The Unknown Monk

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

My great-great grandfather wrote this passage! Just kidding, I found it on the internet somewhere. (But since I’ve searched for hours and still can’t find the true source, you can’t say for certain that it wasn’t an old relative of mine back in the day 😜.) Many sites credit this passage to “the Unknown Monk.”

Regardless of who wrote it first, what a cool reminder that big changes begin with self-improvement and small personal habits. Things naturally pick up steam from there and compound over the years to a much larger scale.

Pay Yourself First, Even If It’s Starting Small

A friend of mine here in Los Angeles said something similar to the passage above. But his context was about money and personal finance.

My friend is in his 50s and is the classic case of “income rich / asset poor.” He earns an admirable annual income — more than $350k per year! — but hasn’t accumulated very many assets in life. He is only now realizing he will have trouble retiring without making some pretty drastic lifestyle changes.

He started out with big ideas and goals… As a young college grad he dreamed of building a successful business and selling it for millions of dollars. He wanted to have a big house, vacation homes, and provide a rich life for his family.

When his dreamy business plan didn’t work out, he focused on trying to get a job with a massive salary. He thought that with a huge annual income, he’d certainly become a millionaire. But while his salary grew and grew, so did his cost of living. His kids adopted expensive tastes and were (and still are) large financial liabilities.

My friend realizes now that if he had learned some basic saving techniques at a young age, he could have built extreme wealth throughout his life. Paying himself first — just a small amount from each paycheck — would have compounded over time, and he certainly would have been the multi-millionaire he set out to be. His kids might have even been, too.

Being a millionaire starts with learning how to make, save, and invest $1. Then repeat that process a million times.

Donations and Volunteering: Start Small

I think the majority of humans want to be as generous as possible. Sure, there are takers out there, but I believe the majority of people in the world are givers — or at least desire to be.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that people tend to hold back their giving, until they can give in larger ways…

  • Can you spare 100 bucks to give to charity? —> “I could, but I’d rather wait until I’m a millionaire and give a $10k donation. A larger donation later will have more impact.”
  • Can you volunteer at a vaccine site next Saturday for a few hours? —> “Well, my few hours probably wouldn’t make much of a difference… But once I’m retired I’ll have lots of free time up my sleeve, so I plan to volunteer a bunch!”

I’m not writing this to guilt people into giving more. I’ve had this type of mindset, too! Just like the unknown monk story, I think many people have grand dreams to save the world, but instead should start small and locally. Giving has a ripple effect!

Big Changes Start From Within!

As you’re going about your day today, working toward your lofty goals in life… keep in mind that massive changes begin with personal development.

What small steps are you taking to change yourself today?

Happy Friday my friends,

Love, Joel

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  1. The Millennial Money Woman July 16, 2021 at 6:12 AM

    Happy Friday Joel!

    I loved reading this post… and I think it’s 100% true what you’ve said: Becoming a millionaire really doesn’t start with $1,000,000 or even $1,000. It starts with how you treat $1
    Small habits can really lead to big results, and that’s why it’s important to learn financial literacy from the ground up.
    Hopefully your friend will successfully be able to make those lifestyle changes (along with his kids!) to realize his future goals.

    Thanks for sharing!



    1. Joel July 16, 2021 at 12:11 PM

      Yep, he’s already making swift moves! The kids might take a bit longer :( Happy Friday Fiona!

  2. J. Money July 16, 2021 at 6:41 AM

    So beautiful, man. And true!

    1. Joel July 16, 2021 at 12:12 PM

      You are living proof, my friend!

  3. Lisa O July 16, 2021 at 8:51 AM

    Truth in those words!

    1. Joel July 16, 2021 at 1:05 PM

      I only speak the truth! No, wait, actually that’s a lie. ;)

  4. stephanie t July 16, 2021 at 1:35 PM

    Yes! Volunteer for 2 hours! Or one hour! It will make all the difference in the world to someone!

    1. Joel July 16, 2021 at 1:42 PM

      It’s also never too late to start :)

  5. Olaf, the Mile High Finance Guy July 19, 2021 at 1:15 PM

    Changing the world is no small feat, nor is changing yourself. I love your perspective and how instead of deferring decisions into the future, you encourage shifting them to the present. A dollar today is a better than two tomorrow, which is especially true for charities and even one’s own goals!

    1. Joel July 20, 2021 at 9:27 AM

      I learned a new saying recently based off a Drew Dudley TED talk… He talk about changing the world…

      “There IS NO “world”. There’s only 6 billion understandings of it. So if you can change just 1 person’s understanding (what they’re capable of, how much people care about them), you’ve changed the whole thing”.

      Kind of cool thinking that changing the world starts with just changing 1 person’s world.

  6. Peti @ Leveraged Mama July 23, 2021 at 10:28 PM

    “ Being a millionaire starts with learning how to make, save, and invest $1. Then repeat that process a million times.” yes I love this. You don’t have to wait to learn the habits of a millionaire – just start with $1.

    1. Joel July 24, 2021 at 9:30 AM

      A lot of the learning starts when you’re a kid, earning just a few cents!

  7. Emmanuel August 16, 2021 at 8:31 AM

    Most of the habits that we exercise throughout our lifetime are actually propagated in our childhood, thus the family. As parents, it is better to instill healthy financial (and general) habits on your kids as this will serve them better than whatever they eventually learn while growing up
    Nice article Joel!