September 30, 2020

You’re Making Other People Rich: Ryan Sterling

Many of us live in constant unrest as we fill voids with possessions and battle the urge to consume. As a financial advisor on Wall Street, Ryan Sterling has seen it all–unfulfilled millionaires, disgruntled divorcees, and ego-driven overspenders.

Money was no longer a beneficial resource, but instead an incredible burden that eventually defined them. But when them turned into him, and he found himself on the verge of a personal collapse, it became clear that building and managing wealth is a lot more complex than formulas or forecasts.

In You’re Making Other People Rich, Ryan explores how to use mindfulness and intention to restore your relationship with wealth. He shows you not only how to invest, but also how to make deliberate strides towards financial independence.

Drew Applebaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum. I’m excited to be here today with Ryan Sterling, author of You’re Making Other People Rich. Ryan, I’m excited that you’re here. Welcome to the Author Hour podcast.

Ryan Sterling: Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew Applebaum: Ryan, first, tell us a little bit about your background.

Ryan Sterling: My professional background has been all in wealth management. I was the kid who graduated college, this was the early 2000s, and I wanted to be an investment banker. I had no clue what an investment banker did on a day-to-day basis, what their function was in society. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. Really, I wanted to be in financial services.

I didn’t necessarily have a why, it was just something I was always attracted to. When going through the whole interview process, I landed in the world of wealth management, where for the last 16 years now, I’ve been working with individuals and families to help people achieve their financial goals, wherever they are in life, and whatever those goals happen to be.

Drew Applebaum: Now, you open the book talking about not being happy, having credit card debt piling up, being at the brink of divorce. Talk to us about how you got to that point.

Ryan Sterling: I mean this is the ironic part about this, is that I was advancing in my career. Again, I was in the wealth management field, so I was helping people with their money and I knew all the technicals. I have my MBA, I’ve worked at some of the top firms in the world, I have all the professional certifications you can ask for. So, I knew from a technical side how to manage money and how to help my clients. But for myself, I really neglected our personal finances. We fell victim to what a lot of young professionals and just a lot of people fall victim to. It’s a phenomenon known as lifestyle creep.

Lifestyle creep, the way you can think about it, it’s basically every time you earn more income, it becomes an invitation to develop more expensive habits. You can get a nicer car, you can have a nicer home, you can go to nicer dinners, take nicer vacations. So, it’s one of those things where every time I make an extra $100,000, our annual expenses would go up by $120,000. It happens way easier than you think.

I remember early in my career, this is kind of a classic story, I was 25 years old and I was pulling something from the printer. There was a print job ahead of mine that I picked up inadvertently and it was the W-2 from one of the more senior colleagues at the firm. The senior colleague was probably in their late 30s or so. I saw their W-2 and I saw the amount of money they were making. And at that point, I was making $60,000 a year, something like that.

I saw this number and my eyes were popping out of my head, I could not believe it. I was thinking, “Man, when I hit that number, that is going to be my I-made-it number, I have arrived.”

Fast forward ten years later, and as you mentioned, I’m in this downward spiral. But you wouldn’t have noticed it. If you’d met me, you would have thought that everything was great. It wasn’t like it was horrible, but everything you just said is totally true–in credit card debt, financially unstable, dependent on the next paycheck, the next bonus. My marriage was in disarray. I wasn’t healthy. We weren’t living the life that we really wanted to live. We’re just kind of reacting to the things around us.

It was one of those things where it was the end of the year, and my birthday falls at the end of the year. I was reflecting on the last ten years of my career. It was also at that time when I thought, “Wait a sec, it’s the end of the year. How much money am I going to make?” I logged into ADP and I looked at my income. And it really hit me, that moment ten years ago when I picked up that W-2 inadvertently off the printer, I realized I hit that number. It was one of those moments of, “Wow, I just hit my I-made-it number,” and I would trade places with my 25-year-old self in a second.

It really dawned on me–there was a whole series of moments–but it really dawned on me that just because I’m good at what I do with respect to helping my clients, and I have all the technical knowledge about managing wealth, it’s not just about having the technical knowledge. It’s not just about knowing what a net worth statement is, helping people track a budget, investing, knowing modern portfolio theory, all the like. It actually comes down to your personal relationship with money, designing a life that you want to live, and having money be a resource that aids you in living your best life, not just something that is a resource to acquire more stuff. I realized at that point that we were stuff and image-rich but really poor everywhere else.

