In my favourite book of all time, Autobiography of a Yogi, there is a story about a normal 33-year-old guy in India who is approached by an enlightened guru who helps him to remember his past lifetimes when he too was an enlightened master. The guru, wanting this normal guy to become enlightened again, materializes all the wealth that the normal guy could ever want, right before his eyes. The guru does this so all of the last earthly desire the normal guy had (being really wealthy) could be satisfied so he can move past it and onto enlightenment. The guru says that desire is what chains us to the reincarnation wheel.
While many “spiritual” people speak of wanting less, desiring nothing, and frown upon striving for money or material success, I believe satisfying earthly desires can be one the most spiritual things you can do. I don’t mean just trying to have the biggest boat for the sake of being able to say you have the biggest boat. I mean acknowledging your inner desires and looking them right in the eye. And when you feel like attaining them is part of your growth and purpose, GO FOR IT, regardless of if it is focused on material gain.
While many people cite their darkest hours (like being on their death bed, or losing everything) as the times they learned what is truly important in life, I had a number of different (you could say opposite) experiences. When I was 25, I busted my ass for 365 days straight selling real estate to reach a highly coveted award level, and to get the big plaque that came with it. After reaching that goal (becoming the highest grossing new Realtor in North America), I relaxed for the first time in a year and enjoyed it. Well, I enjoyed it until I realized that if I wanted to keep my success going, I would need to go out and bust my hump for another year to win another big award. It was when I reached the top of my game that I realized that the great feeling success brings is temporary, fleeting, not real, illusory. It is not anything close to true happiness.
This scenario played out over and over again in my 20s. Reaching higher and higher goals in business, physical fitness, romantic relationships, and finances. Each became less and less fulfilling to the point where I said “screw it!”, sold everything, and took up social entrepreneurship full time.
It was largely because of hitting huge goals that I abandoned the notion of “more” equaling happiness. It was because of hitting goals that my entire life is now dedicated to service. It’s not that I made a boatload of cash and became a wealthy philanthropist. Heck no. I sold everything I owned to fund my current venture that has now funded 60 schools and libraries in 9 developing countries for 60,000 kids, and am flat broke because of it.
But you would not believe how great I sleep at night. With a big, stupid smile on my face.
Why? Because a number in a bank account doesn’t define me. And nor does it define you.
Like the normal guy from India, I had desires that needed to be fulfilled. Thanks to going after those desires 100%, I can now say with personal experience that money, success, and hitting goals don’t mean squat. What matters to me is loving yourself, serving others, and taking pleasure in simplicity.
Striving after material success in my 20s ended up being the most spiritual thing I could have done. It was my way of materializing my desires so I could see the illusion they actually are. I am nowhere closer to enlightenment than anyone reading this, but I do know what makes me happy, and that feels really good.
Taylor is the founder of Change Heroes and Destroy Normal Consulting, which focus on innovative philanthropy and building projects like schools, wells, and libraries all over the developing world. His most recent efforts have seen schools funded in India, Nepal, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania, impacting over 30,000 children. He has set foot on every continent, dozens of countries, and has worked as a professional fire fighter, real estate broker, and currently as an avid social entrepreneur.