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Do You Need to be Super Smart to be Rich and Wealthy?

I often hear people say they can’t get rich because they are not blessed with the brain Bill Gates is blessed with. But do you really need to be “super smart”?

Rich is a relative term, and one certainly doesn’t need to be the next Bill Gates to be rich, so let’s get past that for now.

Let’s also get past the semantics between rich and wealthy. I understand that many differentiate between being rich and wealthy, and sure there are differences, semantics and otherwise, but for the sake of this discussion I will use them interchangeably.

What triggered this post is a reconnection with an old friend who I had not seen in years prior to just recently when he was in town to visit. We caught up over dinner and drinks.  He was in town on a project. He works for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and rakes in a healthy $175,000 in his early thirties.

“I’ve been working like a dog in consulting, and the more I make the more I pay in taxes” he said. But isn’t that what your goal always was I asked? I knew him college. We both attended a top 10 business school. Few years after his initial job he went back to another top 10 business school to get an MBA before joining BCG.

“Yes, and I am getting richer, but it’s taking too long” he replied.  “I have a couple ideas going on the side but just can’t seem to get any momentum because of work demands” he added.  Well what’s the guarantee that your ideas will make you rich I asked? We both smiled and continued popping in those fried, oily corn chips dipped in guacamole. Eeeks.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Moral of the conversation? There are many ways to get to the end goal of becoming rich and building wealth.  My friend can continue on the path that he is on and live a comfortable life with his paycheck and retire well with his savings. Or, he can go the entrepreneurial route and strike gold there.  He can also fail miserably.  Or, he can switch to a less demanding and less paying career but free up time to work on his pet projects.

Although there are many ways to get to the end goal, the mediums we choose tend to vary.  Each one of us has a different style or way of doing things, and we all have unique preferences.  For me, it has always been about choosing what gives me the most satisfaction which also gets me to my goal by the time I want to get there. I suspect it is the same for many who are in the same general boat as my friend and I.

A High Paying Career is One Way to Become Rich

When I worked in mergers and acquisitions, I used to observe the lifestyle of one of the partners of the firm and how he was always striving for that next promotion to an office partner, and then to a national partner and so forth.

When I moved to private industry, I used to observe my CFO in meetings and get togethers and how he always spoke about the chairman of the board having it made at 60+ raking in millions each year on a part time schedule (yes it was a big bank).  The CFO was in his 40s.

I used to listen to him thinking to myself that I too will get there, except in a different way, perhaps much faster because I won’t be restricted by an income ceiling, and I will be much happier, healthier and have much less stress in the process.

I may or may not make the same amount of money as he did and will in the future, but how much is enough to classify one as rich / wealthy? Like I said, these terms are relative.  Sure I may not make $6 Million a year like he did, but I am sure I will have plenty enough to consider myself rich.

I think for most individuals, after reaching a certain point in the income scale, incremental growth doesn’t matter as much anymore as it once did.  Apparently for my CFO, $6M wasn’t enough. He wanted the $14M the chairman made.

I would have totally stayed on the partner track, or pursued my career to become a CFO or even a CEO someday, but the common traits amongst the individuals in these titles / positions seemed to turn me off. What are some of these characteristics?

They seem overworked 99% of the time. They seem moody / bipolar, perhaps because of the initial fact. Many are divorced multiple times over. One of my CFOs in one company had only seen his daughter 3 times in a 4 year span! They are all round shaped, only one had hair, perhaps because of the stress and pressure? Their diets are horrible (from what I can tell), and I don’t want to know what is going on inside their biological systems.

But all these individuals had / have one thing in common. They have money, and a lot of it. Their salaries were in the millions, and if I were to guess they had / have multi-millions stashed aside to feed the next 14 generations of their lineage.

In case you are wondering, I am speaking about a sample size of approximately 70 top level positions here.  I am not saying all are like that, but most all of the 70 in my sample universe are. You might be one of these as you are reading this and may very well not fit the bill. If so, hats off to you.  There are always exceptions to a general rule, or outliers to a trend.

However, in my experience, most in such positions share a lot of these traits.  When I ask my wife (she has a full time job), she tends to agree. When I ask my friends in corporate America, they too agree (many of them are exactly on that path – some are now realizing it while others are still oblivious to the fact).

A High Paying Job is Not the Only Way to Riches

Switching gears over to the mid level society, I am acquainted with several individuals who are self made millionaires through their self started businesses. Many others are not millionaires, but I’d considered them rich because they make solid income, have a solid set of investments and savings, and have more than enough to worry about it even when business is not doing all that well.

These folks work in careers with above average salaries (the average household salary in the USA is sub $50,000 the last I checked), some have side businesses while others are simply frugal and invest their money well.  Education wise, most of those running their businesses are not formally educated, while most of those working for a paycheck are.

The common trait between folks in these categories is that each one has picked a system and has stayed with it for a long period of time. Some of these guys have made their money in real estate, others running big name franchises, others through investing in the stock market and small businesses, and a handful who are doing well making money online.

None of these folks are founders of a ground breaking idea. Sure, some have franchised out their business concepts and have struck gold doing so, but the concept of franchising is nothing new either.  They sell soups and salads for Heavens’ sake.

