Shortly after 9/11 my company kicked me to the curb.
Six months earlier our division president had taken me to a congratulations lunch for a record breaking year. We were explosively growing and embarrassingly profitable. Over a bottle of fine wine we discussed my very bright future.
It was the best job I’ve ever had. Great team, great leadership, great fun. Great money. I had just cashed a bonus check for more than I had ever made in a single year before.
A year later my little girl and I were sitting on the couch watching a news broadcast. The concerned news crew was filming people standing in a depression era style bread line. They were, the reporter said, the newly poor suffering from job loss in the dismal economy. I was still unemployed and licking my wounds.
“Daddy,” said my eight-year-old, “are we poor?” She was gravely concerned.
“No,” I said, “we’re just fine.”
“But you don’t have a job,” she said. Thinking, I’m sure, just like those poor souls on the TV. Who even thought she knew what a job was?
‘That’s no problem, honey. We have money that’s working for us instead.”
That’s what I said, but what I was thinking was: This was exactly why I worked hard to be sure I had F-you money. In fact I’d been working on it long before I heard the term.
If memory serves, it comes from James Clavell. In his novel “Tai Pan” (highly recommended BTW) a young woman is on the quest to secure 10 million dollars. She calls it her “F-you money,” although the F-word is spelled out in the book. So you can look it up in case you’re wondering just what word it is. And 10m is far more than it takes, at least for me. More monk than minister.
I may not have known what it was called, but I knew what it was and why it is important. There are many things money can buy, but the most valuable of all is freedom. Freedom to do what you want and work for whom you respect.
Those who live paycheck to paycheck are slaves. Those who carry debt are slaves with even stouter shackles. Don’t think for the moment their masters don’t know it.
I first accumulated the modest amount I needed around 1989. Not enough to retire on perhaps, but enough to say F-you if needed.
The timing was fortunate. I wanted to take some time off to pursue business acquisitions. When I found myself one morning with my boss in the office hallway screaming at each other, it occurred to me perhaps the time had come. Never did a guy more need to be told….
I may never own a Mercedes but I’ll always be able to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.
Oh and it turned out I was unemployed for three full years after 9/11. I’m really lousy at job hunting.
Addendum: John Goodman on F-you money (Not work or kid friendly)
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