Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at cf.Objective() 2010 (Minneapolis, MN) with:

I Have More Money Than Time

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Books, Life

In his book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson provided me with a moment of profound clarity. More or less, he stated that at some point most people transition from having more time than money to having more money than time. Now, this isn't a statement about the absolute wealth that one has - I'm not a wealthy person; rather, it's a shift in the relative amount of both time and money that people have in their lives. As kids, we have nothing but time. As adults, we begin to realize that time is our most precious, most valuable commodity. And, when this revelation takes place (if it does), it begins to frame every decision that we make.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Free: The Future Of A Radical Price By Chris Anderson. 
 
 
 

While this outlook has all kinds of material implications, I think it is most interesting when discussed in the context of self-actualization. In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed what he called the Hierarchy of Needs as a theory behind human motivation. His original theory outlined five categories of need:

  • Self-Actualization
  • Esteem
  • Love and Belonging
  • Safety
  • Physiological

From what I've read, the basic idea behind this needs hierarchy is that once the needs of one level have been sufficiently met, people can start to address the needs of the next level up. These needs start with the physiological - the most basic need of survival - and ascend to self-actualization - the desire for man to reach his true potential. Coined by Maslow, the need for self-actualization is beautifully summed up as such:

"What a man can be, he must be."

There's something so deeply human about this phrase that it's hard for me to even articulate exactly what I'm feeling.

This sentiment reminds me of the movie Gattaca starring Ethan Hawke. The world represented in Gattaca, is one in which a man's genome determines his fate in life. Unfortunately, Vincent - Hawke's character - has a heart defect that gets in the way of his dream of becoming an astronaut. Not one to let his genes curb his desire for self-actualization, Vincent becomes a "borrowed ladder" - one who uses another's "beneficial" genome for the purposes of identification. In a pivotal scene in the movie, Vincent explains to his genetically-gifted brother how he has managed to get so far with so little:

Anton: "Vincent! How are you doing this, Vincent? How have you done any of this? We have to go back!"

Vincent: "It's too late for that, we're closer to the other side."

Anton: "What other side? Do you want to drown us both?"

Vincent: "You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back."

This last line - "I never saved anything for the swim back" - seems, at once, both crazy and yet, deeply moving. This is where I see the desire for self-actualization being framed in the context of time as the most precious human resource. To Vincent, self-actualization was the goal; there was no "coming back" from that - there was no "after" that. As such, any time not put towards this goal became a huge and potentially devastating opportunity cost.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Gattaca Staring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, And Uma Thurman. 
 
 
 

This absolute belief, as held by Hawke's character, begs perhaps the most important question of all: can one ever regret a journey of self-actualization? As humans, regret is a romanticized topic that we relate to time; we love say things like, "In the end, you'll only regret the things you didn't do - not the things you did do." But, what kinds of regret are we talking about? Clearly, we cannot mean every missed opportunity as one simply can not do all things all the time.

And, if we're not referring to the little regrets (ie. I wish I had that second serving of ice-cream), we must be referring to those big regrets - those "dare to be great" moments - those "once in a life time" opportunities. To me, it seems natural to fit a failure of self-actualization in this category - to hold it as something you can only regret not doing.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how." Martin Luther King Jr. said, "If a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live." Jake La Motta lamented, "I could have been a contender; I could have been somebody." While some might find Nietzsche's comment agreeable, King's comment abrasive, and La Motta's comment the stuff of Hollywood tragedy, statements like this all echo the sentiment that self-actualization is a critical aspect of life - perhaps event the most important aspect of life.

I am feeling all of this on a level that I am having trouble putting into words. So I am sorry if I am not pulling this all together for a single point. All I can say is that when Chris Anderson made the statement about having more money than time, something finally clicked inside of me. It just put a whole lot of things in perspective. If nothing else, I also want to get across that Chris Anderson's book, Free, is very thought-provoking. I highly recommend it! Oh, and if you get it on iTunes, it's free!