Drew Applebaum: Now, who is this book for? Is this for folks who are high earners like yourself or can all people find gems in here?

Ryan Sterling: I mean, this book was written for the 25-year-old me or even the 35-year-old me. So actually, I wrote the book for a former version of myself. That person is–the acronym is HENRY, it’s high earner, not rich yet. So, it’s the person who is making, call it a six-figure income. It doesn’t have to be six figures but let’s just use six figures. They get to the end of the month or they get to the end of the year and ask, “Where did all my money go?” That’s really who this book is for, and I think the person who fits that criteria are going to get the most out of this book. But that said, if you’re a college kid who is about to start their first job, I think you can read it and avoid a lot of the traps that a lot of us in our 30s, 40s, and 50s fell into.

Wired for Instant Gratification

Drew Applebaum: Totally guilty of all those traps, so I understand, completely. To get into the book, you started off with a quote that there’s an instant gratification generation in the world right now. Which I think we’re all a part of in some way. What did you find that drives this need for instant gratification?

Ryan Sterling: I think we’re innately wired for instant gratification. You have a choice. Let’s say you have $500. And you can put that $500 in a retirement account–let’s just say $500 in a diversified portfolio. Thirty years from now, that’s going to be roughly $2,000. We need to round up the number. I’ll tell you, you take that $500 and it’s going to be $2,000 30 years from now. And think about if you put $500 once a month in the market, how that compounds and how that adds up over time.

So, I sit there, and I tell you about this. But as I’m telling you about this, right in front of you is–I mean, name the thing that you enjoy. It could a new guitar, it could be a new pair of shoes or a whole new outfit. It could be a new gadget, a new iPhone, a new whatever it may be. It’s one of those things where on a second by second basis, we are being bombarded with images and messages of these things that provide this dopamine release. You have this new thing, it’s fun, it’s shining, it hits those pleasure sensors in your brain, and it’s one of those things where it feels good and exciting.

Where the alternative, of taking that $500 and putting it away and saying, “Okay. At some point, it’s going to be worth significantly more than $500 and I can use it for my future self.” That’s just not interesting, right? That’s not compelling, that’s not exciting, that doesn’t get that dopamine rush that we all want and need. So, we are just wired to want to consume now and just ignore the future because now is what matters more than the future.

Drew Applebaum: I think we have to look no further than how many users are on the Robinhood app, which is a stock trading app that has gained during this quarantine, and people are saying, “Hey, I’m saving $30 by not going out to eat tonight. I’m going to trade it right now and I want to see it when it grows.” And their numbers are through the roof, but the number of people that probably invested in a long-term savings plan during this pandemic are probably way, way, way smaller.

Ryan Sterling: I think you have a really good point because I think a lot of these Robinhood traders–don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Robinhood, and I think Robinhood is getting a bad name. I tell people to open up Robinhood accounts all the time and invest in an S&P 500 index fund, which you can get into if you want. It’s a super easy, cheap, and effective way to do it.

So, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Robinhood. But to hit on your points, that dopamine rush, that instant gratification, that pleasure sensor that we all want to be activated, that’s the problem with how people are using the Robinhood app, is they’re buying these momentum, high flying stocks. And you invest a thousand dollars, and a month later it’s $2,000 and you think you’re this amazing trader, but look what’s happening now. So, it’s one of those things where I think unfortunately people are going to be severely punished for this day trading mentality. We’d be much better served by taking a long-term orientation. But again, that’s not fun. That’s not exciting. People don’t want to hear that.

Drew Applebaum: Can you tell us about some of the ways that you see us being exploited for the profit of others?

Ryan Sterling: Part of it is, you think about the job of a marketer, think about a boardroom and think about a marketing team at any sort of retailer. It’s their job. They’re not bad people, they’re great people. But it’s their job on a day-to-day basis to figure out new and creative ways to get you to spend your money. Think about, whether it’s advertising, hitting on social media influencers, there’s the whole idea of loss and less. If they convince you that you lost out on something or that you have less than somebody else, they’re going to beat you every single time. You’re going to be forced into consumption, because that’s the anxiety that you have of, “If I’m not consuming this, then I’m not embodying the identity of what I want people to think I am.”

