I dissociate somewhere between Donnie smoking crack in the back of a restaurant and Jordan stacking bills on bills in a safe deposit box. This is probably the fourth time I’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio, so I pretty much know the entire film. I laugh on cue, but mostly drift into some sort of revulsion to the moneymakers’ debauchery.
Jordan, played by DiCaprio, chucks a wad of cash off the side of his yacht, and I fantasize about what would life be like if I were filthy rich. Something stirs inside me. I want that level of wealth and I don’t know why.
My life is comically dissimilar from Jordan’s. I’m nearing the end of graduate school, thinking about jobs, and constantly checking my bank account. The latter stands stronger than ever due to saving and scrimping, but it’s a measly sum. I’ll have a small amount of student loan debt to pay off, too. When I graduate, I’ll expect to earn $50-70,000 with my Ph.D. in hand.
Privilege allowed me to choose my career path. Early in my college years, I replaced business with psychology. The switch forever changed my earning potential. I just hoped psychology would allow me to help others in need — the money didn’t matter much.
Now, as The Wolf plays before my eyes, I struggle with two mindsets.
There’s the Jordan side of me. I want to travel. Iowa is killing me slowly with its lack of diversity and landlocked status. I want to be able to live in lavish places and decorate as I see fit. My minimalism borders on austere. I want to be able to buy, buy, buy. Every time I do, I feel this pang of guilt — I need to save that dollar. And I sure as hell don’t ever want to be in debt again.
Then there’s the modest, frugal person who writes these words. Iowa has been the perfect place to save, bike, and enjoy graduate school. I don’t care to have much. I don’t need to own, own, own. I don’t want my primary title to be “consumer.” I like being able to save, live, and give to others.
Maybe I’m dreaming of wealth because reality isn’t always easy. I’m moving out of an apartment complex I can no longer afford, paying off a hefty sum for a car, and living on a tight budget each week. Scrimp and save is often more challenging than earn and invest.
If I had the opportunity to make more money, I wonder how much I’d want. Would a million dollars in savings/investments suffice? Would tens of millions? Would a billion?
The mind seems capable of more. Always more. The mode is more. More than enough. More than the other person. More than you.
As the movie finishes and Jordan begins to unravel and lose it all, the director’s message is clear: money doesn’t buy happiness. You can still be a miserable millionaire. But the urge remains. How can the mind be so illogical and rational at the same time?