Tweet This Great article by @BenNadel - I Have More Money Than Time Thanks my man — you rock the party that rocks the body!


Reader Comments

Along similar mind-expanding lines, I recommend reading The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau.

I've read both in the past few months, and both changed my way of thinking, for the better.

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@Ben, Even when you feel like you're not hitting the nail on the head, you still manage to well put into words some pretty heady concepts. :)
The interesting thing about Maslow, as I recall from my long-ago learning of his ideas, was that if for some reason you had one of your needs no longer met, it could rock you out of that place of self-actualization. So it's not just about attainment; it's about maintenance, too.
Ideally, we want a balance of money and time (and all things :): with too much of one or the other, I think one finds dissatisfaction.
Oh, and I'm writing this on my brand new MacBook Pro. Since I don't have to deal with programming and have worked on Macs at schools, it's been an easier transition for me, but as always- you're an inspiration, buddy! :)

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@Wendy,

When I was doing a bit of reading up on the Hierarchy of Needs, I came across an article that talked about the "practical applications" of the theory. One of the concepts that they outlined was something like, "If you want to hinder someone's self-actualization, attack their lower order needs." As diabolical as this sounds, it makes sense. When I'm sick or in pain, I don't much care about anything existential - I just want to get better. When those needs have been met, however, I can then climb back up to my needs for self-actualization.

Seems more like an "art of war" observation than a practical application :) I was a little taken back when I saw that written in an article on "practical" applications.

As far as balance goes, I think this is one of those truths that people hold to be self-evident, but is it? Balance is an endlessly fascinating topic. But, to play devil's advocate, there is nothing in the hierarchy of needs that I saw about balance. It simply talks about needs being sufficiently met.

If balance means that each level of need is being met on its own terms, then I think balance makes sense. But, if you talk about balance in a way that attempts to relate quantities of one level to the quantities of another, then I think the idea of balance starts to lose merit.

Take the skyscraper as an analogy. If you consider the foundation as one "need" and the ground-up floors as another "need", clearly the latter cannot be achieved until the form is met - you can't build without a solid foundation. However, does this imply that the foundation and the flooring have to be in some quantifiable balance? In a way, yes, because you can't build more floors than the foundation can support; but, this might be a limitation of the analogy rather than argument for balance.

Of course, what I know about Maslow's theory consists of Wikipedia and random internet articles that I've Googled over the last 24 hours; I am quite sure that I have only scratched the surface :) Not to mention that there appear to be a number of critics of Maslows law including a group that says while the needs make sense, there is no inherent hierarchy.

Oh man - I wish my philosophy class started sooner :P

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Thanks, Ben, just figured out what the first book I will read on my new Kindle.

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@Ben,

I think it was a very interesting book. Some of the more philosophical ways that it appealed to me are just touch points; the book as a whole is mostly about how Free plays out in the economy of the digital age and theories behind human interaction and motivation. Definitely a good read.

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Ben'ialson,

First, you must wax on. Then, wax off.

  • <em>Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero - "Seize the Day, trusting as little as possible in the future"</em>, and the ode says that the future is unknowable, and that instead one should scale back one's hopes to a brief future, and drink one's wine.

Wendy's right; you can only dabble in self-actualization before something knocks you off your pedastal.

I think I'll have to check out the book to get what you got out of it 'cuz, as you say, you didn't quite wrap up your point with a bow.

But, I hope that my "Carpe Diem" quote is basically what you're worried about. Unfortunately, we have to balance out what we might regret w/ what we might not regret.

Got a curious question: How much TV do you watch in a week?

Last night, we barely turned it on, but once it comes on, the night flies by and suddenly it's next month. Point being, I've wasted a lot of my life on TV, and, now, as I have money AND time, I'm realizing how my "addiction" needs to be addressed.

I bet you, in NYC, have much less time than those of us in the Midwest. My commute is ~25 min. door-to-chair (x2). Big-City-time seems to be eaten up a lot more as we tend to think of you guys as being much more focused on careers and less on "family and home" (we've spent a lot of time on updating our house since we bought it). Maybe I'm overgeneralizing.

