A Letter From My Early Twenties

Posted by Neil Patel on Jan 14, 2012
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[A letter that was shared on the Forest Call today. --Neil]

When I was a young kid, I had dreams of making it rich. I thought having a big, luxurious house and a fancy car were what made a successful life. Since then, I have realized a few things. First, that one’s career is just a single aspect of one’s life, so achieving financial success is not the same as overall success. In fact, many rich people suffer from the known “mo’ money mo’ problems” phenomenon, where wealth has become a burden in other spheres of their lives. Second, I realized that a big house and a big car are not sustainable, i.e. the world couldn’t accommodate everyone having these things. But most importantly, I realized that if I had these things, I would be a very elite minority in the world to have this privilege, at the very tip of a broad pyramid.

The last point has in one shape or another stuck in my mind for much of my adult years. As I’ve gotten less ignorant, I’ve come to question whether this is an ideal existence. Sure, I am rich and comfortable, but what about the other half of the world who survives on less than $2 a day? More generally, I was concerned that I would be working for my own comforts and leaving behind multitudes. What’s the good of that? Early on in my life I came to realize that if something makes me happy but those around me are not, then I’m not as happy.
Everyone should be entitled to happiness, the same happiness that I’ve enjoyed in my life. To me, this is the essential motivation for social work. I want to come up, but I don’t want to come up alone, and certainly not at the expense of pushing down others. I want my success to be tied to the common man, even the poor man. If I am to live in a big house, so be it; but if I have that level of wealth, I damn well better have lifted up hundreds or even thousands of others in the process commensurately. I think this is similar to the idea of CEO’s tying their raise/bonus to the pay increase given to the company’s average worker. I like that idea.
But there’s something more. To me, it’s not sufficient to lift up just anyone. I commend entrepreneurs who generate economy, generate livelihoods through their ingenuity and foresight and creativity. I aspire to be such a person. But my ‘workforce’ has to be the poorest, or as close to the poorest as possible. I will strive to work for the poorest man until I finally reach out to him. I suspect that this will keep me occupied enough to never actually achieve the big house dream; If I’ve reached it, I’ll know I probably haven’t reached down deep enough.
I feel that this is a life worth living, and though it’s scary, I have very little doubt that the alternative, i.e. turn my back and work for my own big house and fancy car, will never suffice. I will not judge others on this choice, because I understand that decision since it was what I had in mind for most of my life. But I am resolved to not resort to it, and pray to God that I have strength to carry beyond.
"Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, try the following experiment: Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless person you have ever seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be for any use to him or to her . . . Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.--Gandhi  

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Comments (7)

  • Nisha wrote ...

    Neil, your clarity and courage are inspiring and with such a spiritual backbone, only good can come out of it.

  • Bela wrote ...

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts so honestly Neil....I just returned from India and am contemplating why I'm back in DC....and reading this was quite helpful.

  • Sonar wrote ...

    Neil, I am so sorry to have missed the forest call! I love your articulation and clarity on the topic of 'choosing to serve others consciously'. I can especially relate and appreciate your statement that, 'if something makes me happy but those around me are not, then I’m not as happy'. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors in service, and may your continue to inspire those around you!

  • Samir wrote ...

    The call was very amazing and inspiring for me. It was good for me to see that Neil is putting in the effort, enthusiasm and time in work that he really values and which nourishes him.

    His intention to serve the poor in pure and it came across in the call as well as his chosen lifestyle and mode of work. Living in India, dealing with day to day is very very rewarding personally, but it is also difficult. It can be physically, emotionally and even financially very difficult. But to stand tall and brave despite this is truly admirable. It speaks to a strong foundation in values and character. I am sure he face little fears everyday, but he is filled with love, dedication and focus for this work.

    The 'love letter' is really beautiful: [View Link] Even though, I am so close to Neil, I had missed it earlier =)

    Go Neil!

  • Siddhi wrote ...

    What a noble dream it is, Neil :) Wish u keep following your heart n find your true self in service of others :)

  • Jack Lindstrom wrote ...

    I feel the same way. :)

  • Faruk wrote ...

    Neil, if you think of a way that I can help given my expertise in the personal financial space, let me know because I support your mission.