If you ask Steve Siebold why you’re not rich, he’ll give it to you straight.
“It’s a choice,” he says. “Becoming rich is a conscious choice you have to make.”
Yep, you read that right: the reason you’re not rich is because you just don’twant it enough.
Siebold is a consultant by day – he trains the sales and managements teams at multi-billion dollar corporations like Johnson & Johnson JNJ -1.01% and Procter & Gamble PG -0.95% – and something of a wealth scholar by night. Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed more than 1,200 of the world’s wealthiest people – including, he claims, many of these illustrious names. What began as a broke college kid’s quest to learn about what makes rich people tick has turned into a book (“How Rich People Think”), a personal fortune (which he declines to enumerate but does go as far to say that it ranks him among “the top 1% of income earners in the professional speaking industry worldwide”), and a controversial earnings dogma.
Siebold first got my attention with an email touting this dogma, which rests on tenets like, “you’re not rich because you hang around people with no money.” That, to me, sounded like classic victim-blaming, not to mention completely ignorant of the fact that the cycle of poverty is real; where a person is born and grows up can lead to thousands upon thousands of dollars in lost income over the course of a lifetime. This effect doesn’t just go away by tapping your heels together three times and saying “there’s no place like the 1%” three times.
And yet his core thesis, which is that the rich think differently than the rest of us and have therefore approached their careers in a fundamentally different manner than the average American, is worth considering – as are some of the ideas that have sprouted from this thesis. Take, for instance, his view on being comfortable:
“If you want to be rich, being comfortable is your biggest enemy. [Many Americans] get a nice place to live, develop a comfortable lifestyle, and they settle in – and settling in is the nemesis of creating wealth. [Creating wealth involves] a lot of pushing yourself.”
When I pointed out that advice like “push yourself” might be better suited for an entrepreneur than someone who is trying to find their place within a hierarchical corporation, Siebold shot back with this: “Having your own business is obviously the number one way to get rich in America, but you can still get rich inside a corporation. Be willing to push yourself on the hours you work, be willing to move if they want you to move… Be willing to do whatever it takes to make it if being rich is one of your goals.”
His other ideas are less easy to swallow. He stops just short of saying that it’s people’s own fault if they’re not rich – but also manages to diagnose the entire middle class with a “disease” that has brainwashed Americans into thinking that money is the root of all evil.
“I was born into it. I lived a certain amount of my life in it. You learn from the time you’re a child that money is the most evil thing in the world, so why would you chase it?” Siebold says. “I grew up thinking money was not something I should want. God forbid I would ever say in a mixed setting ‘I want to be rich.’ I was criticized for it, until I met rich people who said ‘yeah, you should want to be rich.’ It’s almost a gauche thing to say.”
(As taboo a subject as money can be, the fact that Americans are working an average of 47 hours a week – the rough equivalent of a six-day work-week, if you consider 9-to-5 the typical work day – and that a majority of us are worried about having enough money to retire on lead me to believe that a Puritanical mindset is not quite leading us to disavow wealth. But we can agree to disagree there.)
The differences between the middle class and rich don’t stop at openly yearning for dough, Siebold says.
“A lot of people don’t want to work this hard. While they’re playing video games the rich are out there working,” he says. “The missing ingredient is the drive.”
Upon what can only be described as a shriek of indignation from this reporter (I believe my words were, “so the single mom working three jobs so she can support her kids: she’s NOT working hard?”), Siebold clarified that his stance on wealth-building is not for every socio-economic status.
“It’s certainly not a level playing field [in this country]; to say it is would be ridiculous,” he conceded. “This is not for the fringes. This is for people who did not grow up in a desperate situation.”
That’s the crux of the matter: Siebold’s advice is for a very specific slice of the U.S. population. He’s talking specifically to the upwardly mobile, the middle class, and those who might be inclined to rest on their laurels and yet sulk when they haven’t magically joined the ranks of the Forbes 400. The extreme idiosyncrasy of Siebold’s thinking became clear to me when I pointed out to him that some people feel a calling to a profession that doesn’t pay millionaire-making salaries – think teaching, non-profit work, nursing, or journalism. His response was that if someone chooses one of those careers, it means that, deep down, they don’t really want to be rich. Or at least, they don’t want it enough.
“If you want to be financially independent and that’s more important than the nursing, I’d say get your money and you can be a nurse for free—if you want to be rich. Not everyone wants to be rich,” he said. “I think it’s gotta be close to being your number one goal. If you’re not focused, you’re not going to have it,” he added. “I haven’t met too many rich people that didn’t intend on being rich.”
Ultimately, this very well may be true for some members of the 1%. But FORBES’ in-house wealth experts – the reporters who track and chronicle the world’s 1,800 billionaires year in and year out – disagree that the Warren Buffetts of the world achieved their wealth by focusing on their personal fortune. What they’re focused on is their business. The money is incidental.
“If you want to be rich, you go into finance,” the wealth team told me. “What the billionaires are obsessed with are their businesses.”