If you start a company today and it is retail-focused, and you go to any venture capital firm and you’re looking to raise money, the firms that are easily raising money are those who have reduced friction points between the customer and the sale. So, what I mean by that? Well, think about the process of buying a pair of shoes back in 1940–I’m just making that up. There were a number of natural friction points that existed between you and buying the pair of shoes. You had to, number one, say you need a pair of shoes, then you have to look, do you have cash or do you not have cash? If you don’t have cash, you have to go to the bank, and you have to wait in line, you have to get your cash from a teller. Then you have to drive to a store location, you have to dig through inventory. If they don’t have what you have, then you have to go to another store location.

I mean, if you think about 60, 70, 80 years ago, the process of buying a pair of shoes could be a four to six-hour affair. Whereas today, you can get an alert on your watch, press one button on your phone and you can have 20 pairs of shoes delivered a day later. The friction points are gone, and this is intentionally designed. Think about how we’re being manipulated to spend, it’s the constant bombardment of images of people who have more than us. We have an innate need to pursue pleasure, and it’s knowing how to activate those pleasure sensors as I’ve mentioned before.

The idea of FOMO, the idea of missing out, of having less than someone else. They know this and they know how to tug on these emotions. They’re very smart, they’re very sophisticated, and they know when you’re most vulnerable. Take all of that and then take into account the fact that the friction points have been reduced to absolutely nothing. And it’s no wonder we’re a nation that is in credit card debt, why 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. It makes a lot of sense when you think about the messages out there, and then the fact that it’s so easy for us to spend our money.

Drew Applebaum: Now, you talk in the book about ways to fight that. And one of the great sections is, you list some questions to ask ourselves to find out what we really want. Can you talk to us about some of those questions we should ask?

Ryan Sterling: Think about what you really want at the core of who you are as a person. I give a couple constraints–it can’t be more money and it can’t be anything material. So, think about what you want really at the core of who you are. What gives you peace? What gives you purpose? What lights you up? What makes you feel connected? What makes you feel love?

When you start asking what you want, adding the constraint that it can’t just be more money or can’t be material things, you actually get to the core of what you want, and it is more human connection. What you want is to embrace some sort of challenge, to grow as a human being, to pursue something that scares you a little bit. It’s one of those things where our wants usually don’t involve needing more money or having to spend more money.

For me personally, again, this is something I went through in that exercise. I pictured myself looking at my paycheck for the year or my numbers for the year and thinking, “Wow, I hit that number. I hit my I-made-it number and I’m as miserable as ever.” I realized that what I was spending my money on, were just the things that were filling me up at the moment, but weren’t really filling me up as a human being.

When I actually sat down, I said, “What do I want? I want to have a really good marriage. Okay? I want to start a business. I want to have more freedom. I want to have more control over my time. I want to spend more time with my friends.” It was when I took out the material side of it all, it really brought to light the things that I was missing out on and the things that were truly wants that were going to fulfill me as a human being. I just lost touch with all of those.

Drew Applebaum: Why are we attached to these certain things or why are we so attached to having certain things in our lives?

Ryan Sterling: I mean, we are wired from a young age to be attached. If you think about it, just look at the standard American dream. I’m not an anti-American dream person, but I’m also not saying that we all need to fall in line and live in accordance to this dream that’s been scripted out for us.

But just look at, think about if you’re a high achiever, so you go through middle school and you’re getting good grades. Then you go into the top classes in high school, and you continue to get good grades, and you’re checking off all the boxes, you’re in the right clubs, you’re doing the right activities, and you have the grades. You study for the standardized test and you do great on the test. And then what does that do? Well, that leads you into a good college.

So now you go to a top-ranked school. You’re a high achiever, so you’re going to continue to be a high achiever. So, you can kind of continue to do the exact same things–go to the same clubs, get good grades, you’re going to make sure you know what’s on the task and that you deliver on the task.

Then what happens? Well, then you say, okay, what does a high achiever do? I’m just making this up and I apologize to all the attorneys out there, but I’m going to use an attorney as an example. God bless you all. So, then you say, “Okay. What am I going to do? Now, I’m going to law school because that’s what high achievers do. Okay. So now I’m going to law school.”

