rich – not to mention staying rich – is a project. It’s an intention quite apart from being the best you can be at whatever you do, whether it’s ghostwriting, editing, publishing, writing the Great American Novel – whatever.

My husband is the most brilliant man I have ever known, and he has a modest dental practice that barely pays for itself. Frankly, he could care less. He won’t raise his rates; he won’t set up a group practice so he can make money on other people’s labor. And he has no interest in accumulating money or sitting on a (nest) egg like Dr. Seuss’s Horton the elephant. He’s a gourmet cook with lots of other interests and hobbies. I am an obsessive, ambitious entrepreneur, and he’s a lot more satisfied on a daily basis than I am. So who’s to say, in the final analysis, which choice is the best?

Years ago I was quite friendly with a world famous actor and icon. He was one of the richest—and loneliest—people I have ever known. When we first became friendly, he invited me onto his private jet and started pulling all kinds of gifts out of closets to try to entice me to stop everything I was doing and take a trip with him – for no other reason than he did not want to travel alone. Surrounded by fans, he seemed to have it all together. Alone, he had no sense of himself, and felt he was all image. And perhaps he was. We can all fall in love with our public persona, especially when the feedback we get is, “Oh, you are so great!” But having money does not give you a free pass to self-confidence or satisfaction with whom or what you are.

Money does buy you a lot. It means you can jump right into a taxi to take you right where you’re going instead of waiting in the freezing cold at a bus stop for the bus that never seems to come. With lots of money, you can even have a chauffeured limo follow you around, so that you don’t even have to carry your coat or your packages or hail a taxi, ever!

Money can do a lot more. You can buy higher quality everything. You can be more generous to the people in your life, or pay it forward by helping the less fortunate – which is everyone else, except other rich people. But from my extensive hobnobbing on the upper echelons—and I don’t think this is sour grapes—is that people who have it worry as much as you do. They may not worry about accumulating more as much as they worry about keeping what they have.

Sophie Tucker famously said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.” Sure, given a choice, anyone would rather have than have not. But once you have one mink coat, do you really need five? Do you really need every last thing you’ve been accumulating? We Americans spend a fortune on storage space. Think about that. And most often we never actually use any of that stuff again – but, hey, it’s there when we need it!

So what is the point of this entire column? My point is this: You can be very, very smart and not money-focused, and that’s why you’re so smart and still not rich. Even people who win the lottery are usually people who’ve bought one or more tickets every week for years. In any case, lottery winners usually crash and burn and are miserable, so let’s not go any further down the road with that one. We’re talking about the career rich, not the accidental rich.

Not being rich doesn’t make you any less smart. I swear to you, besides my husband, the smartest people I know are pretty much all far from rich. They each say they’d love to have more money, but that’s only lip service. They are smart for smart’s sake – reading, writing, editing, brokering, mentoring, teaching, philosophizing, researching—they love what they do. If you love what you do, keep on doing it. It should be good enough to make up a great life, even with some bumps in the road from an occasional financial shortfall.

But if you don’t love what you’re doing, then start a new career. You can, of course, put your laser focus on finding a way to become rich as a be-all and end-all. It’s just another project that you may not have tackled to date. Maybe you’ve just been too busy doing what you love with and for the people you care about. A lot of millionaires and billionaires can’t say that. Many of them die miserable and alone. So don’t be envious. Money – no matter how much – can’t buy love or happiness.

But it can get you out of the rain a lot quicker.


Judy welcomes comments and questions from readers. Her company is Katz Creative, Inc. You can contact her by email at or call 212-580-8833.

  • Fran Toolan

    Judy, thanks for this column. I ask myself this question almost every day. I'm convinced that there is some middle ground (which I probably arlready found, but don't want to admit).

    'Rich' is a funny word. so is 'poor'. when I was growing up, my mother used to tell us, "we may be broke, but we're not poor". Now, I find myself telling my kids, "we may not be financially rich, but we're wealthy beyond measure".

    Here's to a great 2008. Maybe we can all find both financial and life-style wealth!

  • Guest

    Hi Judy,

    For the most part I agree with the sentiment in the article, or at the very least, the original argument that being wealthier does not necessarily mean being smarter. The two does not directly always correlate for comparison sakes. 

    I do hope that others who read this don’t mistaken the intention of the article to say that people who are wealthy are lonely or any less happier than those with money. I know those were examples given people can take it out of context. 

    Having said those things, I want to note that most people look at intelligence I think in the wrong way (personal opinion).They define intelligence base on how much a person knows, how articulate they are, how educated (self taught or school knowledge) a person is, and such. I can’t agree with such measures for indicates of who is a smart man or woman. Those, in my opinion, are bluntly useless. To me, measurements of intelligence should be defined as the amount of applied knowledge rather than the volume of knowledge a person possess.

    Just my two cents

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