This just further reinforces the fact that one doesn’t need to be super smart or highly educated to do well financially. In fact, the smart ones of the bunch don’t even have to be super hard working if they choose not to.

There are business models perfectly conducive to this type of personality. I know some folks making mid six figures running lead generation / referral businesses online from home. I guess what I am trying to convey is that there are alternatives to a high paying job to become rich, and you don’t have to be a genius to get in the game.

Concluding Thoughts

Although a good education and a high paying profession certainly helps getting to the end goal of becoming rich, and can significantly expedite one’s progress to reach that goal, it is not a prerequisite by any means.

I am acquainted with several self made multimillionaire entrepreneurs who are not formally educated in a classroom, some who worked for just a few years in average paying professions and others who have never worked for a paycheck. Everyone is doing just fine.  The smart ones of this bunch are doing extra fine, reaping high dollars without putting in high number of hours and stress.

There are many average folks who are living above average lifestyles all around us today.  We may not see them because we don’t hang out in their circles, but they do exist and they are everywhere, trust me.

There is no secret formula either to live the life they are living. Each one got to where they are today by following a system that has worked for someone else in the past. There are business models that are proven, that have been studied, replicated and refined over the years.

Not every successful business has to be a new idea or invention. In fact, the best chance for success is to take a proven model and replicate it. It is absurd to recreate the wheel from scratch each time around.  There are always opportunities to enhance, improvise and implement changes in existing models to fit the current consumer taste and environment.

So No, you don’t have to be a born genius to become rich. You simply need to pick a proven system, believe in it and persevere working it, in it and on it over a long period of time.

Sure there are chances that it may not work. But you run similar risks working in a career don’t you? Your company can fold. Your job can be eliminated. You just have to bounce back up and start marching on once again.

What route or routes are you pursuing? Why? How is it going for you? Do you agree or disagree with having to be super smart?

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24 Responses to “Do You Need to be Super Smart to be Rich and Wealthy?”

  1. krantcents says:

    I achieved financial freedom at 38 years old. I did it investing in income property and growing it internally. I had a college degree and I was working as a CFO for medium size companies. This achievement provided a lot of choices in life and still does. I am able to work as a teacher now and enjoy what I do.

    • Sunil says:

      Congratulations KC. Sounds like you knew exactly where you wanted to be from the get go. Most people don’t know their final destination therefore are never able to assess how they are doing/progressing towards it.

      Question, how did you grow your income property investing internally? Investing in rental real estate is also a passion I share with you – any tips on how to do it successfully in your experience?

  2. Hi Sunil, I couldn’t agree more. This is a great article for those stuck in the rat race. The golden handcuffs make it hard for higher level execs to escape. As a women entrepreneur I feel strongly that no amount of high paying salary compensates me for missing time with my kids. I used to be so stressed trying to juggle a demanding job with being a parent and probably didn’t do either job as well as I would have liked. It’s always a juggle and a compromise. I now never miss school activities and events, and am always available when my kids need me. I am 100% fully involved in my kids lives while also pursuing an intellectually stimulating and lucrative career running my own business from home.

    Working for yourself can be scary at times as you don’t have the luxury of a regular income, but also our incomes are not capped. We are only limited by our own ambitions and beliefs.

    I hope your article inspires others stuck in the rat race to take the leap of faith. It’s interesting that many people who are made redundant realise later (sometimes years later) that this has actually been a lucky break as it’s forced them to look at generating income differently, i..e not depending on a j.o.b!

    • Sunil says:

      Very true Cassie. I am very close to a female colleague who I used to work with who mirrored your sentiment. She started freelancing on the side and one day left the company. She is making just as much she was before, putting in a bit fewer hours (charging higher effective hourly rate) but more than anything has all the flexibility to design her business around her lifestyle. She is happily married with two children.

      A corporate career can be very lucrative and just fine for many, but for those who want the flexibility that they are not getting at work, the key lesson from your message seems to be that one can achieve the lifestyle they desire if they want to. As far as income is concerned, you are correct that we are our own biggest limiting factor.

  3. I think you have to have some type of common sense to attain wealth. I don’t think you have to be the brightest crayon in the box, but you do have to understand investment options and make wise decisions concerning where you place your money and how you budget it. If you lack sense then how do you expect to ever advance yourself? I also think you have to have a great deal of perseverance and tenacity. Getting rich quick is rare and unless you have a dying uncle who is leaving you his grand estate somewhere, good luck.

    • Sunil says:

      Very well stated Jon – I need to find a way to pass through your comments automatically. WordPress keeps putting you in moderation. Do you think those characteristics can be developed / trained on? Or do you think those are inherent is individuals?

  4. Tauseef says:

    As a medium of exchange the basic function of money is to get you food, cloth and shelter and with any average occupation it’s possible to meet these needs.

    And in climbing upward — prestige & power replaces money as a target but people make money as a route towards power. & in this process of journey through corporate ladder multiplies your stress and commitments and if you take entrepreneurial route the task is more tough and commanding. in both the cases – achieving financial freedom doesn’t come easy. & I guess for every one the definition of financial freedom is different.