Then once again, you’re getting the good grades, you’re checking all the boxes. Then what do the top law students do? Well, we need the big paychecks so we’re going to work at X, Y, Z big firm in New York as a corporate attorney. And I’m working 100-hour weeks, and again, I have about $60,000, $70,000 signing bonus. I’m making really good money right out of school. Again, I’m a high achiever. And now, all of a sudden, I’ve got to live this lifestyle. I’ve got to live in the right place. My kids need to go to the right private school. I need to belong to the right clubs.

We become attached to this identity of who and what we think we are, but more importantly what other people need to think of who we are. It’s ingrained from a very young age, it’s just following the next step of what a high achiever does without really a lot of thought into, is this my best life? Is this how I want to spend my time? Is this something that excites me? Am I checking off all of the boxes of what it means to be a whole and wealthy person? Or I’m just doing the next thing that it’s in front of me, that next should that I think I should be doing?

I tell you, in my practice now, I have a completely different approach in the firm that I run today. We talk a lot about lifestyle design. I tell you, there are so many people that fall into this high achiever trap, where they are attached to their identity of being a high achiever

What’s interesting, when you are someone that identifies as a high achiever and you’re always checking off all the boxes, at some point in time, you start missing out on boxes to check because you kind of check all of them. So, then you have to figure out how to earn your significance through other ways. I talk about this in the book where I say, think about it if your proxy for success was always grades, and then it became the school you went to, and then it became the graduate school you went to, and then it became the law firm or whatever firm you’re working for. Again, that’s your identity, that’s where you’re driving your significance from.

Well then, at some point, you also have to drive your significance from showing how successful you are, and not only do I work at a top firm, but I’m the top attorney at the firm.

There are definitely ways that people can earn their significance through their actual work. But another way is through showing people how successful you are because money is a proxy for how our time is valued.

Think about it if you get your significance through being known as the fit person and fitness is really important to you. Well, it’s pretty clear when someone is physically fit, you can see it in them. But when your significance is tied up into it and you’re attached to people seeing you as successful, well, it would be a faux pas to broadcast your net worth on a t-shirt, but we do it in other ways.

We do it in the shoes that we wear, the cars that we drive, the clubs that we belong to, the neighborhoods that we live in, the private schools that our kids go to. I am giving you a long answer on this attachment one, but that’s where it’s so easy to fall into these attachments because there’s so much identity, ego, and self-worth tied up into what things and outcomes say about who we are and our self-worth as a human being.

A State of Unrest

Drew Applebaum: Yeah, I mean you’re absolutely right. Money and ego will affect many, many decisions. Earlier in the conversation, you were telling us that you realized this stuff is making you unhappy and that maybe you haven’t hit those goals or you haven’t found out what you really want. So, let’s start taking action against this. Let’s call it the cycle of sadness. You call it the cycle of madness. What should people do to start organizing their finances to find out where they stand right now?

Ryan Sterling: Yeah, it’s a really good question and this is the biggest hurdle for people, so I see this in our practice all the time. The problem that I solve in the world, it’s really unrest. When people come to me, they’re in a state of unrest and money is the proxy for their unrest. But it’s one of those things where they’re feeling out of control and they need some help. They know something is wrong.

In taking action, the first step is a really uncomfortable one, and that is putting everything out on paper and staring at it. So, number one, you have to know where you’re starting from. Think about, again, you’re someone who identifies as a high achiever and you’re checking out all the boxes and you have all the titles. Again, you’re moving in the right direction, but you know you’re in credit card debt, you know that you have an unsustainable lifestyle. That unrest is there.

Then, taking that first step of taking action and actually putting everything down on paper and saying, “I’m $35,000 in credit card debt,” it’s really scary. It’s the equivalent of fitness where you’re someone who’s neglected your fitness and you take a picture of yourself and post it on social media. I’m not advocating people post their net worth on social media. But it’s one of those things that when you have to stare at it, and accept it, and know this is where you’re starting from, it’s really scary. But it’s something that’s so important and necessary to do.

