Did the Rich Dad learn Seven Habits to Win Friends and Get Things Done?

Magical fairy cave

If you read and apply the books I referenced in the title, you ought to eventually become effective, wealthy and charismatic, even while avoiding stress. Sounds like a pretty grand way to invest $35!

In a magical land of fairies and rainbows (pictured above) I could end my post there, having tremendously improved my readers’ lives in every possible way (except perhaps romantically, but I think there’s a book for that too). But alas, here in reality-land millions of people have bought these books and yet failed to produce a society of superhumans who achieve everything they desire. There are two possible reasons for this: 1) the methods described in the books don’t work, or 2) we are doing it wrong.

To gauge #1 we can start by asking whether the authors have accomplished what they describe? Is Robert Kiyosaki a millionaire? (Yup). Does Tim Ferriss work four hours per week? (Well…). This is a good start, but even if the author ‘made it’ there’s no guarantee that these methods are the cause. Another argument could be convergence of independent, distinguished sources: If Stephen Covey, Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin are all telling you to be proactive, there might be something to it (but note that a parade of life coaches echoing Covey is neither distingushed nor independent). But in the end I’m going to settle for gut feeling and assume that many of the lessons you can read in the superior self-improvement books can lead you to the promised result. If you strongly disagree… Well, then you probably aren’t reading this in the first place.

Which leaves the option that we are doing something wrong in our quest for personal transformation. The top level explanation is of course that we’re not doing exactly what the books tell us to, and the top level cause for that must be that we don’t want the outcome badly enough to do so. But it’s probably useful to look in greater detail at what it is that makes us stray from the program. It’s possible that we don’t want anything badly enough for action, which would leave the books quite helpless to help us. But let’s assume that we do want the things mentioned in the first paragraph, or at least some of them. In that case I’ll propose the following hypothesis: We fail to follow the prescribed program for wealth, charisma, organization etc. precisely because we are promised everything (in no humble terms either, they have to sell books after all), but can’t have it all. Most of these guaranteed plans for success (and I don’t mean that sarcastically) say or imply that you have to care so much that you’re willing to make sacrifices. So we nod and go “Yeah sure, I’ll give up stuff”. Imagining maybe Facebook or sleep, not the other fantastic self-improvement idea we read about last month. But the thing is that you have to follow each plan single-mindedly, and you can’t be single-minded about multiple things. Paul Graham wrote an essay about it that rings true. So it isn’t that we don’t want what they promise, but that we want all of them (roughly) equally. There isn’t one thing that we want more than everything else, but pursuing more than one thing kills your chances of getting anything.

How do we pick which goal to make sacrifices for? I don’t know. It probably comes back to what we desire, but whether that’s something we could and/or should try to direct is not obvious. Instead let’s focus on the lesson at hand: A book can give you the blueprint for achieving most things in life, but any notable achievement requires persistent, single-minded effort. Following the blueprint will not be quick, nor easy, and the sacrifices you’ll need to make probably won’t be what you imagined. You can have anything, but not everything.


Not long ago I noted with some satisfaction that I didn’t have many needs. (Although it would have been more accurate to say that I didn’t appreciate many common desires). I had just read Siddharta and no doubt relished the apparent affinity with its main character. In any case, I reasoned that fewer needs means more freedom, that if I didn’t need to pay for apartments or vacations I’d be able to spend my time on whatever I most wanted to do.

And yet…

Have you ever had a day where your alarm went off, but you decided to snooze a bit since there wasn’t anything in particular to get done that day? Where you get to work and proceed to spend hours checking out what’s new on the internet, thinking of things that would be nice to get done (Boy, those pencils sure need sharpening… No wait, better check if there’s a guide for that)? I’m going to assume that the answer is yes. Now, did such a day ever occur during the early stages of a relationship, or even a new hobby?

It’s hard to waste time when there are things we want badly. We hustle. Desire is like a carrot dangled in front of our souls, a $100 tip for a taxi driver to make it in fifteen minutes. All kinds of bullshit melts away, our existence becomes plain and focused. In some cases it feels like we stop existing and start living. In other words, desire answers one of the most fundamental human questions: what to do with freedom? But of course it does so at the cost of just that freedom. We now have to care about consequences, and get upset when we can’t have things our way. If we let our desire-glands run rampant we are guaranteed to end up frustrated about one or another unfulfilled desire.

That was probably slightly more rhetoric than I should be allowed in a single post, so let’s get a bit more practical: if the rhetoric is in fact true, then it’s safe to say that in terms of personal happiness desire can be both advantageous and problematic. We avoid a dreary existence, but end up disappointed. Reward, and risk. I think it can be useful to keep this inevitable trade-off in mind, but as far as happiness is concerned I’m going to leave it at that. On the subject of achievement, however, I’m willing to postulate that desire is a prerequisite for really making it (at anything). 

To explain why, let’s start with a question: How can I say that I don’t really care about clothes when my wardrobe includes dress socks in different shades of green? In this case “I don’t care about clothes” really means: “Right now there are things I care about to such a degree that if my wardrobe consisted of a pair of jeans and two tees I wouldn’t be worried about it”. It’s not that I’m totally indifferent to sartorial matters, but they’re overshadowed by other interests (for the moment at least). Naturally your life contains various things that you care about to different degrees, and these change over time. Graphically this scenario could be represented like so:

You allocate your attention to whatever you care about the most. So when nothing falls into the ‘desire’ range you have a pack of subjects, let’s call them ‘everyday life’, that vie for your attention. Almost as soon as you address one of them the noise of the system brings another one to the top of the pack, and you end often up flitting between things. Ever picked up a book and four pages in remembered that you wanted to mow the lawn? Yeah… The problem with this, in terms of achievement, is that you’re constantly doing (and thinking about) a bunch of different things. Which, speaking generally and admitting exceptions, means that you’re not going to do anything that’s really big and outstanding. “Desire”, in the context of the graph, means something that you care so much about that it stays above even the noisy fluctuations of the other things you care about. And this completely reverses the scenario I just described: on any given day the price of gas may be more or less important than what (you think) your boss thinks of you, but neither one enters your mind because you’re thinking about a book you’re writing on bonsai care. And such will be the case tomorrow, and the day after. Some of the things you’re ignoring may end up affecting your life while others don’t, but that book is going to get written regardless. There’s no guarantee of your desire bringing you any kind of success: what you create might be awful, and/or you might never have wanted success out of it. But the desire has to be there in order to keep you on track long enough to do something significant. I think most of us know this intuitively, so this isn’t really a new idea. And if you have one (or more) of what I call desires, you may not even care about this. But if there’s any truth to the graphical model I presented, it may help understand what’s happening on the days where we are merely existing.

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