Wait! Hold on a sec! Don’t get your calculator out! The question must be understood slightly differently: When everyone’s obsessed about their net worth, how do you compute the value of, well, simply living with what you have and doing what you love?
Some years back I visited a businessman named Giuseppe in Capannoli, near Pisa, in Tuscany, Italy. His business was doing badly. And the company I was working for was interested in buying his business over. I was down there for a due diligence exercise to check if his books of accounts and assets were indeed as he claimed them to be. From whatever I saw, it appeared that this businessman and family were in a sorry state. All their assets were repossessed by their bankers, the tax authorities had frozen all bank accounts and their ancient, 120-year-old,family villa was due to be auctioned in a month’s time. Giuseppe said to me several times during our meetings and endless reviews over coffee that he really, really hoped my company would bail them out. He had no personal cash on him and had to often get his uncle to swipe a credit card to help him fill gas in the car so that I could be ferried around. But despite all this gloom, Giuseppe made sure each evening he showed me a bit of his beautiful country within vicinity of Capannoli. So, one evening we went to Florence 50km away. And on another we went to Pisa, 25km away. One afternoon he took me, using his professional acquaintance’s connections, to visit the Piaggio plant in Pontedara, a 20 minute drive from where I was staying. He played the perfect host, taking care of my every minor need. I marveled at Giuseppe’s ability to be happy. One evening, while he baked me a pizza in a grand wood-fired oven in his kitchen, and while we sipped exquisite red wine made from homegrown Sangiovese grapes, I asked him how he managed to stay so cheerful in spite of what he was going through. “I never focus on what I don’t have. I have learnt to focus only on what I have. For now, I have your company, I have this opportunity to bake you this pizza and I have my favorite red wine to drink. Life cannot be valued by how much money you have alone. It can only be valued by how well you have lived with what you have been given,” replied Giuseppe heartily.
Yesterday, after all these years, I thought about Giuseppe. It has been a difficult month for me and my family. Stressful is a mild word. My wife and I sat in a coffee shop, just to get away from all the activity we have had to manage in the past several weeks, sipping green tea all afternoon. There was no agenda. We had nothing specific to talk about. We could have discussed the myriad problems we were faced with. We could have worried __ because we had plenty to worry about too! But we did none of that. We both read the books we had carried with us. We occasionally looked up to smile at a little baby girl, about a year old, who kept waving to us from the next table. We didn’t have to say it. But we both thoroughly enjoyed just being with each other. That’s when I thought about the pizza night in Giuseppe’s kitchen. While I must confess what he had said did not make any sense to me then, when I was hardly 28, I couldn’t agree with it more now.
In a world where everything is valued basis a price tag, how valuable is a moment of companionship? In times when you are judged basis your net worth, basis your bank balance and your assets, how valuable is happiness? In Life when everything is driven by a calendar, by an agenda, by Return on Investment (including time), how valuable is simply being, reading a book or aimlessly savoring a child’s smile? Each of those instances, however insipid they may appear to be in the wake of the problems we end up being faced with, you will agree, is priceless.
Make your Life worth living by counting how wealthy you are with simply the opportunity to live! Not everything can be measured from a conventional net worth point of view. Certainly not reflections over green tea. Nor sips of Tuscan red wine in a cashless, yet big-hearted, man’s kitchen. Or for you, or others, it may be playing the piano or writing or talking to a stranger or shooting candid pictures on the street. Whatever it may be, at least now, choose also to do what you love doing. You may have chosen more ‘paying’ or ‘commercially rewarding’ options as careers! But take the time to do stuff that you love to and that which make your Life worth it. Only then will you realize what your true net worth really is!