The first step is always just putting everything out on paper, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not starting from where you think you are, not starting from where you want to be, not starting from where you think you should be, starting from where you actually are. So that’s step number one.

Step number two, once you know where you are, now you need to know where you’re going. This is another thing that people come to me with, they say, “I’m 35 years old. I have $38,000 in credit card debts and I just read this article and it said that I should have at least $600,000 saved by now.” I say, “Okay. Stop right there. This is not going to happen overnight. There’s nothing you can do about the past. But okay, we know we’re now $38,000 in credit card debt. All right. We wish we weren’t, but this is the reality that we’re faced with right now. Okay. So, what’s the first step?”

The first step, it’s not saying, “Okay. I want $500,000.” And trying to get there in the next two months. That’s just not going to happen. But maybe it’s paying down a thousand dollars of that debt in the first couple of months. Create these short-term, achievable goals that are moving in the right direction. I can’t tell you how powerful momentum is. Again, that person with $38,000 in credit card debt, let’s say you can get to $35,000 of credit card debt by the end of the quarter. That’s going to make you feel excited. You’re moving in the right direction. You’re seeing progress.

Most importantly and this goes with setting the goals, and you have to set the goals, again, short-term achievable goals. But then you have to figure out, how are you going to achieve those goals? When it comes to money, that comes with tracking where your money is going. It’s really interesting. In my practice, I have a pretty diverse set of clients. So, I have that client who is 35 years old, who has massive credit card debt. I also have some of my former high net worth clients who have come with me over the years, that 75-year-old who has $6 million saved for retirements.

A lot of these clients, it’s funny when you talk to them, it’s not like they had necessarily one big in-flow of money. Part of it was just having a consistent practice that built up over time. A big thing that my clients who are retired tell me, is that they knew where their money was going. The irony of it today is that we have all of these tracking apps and it seems like it’s easier than ever to track your money. I’m a big proponent that if something is made too easy, then you don’t value it as much. You just get an alert once a month that you spend X amount of money and nothing changes. I actually encourage people to get very active about it and actually track all of their expenses. You don’t have to do it forever, but do it by hand, do an Excel spreadsheet, whatever you need to do. Know where every penny is going, do it for a month.

I can’t tell you how amazed people are when they go through this, they have no clue, the inefficiencies. They have no clue the traps they’re falling into. They have no clue that they’re unintentionally spending, sometimes, as much as $2,000 a month on things that again provide no value, they were just going through the motions. The first wave of taking action is knowing where you are, setting short-term achievable goals, and then taking action to make sure you’re checking these short-term goals off.

Drew Applebaum: I loved in the book, you actually gave some examples and I think I’m just a numbers geek. But one of the examples is, how much folks could save by not getting a daily latte? Which turns out to be $1,500 to $3,600 a year. Do you have in the back of your mind any other eye-opening numbers you found where folks can save?

Ryan Sterling: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And by the way, I can’t stress enough that this is not an exercise to say you need to be constrained. A budget shouldn’t be constraining. It actually should be a reflection of your values. So ultimately, it’s not to say, “Don’t buy the latte.” If you get an amazing amount of joy and satisfaction from the latte, buy the latte.

My point is, if you’re going through the motions and spending money in an area that you’re definitely not getting a ton of value from, well then, you’re just wasting money. Maybe those are things where you can pull back. So, food is a big one. I’ll just give you a quick example from myself when I was at that moment that I was telling you about. There was a juice place not too far from my office. Every day at three o’clock, I would go to this place and I would get a juice or a smoothie, whatever you call it. I’m spending $11 on a juice or a smoothie and thinking it was healthy. And probably it’s healthy, I’m not saying it’s not. But it was like $11 a day.

I mean, that really adds up if you think about it. I just, “You know what, I’m not going to do that.” So, I tracked my expenses and I realized, like wow, that’s actually a lot of money on a monthly basis to think about it. So, after I, again, have that awareness of where my money is going, I decided, “Okay. I’m not going to do that for a month.” It was funny because it took about a week before I realized I didn’t need the juice, I just needed to go for a walk. That was my excuse to go for a walk. Think about that, just making that decision saved over $50 a week for something that I wasn’t really getting a lot of value out of, and it was actually, I think ironically, making me fat.

l just needed to go for a walk at three o’clock. So food is a big one. I’m not saying don’t get the latte. I’m just saying bring intention to it. Going out to eat is a big one too–and by the way, I’m not a foodie, so I’m just going to put that out there. So, for me, restaurant food kind of all tastes the same. I’ll just be totally honest with that.

