Most of us want to be rich, or at least comfortably well-off. We daydream about bucketfuls of cash coming from a lottery win, an unexpected inheritance or some other sudden boon that’s making a bee-line just for us.
We also want to be slim, fit, popular and eternally youthful, yet most of us do nothing to acquire these traits. It’s more like, “Pass the kettle chips and keep your hands off my remote.”
Amidst all the daft books on building wealth, only a few stand out for their honesty and pragmatism. One such book is The Narrow Road by Felix Dennis. Dennis passed away this week at the age of 67. He was the publishing mastermind behind the lad-mag Maxim, as well as other media brands.
Dennis grew up in poverty in Surrey, England, (“no electricity, no indoor lavatory…no electric light…”) but amassed a £500 million fortune, of which a fifth was spent on French wine, women (French and non-French), and crack cocaine (origin unknown). After a bout with a severe illness he dropped out of the business world and became a poet.
In The Narrow Road, a slim volume of his business wisdom Dennis cut to the chase. If you want to be rich, he argued, you’ve got to be like a “wild pig rooting for truffles…or a weasel about to rip the throat out of a rabbit.” In other words, you’ve got to want to be rich more than anything else.
Dennis got it right, to be successful in any large venture requires a degree of arrogance and selfishness that most people might find difficult to summon. You’ve got to say ‘no’ a lot so you can say ‘yes’ to the thing you’re pursuing. Friends will fall by the wayside and intimate relationships are unlikely to thrive, or even survive during your quest. On the other hand, once you’re really loaded, you can buy a bunch of shiny new friends and lovers to keep you company before you keel over.
Another example of someone who has spent his life in hot pursuit of money is Warren Buffett. Despite his avuncular appearance and sage announcements as the “Oracle of Omaha”, Buffett, too, has chosen the narrow road.
In Snowball, the excellent biography on Buffett by Alice Schroeder, we see someone who from a young age chased one thing, cash, to the exclusion of everything else. In a childhood photo of Buffett with his two sisters, each sister holds a doll or stuffed animal. Buffett holds a coin-dispensing machine.
As we learn in the book, Buffett did nothing but think about making money, starting with his newspaper route as a young boy. Marriage and fatherhood did nothing to keep him from spending his time parsing annual reports in search of struggling companies he could buy for a fraction of their intrinsic value.
Of course his marriage faltered. (When his wife was ill and couldn’t get out of bed to vomit, she asked Warren to bring her a bowl from the kitchen. He returned with a colander.) His kids never dreamed of asking him to throw a ball with them or hang out together. He was a million miles away, hunting rabbits.
In memory of Felix Dennis (R.I.P.), let us take a moment and reflect on this: What are we willing to do to become rich? What will we consciously make less important than making money? And, in the end, if we decide there’s more to life than just the pursuit of cash, let’s take a look around. Pots of gold everywhere— just not the yacht-bearing kind.