    Sunil, I sense your well researched article is a reflection of your liking with being your own boss.

    • Sunil says:

      You make some excellent points Tauseef. Both routes come with their ups and downs. I like your statement about how financial freedom means different things to different people and thus the variety of avenues different folks decide to take to reach that goal.

      While it is certainly nice to call my own shots, I am a big believer in multiple streams of income. In other words, I’d never advocate leaving a full time job to pursue a part time venture online with the hopes of it becoming a full time gig someday. While that has worked for many, I am a believer in diversifying income streams so that when one dries, there is another to rely on. There are way too many variables around us beyond our control.

  5. I think you need some kind of financial common sense and organization skills, but that in itself doesn’t take a high IQ. I think that attaining the status of “rich” (this definition changes depending on circumstances) doesn’t necessarily take a high salaried position, though that does help. The biggest factor is spending much less than you make and investing and saving the difference. Something I’m still working towards.

    • Sunil says:

      Great point. It doesn’t take a high paying job, what it takes is a balance between intake and outgoing. One can maximize the gap by increasing top line or cutting bottom line. What I most often find is that many are simply unaware of this, therefore I believe realization or awareness is the first step.

  6. I once was in that race to get the highest position possible. When I started at my bank, I wanted to become a VP before I’m hitting 35. I thought that the corporate ladder was the only path for financial freedom and becoming rich.

    Then, after a few years I’ve stopped climbing the ladder and started thinking smarter: why would I have to work 50-60 hours for the next 10-15 years to make a lot of money? Then, I asked myself what would I do with all that money now that I wouldn’t recognize my wife or my children? What’s the point of being rich when you didn’t have enough time to build solid relationship around you?

    This is when I decided to work 4 days a week at a day job that I like (after doing my MBA, employer let me worked 30 hours a week 😉 ). And I am now concentrating 1 full day on my blogging empire.

    I have been doing this for the past 2 years and I can tell that it had a tremendous change in life. I’m more healthy as I have time to go to the gym, I coach my 6 yr old son at soccer and I have plenty of time to go out with my wife. On top of that, I’m making more money now than I was 2 years ago when I was working 50 hours a week!

    here’s my moto: don’t work harder, work smarter!

    thx for this great post Sunil!


    • Sunil says:

      Some excellent points Mike. Loved the following: “Then, I asked myself what would I do with all that money now that I wouldn’t recognize my wife or my children?” This can be very true for many. When I was in consulting, the head practice partner had been through 4 divorces, but he was sure rich. He was also quite heavy, round and bald (sometimes genetics but I doubt in his case)

      Question: Do you not work on your side gigs at all outside the 1 day a week?

      • I work 6 hours on my day of blogging and about 1h per day the rest of the days. So I really put about 10 hours a week (up to 20 some times but it’s pretty rare!).

        I rather pay VAs to work for me than me working more hours 😉

        oh.. and I’m bald by the way.. but that’s genetic lol!

  7. I have one friend with a doctorate in chemistry that works as a stock box at a grocery store. There is nothing wrong with working in a grocery store, but to do so with a doctorate seems a bit out of place.

    I have other friends that only have an associated and are rich, via owning their own business. They aren’t stupid, but they aren’t doctorate material either.

    So I believe it takes more than just super intelligence to become rich. If a person is missing “Drive”, then they are doomed to be middle class or perhaps even poor.

    • Sunil says:

      I can totally relate MR. There are people I used to work with who had more advanced degrees than I did, and they obtained some real credible certifications much sooner than I did, yet lost drive at some point which kept them in a stagnated state. I agree that drive / action is a necessary ingredient needed in getting ahead.

  8. Henry says:

    I was speaking with a cab driver the other day and he had two doctorates! And working as a cab driver!
    I also have some friends that have their own businesses and all they wish for is to get a job working for someone else, as they hate their business.
    Sure having your own business can make you good cash, but when its not, it can feel like a prison sentence.

    • Sunil says:

      Very true Henry. Sometimes one takes a job just to have something to do. Call me crazy but at one point I used to talk about driving a cab when I grew older. Something about waking up at 3AM to start the 4AM shift with a cup of coffee while listening to jazz music while dropping folks off at the airport on a misty dark morning.

  9. Sunil says:

    @ Mike – The Financial Blogger

    I actually think those people died long time ago in their 30s. They just refuse to get burred until they are 80…

  10. LOL, financial blogger. It was noticed at one of our recent property networking meetings that many of the “experts” are bald. Of course, there is no guarantee that these so called “gurus” are rich but they would be if they practice what they teach. So hair is definitely not a factor! Thanks for the chuckle.

  11. Mike says:

    Having an advanced degree doesn’t equate with being smart. I “only” have an associate degree and have worked with so many people with bachelor and master degrees that couldn’t tell you one thing about history, art, geography, current events, etc.

    A good idea, hard work and never quitting are the keys to being wealthy but for many true wealth is not measured in monetary terms.

    • Sunil says:

      Welcome to the blog Mike. You make some excellent points. An advanced degree, while can help tremendously, is not the epitome of “smartness”. It all boils down to proper execution at the end of the day. Thank you for those insights.

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