Own Your Words

You must define for yourself the words that are important to your life and business. And publish them in your own dictionary.

Rich. What does it mean?

The first meaning the mind stumbles upon is money money money. And more $$$ than you need. That’s certainly not me.

But that’s not what rich means to me, either. What does rich mean to you?

I remember a long-ago friend telling me of his recent travels. On a hot day by a plaza fountain, an elderly Italian man had tapped him on his chest during their conversation.

You will be rich – here

Ok, but back to numbers. How much more money than you need is being rich?

Hard to answer, but here’s another question – how much money is enough to make you happy? Social scientists have dollar-amount answers, expressed as annual income that ranges from $80k to $120k. Make cost of living adjustments on where you live, yes. And yes, those numbers can be lifehacked.

But the data shows that while most people get happier and happier as they approach this income level, they stop getting happier once they exceed it. In other words, most people are no happier at 1.2million/year than at 120k/year.  

Some protest this because they have run afoul of a good work-life balance in life. They claim that they are happier as a direct result of having more money than they need. That those decades of 80 hour work-weeks were worth it. Youth spent crouched at a screen – worth it. I empathize with them but I don’t believe it.

I believe the social science on happiness vs rich partly because it checks out with my personal, anecdotal experience. In my experience, the people that acquired more money than God bequeathed little else, such as wisdom, contentment, or good jokes. Or at least no more of those kinds of things than the non-rich leave their heirs. 

Does that change how you’d define rich? To scope that down a little bit closer to Second Opinion types of people, what does it mean for a creative or technical knowledge worker to be rich in the context of your career – how do you define it? 

Because it’s related to success, I think that’s a fairly important question to anyone who owns a business. And while I’m not sure I have the perfect answer to it, I can at least define the word rich.

*  *  *

This digression above serves an ulterior purpose – I don’t actually care how you define the word rich; you don’t need to use my definition. Rather my point is that that I didn’t accept the standard definition of rich. The Oxford English Dictionary:

Having much money or abundant assets; wealthy, moneyed, affluent. 

But here’s the larger point – I don’t necessarily accept any definition of any word, if that word is important to my business. Steve Jobs famous advice to entrepreneurs is applicable here.

remember this one thing – everything around you that you call life was made up by someone no smarter than you are

Of course, this advice was not meant literally; he was trying to make a point – that you are free (moreso than you may realize) to do things, create things, and even to exist, according to rules and standards of your own making.

So you are certainly free to redefine terms, or even make up new ones. In fact, making something new often starts with redefining it

By the way, I’m not saying the OED is wrong per se. As a dictionary-dictionary, it’s technically right. It is superb, actually. Its job is to describe every single word used by English speakers in each of the ways in which the word is actually used, past and present.

But its job is not to describe what a word means to a specific business or community, let alone to an individual. That’s our job.

I mean this literally: make a dictionary. Or do what Google does – hire someone to make one for you.

Look around you in the business world and you’ll notice that the best ventures define their own terms, albeit in an often haphazard manner, eg. through writing marketing copy (“We’re redefining what _____ means”).

Instead, define your words deliberately. Your resulting dictionary may contain just a few words, that’s fine. And short or long definitions will do.

But they will be your definitions, your unique IP. And this will improve your product & solutions and the way you talk about them.

Have a rich week (: