What Happens When You Give Away 50 Million Dollars and Move Into a Trailer Park?
BY JAMES ALTUCHER
Imagine you have a 17,000 square foot mansion and your movies have grossed over $2 billion and you are probably worth close to $50 million.
Now imagine you sell the house and give it all away and move into a trailer in a mobile home park.
I was talking to movie director Tom Shadyac and he was telling me that is exactly what he did.
He directed Ace Ventura (discovering Jim Carrey in the process), The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty and more. "I made about $5 million on Liar Liar and I owned a piece of Bruce Almighty and it ended up grossing over a billion so I made over $30 million on that one," he told me.
Then he got into a bicycle accident in 2007. His concussion wouldn't go away and he had a constant ringing in his ears and he had to sleep in a darkened closet in his house. The condition lasted for six more months but doctors weren't sure if it would ever go away.
"I felt suicidal at points. It was a disaster. The worst thing you could do to someone is sentence them to solitary confinement and that is what this felt like."
When he got out of it, he sold everything. Gave up on the movie business and made the documentary, "I AM" and wrote about his experience in "Life's Operating Manual".
"Would you have done this if you hadn't had the concussion?"
"I was already reevaluating the dissonance between making all this money and being on the set with people, the crew, many of whom couldn't afford the basic needs of their families. It didn't seem fair to me. So I don't think the concussion did it although it was definitely a crisis and crisis will often trigger things like this.
"I didn't give up everything to be happy. In fact, I'm not even sure what happiness is," he said. "Happiness comes from the word 'happenstance' which relates to things going on outside of you. What was happening to me was definitely on the inside. But after I gave up everything I felt a lot more joy in my life. A lot more contentment."
"There's nothing wrong, though, with making a lot of money."
"No," he said, "this is not a judgment on anyone at all. I was just taking in a lot more than I needed and this wasn't good for me."
We talked about what changed in his life as he went from crisis to contentment. Tom identified three things:
- relationships. "The key source of contentment is having many positive relationships in your life."
- service to others. "Once you find more contment in your life you are automatically going to want to provide service to the people around you."
And I reminded him of what Morgan Freeman ("God") said to Steve Carrell in "Evan Almighty" - "The key is to do acts of random kindness each day".
- a realization that everyone is connected.
We spoke about how the world has been getting more and more unified. From cities to states to kingdoms to empires to the Internet which allows people to communicate with people all over the world. This leads to more compassion for others as we break down barriers.
I wonder sometimes about all of my own stresses. The times when I thought I couldn't feed my family or when I was scared and anxious about work. Would I have been so easy to get rid of all of my belongings?
But as I write this I remember. I did give away all of my belongings. Although in my case I was forced to. I had gone from a lot of money to dead broke. I had nothing. I had to sell everything to survive.
I had to rely on my positive relationships to find opportunities. I had to get rid of my negative relationships in order not to waste time chasing bad opportunities.
I had to deliver value to other people in order for value to be delivered back to me. And this was like a virtuous cycle. Delivering value to others created more positive relationships for me.
And every day I had to focus on my health in order to maximize the value and service I was providing to these relationships.
And this, in turn, let me feed my family, let me build more businesses and opportunities, and to survive without the fear that had been plaguing me.
Every day I had to figure out not only where to do random acts of kindness but planned acts of kindness.
Sometimes society is at fault for creating this fear in us. For training us from an early age to be goal-driven instead of value-driven, instead of cooperation-driven. These goals separate us and make us feel competitive.
Either you get the goal or I get it. Only so many people can get it, we're trained.
And when our goals inevitably don't happen we (or, I should say, I) get upset and scared and paranoid and nervous.
Until I take that step back and once again focus on relationships, coming up with ideas to help those relationships, and creating value that gets spread throughout the relationship.
And then I survive. And then I flourish. And I feel contentment.
It feels silly to keep quoting Morgan Freeman just because he plays God on two of Tom Shadyac's movies.
But I will. Who cares?
At the end of Evan Almighty he says,
"Let me ask you something. If someone prays for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"
I didn't pray. But I was zapped anyway. Bad stuff happened. And then good stuff happened.
And now I write about that stuff.
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