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Thanks for the posts like these, you are saving me a fortune in counseling. I read your posts and realize I am over-thinking life most of the time. I only need enough money to buy my essentials and enough love to keep me content. Everything else is extra, kind of like the icing on the cake.

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@Adam,

Ha ha :)

@Randall,

The amount of TV I watch is not consistent. Some days I don't watch any; other days, I might watch a few hours. There's only a few shows that I actually watch on a regular basis, so I am somewhat limited by that. It also depends on how "fried" my brain is feeling. If I think too heavily until the moment I get into bed, I often times won't be able to fall asleep. So sometimes, It's healthy to just watch the Colbert Report before I finally close my eyes.

Lately, though, I have had a stack of books and have several times thought to myself, "hey, why don't you read instead of seeing if there's a new Law & Order." Usually, I enjoy this choice :)

My commute is about the same - 25 minutes or so from house to desk. For the last few years, all I've really done is go to work and go home. I haven't really done anything to take "advantage" of the city that I'm in. But lately, I've have started to seize the day a lot more.

This is going to sound odd to many, but I've been making a huge effort to go to technology MeetUp groups. For example, I just got back fro a 3hr meeting about Membase - a NoSQL product. I understood about 3% of what was actually said in the meeting; but, it feels good to be part of the evolving culture. I finally feel like I am taking advantage of the benefits of being in NYC.

@Jon,

Ha ha, well, I'm always up for good conversation!

@Evil Ben,

Ha ha - it's like I finally got my own Wario :) Also, just a reminder, you can download it free directly in iTunes as well.

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@Ben -

*laugh* You ARE a philosophy class unto yourself, you big goofball. :)

I know the hierarchy of needs doesn't talk about balance explicitly (hey, who's the ed/psych major here?! ;), but I think it is implicit in the notion that if you can be knocked down from self-actualization then you have to have a balance of the other needs being met in order to achieve it. This is kind of what you said about each of the needs being met, and I do think there is some wiggle room, but I do believe it is implied in Maslow's theory.
I do not mean that each of the needs...er, needs to be met at a certain, pre-determined level in order to achieve this self-actualization; we all go through periods where our "tanks are low" in certain areas, and usually this does not mean that we crumble altogether as fully-functioning human beings.But I don't think you can use a physical analogy like a skyscraper as it brings into play certain immutable laws like physics and, in spite of your calling Maslow's theory a "law" I don't actually think psychologists and philosophers consider it a law (see above for lack of immutability, a necessary quality for something to be "law.")

Can't wait until you start that class either; will definitely be learning vicariously, as will all of your loyal readership, I am sure!

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@Wendy,

Sorry about calling it a "law". That was a mistake. Probably talking about physics switched my brain over to laws.

As far as knocking someone out of self-actualization, this holds true for any of the levels. Attack a level and all the levels above it suffer or are momentarily dismissed. I don't think there's anything special about the level of self-actualization other than it is one I think is "emotionally" different than the others... maybe?

WARNING: The following is a stream of consciousness that probably agrees with exactly what you meant when you said "balance"... but it will take me several paragraphs to get there :P

The main reason that I want to stay away from the word "balance" is simply because it is such a loaded word. When you think about how *most* people view the world, they see it as some sort of "zero sum" game. That is, time/effort/attention put into one area is necessarily time/effort/attention taken out of another.

Now, regardless of how true that is at a practical level (attention is likely a finite thing), people see this zero-sum game and feel that it has to be "balanced." That is, that if one area has +10 and one area has -10 (to attach some arbitrary value to the conversation), then something is probably wrong - that there's some fundamental problem.

The issue with this outlook is that a balance-oriented mindset builds on the assumption that equal quantities implies equal value. Of course, if you apply this to a mundane example, such as food, you quickly realize the flaw. Ice cream and chicken and broccoli don't all have the same value when administered with the same quantity.

At that point, I think the right refinement might be something like saying "appropriate quantities imply equal value."