I like going out to eat because it’s to be out, it’s to be social, to be with friends, to be out of my apartment, to get the ambiance. Wait a second, I don’t need to go to the most expensive place and get a $40 plate of pasta. I just want to be out. Are there places that I like the ambiance, that’s a cool vibe, I can be with friends, I can get all the value that I get from being out, but I don’t have to pay $40 for a plate of pasta that is going to be totally forgettable a couple of hours later?

So, instead of spending $150 on a night out with my wife and me, can we do it for $60? Thinking about some of these areas, and it’s going to be different for everybody, and that’s why you have to put it on a sheet of paper.

Going back to what do you want to exercise. Is it getting you closer to the life you want to live or is it taking you away from it? I was missing a connection. So, for me, I like being out and I get a lot of value from being with my friends. If going out to eat is part of that, that’s great. But if it’s just me or just my wife and I, and it’s a random Tuesday, we don’t need to go to a super expensive place. Because, what’s the objective? What are we trying to get out of it?

Gamification

Drew Applebaum: You talk about gamification in the book and gamification is huge in the tech world. You mentioned earlier about apps that could track your spending. How could someone use gamification to push forward their financial goals?

Ryan Sterling: Instead of using an app, come up with your own fun spending game. For example, games that I play with myself and that my clients play that are super effective. For example, I’ll play a game where it’s a no-spending day, and I will go an entire day without spending money. I’ll set this up in advance. I’ll say, “Monday is going to be a no-spending day. I’m not spending any money.” You’ve got to prep in advance. You have to make sure that you eat on Monday and those household items are stocked up and the like.

The reason that a no-spending day works really well is that it stops you from making those small impulse purchases. It’s creating that space, it’s creating that boundary, it’s creating that control of, “I’m not going to spend money today and I don’t need to spend money today.” And when you frame it as a game, then it becomes a challenge. When it becomes a challenge, we’re wired to like challenges, we’re all innately competitive. So, when I say this is a game, it’s a game that I’m playing, it’s a no-spending day. I’m more inclined to do it than if I just say, “Hey, maybe I should go the day without spending money.” That’s one example of a game.

Another game and I’ve done this with friends and I have clients who do this is, “Hey, we’re going to play a game where we’re just going to find a happy hour place for the month, and we’re only going to go out if it’s happy hour pricing. So, let’s see who can find the best happy hour deals.” It’s a game that you can create a community with. You’re going out, you’re getting the full benefits of being out, but you’re going to spend half the amount of money on your going-out budget because you’re doing it at happy hour pricing.

Another one that is big and a lot of clients have gotten benefits from it is a just say no month, where you’re saying no to new things. So, if something shows up in your feed and it’s a new article of clothing, no, you don’t have to think about it. I don’t care if it’s 95% off, you’re not doing it. Even though you might miss out on sales here and there, it just provides a sense of control. Again, when you put the game framework around it, it jolts your competitive instincts. Many of the people who are going to read this book are high achievers and many of my clients identify as high achievers. When there’s a game around it, they want to win.

Wealth on My Terms

Drew Applebaum: Now, you have a ton of helpful investing tips to increase wealth from stocks, bonds, and real estate. But we’ll let readers find those tips when they get the book. Right now, I want to talk about the end of the book where you put together a pretty comprehensive list of guides and accountability exercises. Can you tell us how you put them together and what they cover?

Ryan Sterling: The first person that went through this was me. I knew I needed to make a change and I knew saying I just need a change wasn’t going to do it. I actually needed to put some sort of framework around it. I’m a competitive person, so I needed some sort of accountability and I needed something that I could track.

The accountability exercise is, again, number one, going through what you want. I have a whole framework and it’s in the book. I have the steps and the questions that you go through for each want that you have, what is this want, why do I want it, what do I need to do to achieve this want, and so forth. Number one was to really bring into the surface what I actually want, and drill down and get to the core of it. Then let me ask the questions of, “Well, who do I need to be, and what life do I need to live, and what actions do I need to take in order to deliver on those wants?”

