The First Step To Wealth

A generous person will prosper. Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. – Proverbs

Many years ago I was working for a non-profit in Oakland, making just about minimum wage.

I was rich in passion for helping at-risk youth, but I was certainly not rich in my bank account.

A close friend of mine was also just starting out his career. He was a little richer in the bank account sense, but really rich with love for his then-girlfriend. So much so, that he was saving up for an engagement ring.

I was excited for my friend and wanted to help. Without much thought I sent him a check – I think it was for $100 – to help him reach his goal. It was just about all that was in my bank account at the time.

He called me up to thank me – and to make sure that I hadn’t lost my mind. He reminded me that I was living on peanuts.

But for me, it was a no-brainer.

One, the people that I was working with and trying to help get off the streets, had even less than I did. I knew I was fortunate and, in a weird way, I thought of myself as wealthy. It was clear that my good fortune was a gift to be shared.

Two, he was a dear friend. We had shared life together, and so even though the money was in my bank account, in some sense, it felt like our money.

Finally, I had spent the previous year and a half living hand to mouth as I worked to help out in a low-income neighborhood. During that time, I found that the more I was generous in serving others, the more resources seemed to come my way.

I had become convinced that if you give generously, you will lack no good thing yourself.

Several years later, I had completely forgotten about this story.

I had transitioned to working for technology companies and my earnings had changed dramatically. All along the way though, this idea of generosity being integral to my own personal success and fulfillment was imprinted on my heart.

At the suggestion of another friend, I started a “generosity account”.

It was simply a second checking account into which I direct-deposited a portion of each paycheck. During the course of the year, I’d let the funds in this account build up and then at the end of the year I’d give the money away to people and causes that needed it.

It was really fun. I felt like Santa Claus.

After I had sold a startup that I co-founded, I was hit with a windfall of cash. My friend called me, and he reminded me about the engagement ring.

Dude, I can’t help but think that a lot of these opportunities that you have had have been a result of your generosity. I think it’s a God thing.

Frankly, I knew in my heart he was right. I also knew that I was being called to even greater generosity.

Now, generosity might not be the only thing that you need in order to develop wealth, but it’s certainly a really good first step.

What do you think? Am I being overly sentimental or does generosity have a connection to wealth? Sound off in the comments.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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8 thoughts on “The First Step To Wealth

  1. Great article, I like the idea of developing a philosophy of wealth and lifestyle of wealth. The idea of chasing money in order to be wealthy is such a shallow and dead end idea.

    I think being generous develops a feeling of gratefulness, which in turn, makes one feel like a million bucks :) Which makes one wealthy!

    I also think that those who can’t be trusted to be generous with a little won’t be able to be generous when they have a lot. Wealth does not create a generous person!!

  2. Sometimes the idea of being generous is something I think about for the future. It is easy for me to get in a trap of thinking i need to focus relentlessly on accumulating wealth now, so that I can be Santa Claus in some distant future. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have enough wealth or make enough money to have a real impact with generosity. I like this post and the comments above because it reminds me to be in the habit of generosity now even if it feels small. One way I am trying to do that is by proactively looking for places where I can be generous with my time and friendship in addition to cash.

  3. Love it Ryan. The generosity fund is brilliant! What a fun way to give!

    I think you’re right on about generosity leading to wealth. I’ve read countless books that talk about the significance of that and heard many successful people talk about it’s importance.

    One of my favorite analogies is Dave Ramsey who talks about how you “hold” your money. If you hold it tightly in a closed fist it won’t get away, but nothing else can fit in it. If you hold it in the open palm of your hand, it can flow freely out, but much more will wind up flowing freely in.

  4. Hi Ryan,

    I really love the post this week. I wanted to respond each day but needed to make time, so here I am, eating my lunch (late) and responding. When I think of the topic of wealth several things come to mind.

    My experience is that using wealth as a way to be happy does not work. But neither does not having money at all. Having grown up in a country where the basic needs of many are not covered, it made me reflect on how much harder it is for people to be generous when your needs are not met. I so value what you did for your friend. And I wonder if we able to have this type of mindset in the U.S. because no matter what, our level of survival is much higher than in other places. I can’t imagine someone from my country giving their last $100 to a friend. And not because people are not generous but because the reality of true poverty is too real.

    I also whole heartedly support the idea that the more you give the more you get. I certainly saw this when I visited two friends of my aunt’s in Miami. One was very wealthy but was alone. She was wonderful but also quite careful with how generous she was. Another was quite poor, the entire family lived in a one bedroom but they shared so much, including their food. The difference of the richness of their life was evident through the many people that would come to visit them. The experience showed me that there is nothing more valuable than inner wealth and connection.

    Your post also reminded me not to be scared with my money (its hard not to be there on an unemployment check). But its inspired me to figure out a way to surprise the people that are important in my life.

    Thank you!

    • Wow! Some really great thoughts there. I especially agree with your point that people from a privileged background have a much bigger safety net than those that do not and therefore it’s easier to seem/be generous with finances. I guess then generosity is really about the heart!