But even that feels wrong on some level, right?

I might just be making stuff up at this point but, I think the problem here is that there is again some implied assumption that there is a desire to have things at different levels be equally valuable. But this seems crazy as well. After all, I don't *want* to get the same kind of joy out of something like education as I do about something like shelter. If anything, I want my shelter needs to simply be met as a "satisfactory" level and then I don't want to think about them again. Once shelter is taken care of, I can then put energy into taking my education *beyond* a satisfactory level.

Perhaps the concept of a needs hierarchy is more easily described with a strategy. I would say the strategy for success goes something like this:

"Once each level of need is met at its most basic, satisfactory level, one should then distribute his/her remaining energy surplus among all the levels as desired. Surplus energy should be re-allocated as needed based on context and interest."

So, this is all to say that I agree with your sentiment:

balance of the other needs being met

But, I only agree with at the most basic, satisfactory level. Once there is balance at that level, whatever renaming time/energy/attention should be distributed at ones own evolving and changing discretion.

And, just to bring it all full-circle, the reason I want to stay away from the word "balance" is it's not typically a word used to describe a "sub-set" of anything - it is typically used to describe a system as a whole.

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2 hours later... I just wanted to clarify that the stuff I'm talking about is not necessarily outlined in Maslow's theory. Like I said before, I only started reading about the theory like one day ago :) This is just the way I am using it help formulate my own thoughts.

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@Ben,

I'll reply to the philosophical aspects of both posts when I get up for real (and after I hit the gym), but what the heck were *you* doing up so late?!? Also, did you see my friend Amber on Grey's? :-)

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@Wendy,

Which one is Amber? Yang is starting to get on my nerves. She better get her act together!

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@Ben,

Apparently Amber played a character named Corinne last night? I am a bad friend: i didn't record it (and as you may recall, I'm not a regular viewer :-). Was she good?

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@Wendy,

Ok, yeah, I think she was the one with the sick dad. Yeah, she did a good job. You should watch the show, it rocks.

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@Ben,

You already got me hooked on L&O:SVU; isn't that enough? ;-) But I will see if I can find Amber's episode on Hulu - and I'll tell her you thought she did a good job!

Okay... back to philosophy/psych *cracks knuckles*

One very important point about Maslow's theory/hierarchy which I think you are missing or overlooking is that the *goal* is to attain self-actualization. It's not just a matter of keeping all of the needs met for the sake of having them met; it really is a directed effort towards achieving the highest step on the ladder. This directly references back to that wonderful quote you shared: "What a man can be, he must be."

I think you are correct in saying that self-actualization has far more of an emotional component than the others do; it's also a lot more intangible, I think, and probably has a more widely-varying definition among different people. I do hear what you are saying about balance, although I discern that you know that I don't see balance that way (I know, I know... I have to be different ;-). Maybe this actually is part of the reason that self-actualization DOES mean different things to different people. It's an interesting question to consider: at what threshold is a lower-order need met so that you can move on to meeting the next and at what point do you have all of the lower-order needs met adequately so that you are, in fact, self-actualized? And the reverse- at what point are the lower order needs not being met adequately so that you lose what you have attained?

And I liked your stream of consciousness approach, btw; it's fun to watch you chase down an idea. :-)

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@Wendy,

I respect the fact that self-actualization means different things to different people. I also think balance means different things to different people. This is specifically why I want to stay away from words like "balance".

I also think that the concept of something being satisfactorily met is relative. I am perfectly happy living in my apartment; but, many people who see my apartment can't understand how I can live there. To me, the "shelter" need has been met to a level sufficient for me to no longer care about it. But, for others, that level is clearly different.

But you make a good point about the self-actualization as being a goal. We do want to constantly be moving in that direction. This makes for an interesting mind-set - one in which your strategy for success is directed. By this I mean that at each level, your strategy for success is one that allows you to concentrate on the level above it. It would seem silly then to limit your attention to one level so as to choose to concentrate on a lower level if you didn't have to.

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