Number two is the detachment framework. I realized from myself, I had all these attachments that we hit on before and going through a process of detaching–part of that is and it sounds kind of silly, but it actually works. Think about the character in the movie that you most admire. I really love the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. So, thinking about Chris Gardner, who was played by Will Smith, when you think about that character in the movie, I’m not drawn to that character because he had a lot of money and his life was perfect and he had this perfect image.

I was drawn to this character because he was on his ass, and he had faced all of these obstacles, and he had to pull himself up one step at a time. That resiliency, that drive, he was moving forward, he was trying to get better. I mentioned that when I realized that I hit my number that I would have traded places with my 25-year-old self that was eyes popping out of his head when he saw that one big number. The reason being is because my 25-year-old me was striving to get better, and had goals, had benchmarks and had a challenge in front of him that I just didn’t have anymore.

When I thought about this detachment framework, it was thinking about, “You know what? I don’t want my identity to just be somebody who seems like I have it all and someone who is basically playing the same game like everybody else. I want to detach from that and ultimately, the person I want to be is the person that’s always getting it better and always pushing myself to be the best version that I can be.” Going through that and thinking about why I like the characters in the movies that I like, it all has to do with some sort of personal growth and development. So that was a really important exercise for me, and I think people will get a lot of benefit from this.

The next one is wealth on my terms. So, when we think about wealth, we think about money. Money is part of wealth, there’s no doubt about it, but there are so many components of wealth in our life. We have a wealth of time. I asked this, who would you rather be? Would you rather be a 22-year-old with an unwritten future, or would you rather be an 82-year-old billionaire? I can guarantee you–any 82-year-old billionaire will trade their billion dollars to be a 22-year-old again in a heartbeat.

It really made me think about, “Gosh, time is so valuable and I don’t want to waste it.” I’m 38 years old right now and this made me think about, “I want to make sure that I’m using this time in the most intentional way because I have this gift that’s in front of me and I don’t want it to pass before my eyes. Love, human connections, adventures.” Who has a wealthier life? Someone that went out there, took a risk, saw the world, again, maybe got hurt along the way or the person that made a lot of money but sat behind the desk under a fluorescent light and never actually tried anything?

There’s a lot of wealth behind our adventure. Really thinking about all of these components of wealth in our life, and if I am hitting on all of these components, or am I being too singular in my focus? And then ultimately, taking accountability and thinking about, “Okay. Defining what I want, okay, that’s great. That’s where it starts. But now I have to commit to things. Now I have to actually set a commitment. What am I going to do about it and what action am I going to take?”

As I mentioned with the savings part and the budgeting, I am a fan of short-term achievable goals. What’s going to be my goal for the week? What’s going to be my goal for the month? What’s going to be my goal for three months? And taking the next step that’s in front of me and not being in the past, not saying, “I wish I would have been better at saving when I was 25 years old.” Not being in the future, just being where I am right now.

Drew Applebaum: Last question for you. Do you want to start a t-shirt company that shows the number that’s inside your bank account with me?

Ryan Sterling: I kind of do and I think we’ll call it Gucci. How about that?

Drew Applebaum: I love it. Is that a safe investment?

Well, writing a book is no joke so first of all, congratulations.

Ryan Sterling: Thank you. I really appreciate it. It was an incredible process. I have to say, I’m really proud of what I put out in the world.

Drew Applebaum: You totally should be. And if readers could take away one thing from your book, what would it be?

Ryan Sterling: I think it’s the importance of adding a layer of intention to money. And really thinking about money as a resource until you have your best, most intentional life.  And not just a resource to buy things to provide a proxy for your self-worth and ego.

Drew Applebaum: Well, thank you so much. Ryan, this has been a pleasure and I’m so excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called You’re Making Other People Rich. You can find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you online, Ryan?

Ryan Sterling: I’m active on LinkedIn. They can find me on Instagram. I just started Instagram a couple of months ago, so I’m new to it but theryansterling on Instagram. They can also go to my website, ryansterling.com and then they can view my firm’s website, which is futureyouwealth.com.

Drew Applebaum: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Ryan.

Ryan Sterling: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.