The Bad Goal of $5m by 30
And perhaps a better framing
I turned 30 yesterday. I’ll share my annual reflection piece in the next week or two, but in the meantime, I want to share one thing that was on my mind for years that was ultimately a bad goal.
I’m not sure where I picked up the goal “be worth $5 million by age 30,” but it’s been in my head as long as I can remember. It was perhaps one of my oldest goals. I think I adopted it in college from some combination of The 4-Hour Workweek, The Millionaire Fastlane, and the general idea of FIRE.1
There are endless versions of this goal. Most financially ambitious people have some version of The Number they want to hit where they’ll feel like they Made It and can treat work as optional. But when I reflect on some of the kinds of work I focused on over the last decade where I was more or less happy, it’s clear that the work I enjoyed least was the work I was doing purely to chase The Number.
The problem is not that your Number will keep moving. It certainly will; lifestyle creep is almost impossible to avoid. But the bigger problem is how The Number treats work. It frames work and money as something adversarial to life. It says, “I need to acquire enough resources first, then live the life I want after.”
This view of work and life is severely limiting, though. Humans need some form of meaningful work in their lives. We get terribly depressed and listless if we’re not creating anything we care about. You don’t actually want not to work. You want to not work on things you don’t care about. So the goal I wish I had focused on a little more is to figure out what kind of work can create a meaningful income and be something I look forward to doing every day.
That work exists for all of us. We just need the courage to find it. And it’s often easiest to find before you have all the larger financial obligations that come with later adulthood, like a mortgage and children. It’s probably better to chase money later and figure out what kind of work works best for you earlier. Point the ship in the right direction before you speed up too much.
Granted, I ended up stumbling into that kind of work anyway, and I might not have developed the other skills I need to support pursuing a writing career if I hadn’t spent a decent chunk of my 20s chasing money. So, as with all advice like this, there are some significant caveats and survivorship bias. Often the only way out is through.
If you are on some sort of number-chasing goal, just be careful not to let it override your sense of what you want to do with your life. Experiments in work and life are easier when you’re young and unencumbered. Don’t squander the opportunity.
Financial Independence, Retire Early