The following is an excerpt from Money Unmasked: Unlearn, Unlock, & Take Back Control of Your Finances & Life by Garrett Gunderson, available now from Greenleaf Book Group.
What’s Your Number?
“When health is absent, wisdom can’t reveal itself, art cannot be manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless.”
— HEROPHILOS, 300 BCE
What would you do with a billion dollars?”
It was on a flight with my business partner, Les McGuire, when one of us asked the question. I don’t remember who said it; we had a habit of challenging each other philosophically. I do remember once I took the time to consider the question, it floored me.
I had no idea what I would do with a billion dollars.
And I had no idea because I couldn’t figure out how to earn a billion dollars.
Before my brain would let me dream of the things I could buy or the Main Streets I could save, I had to see the path to a billion. And I didn’t have a clue how to do that.
At the time, I was in my twenties and committed to the hustle and grind. Our company, Engenuity, helped people get their financial houses in order. We held events, met with clients one- on-one, and had a subscription with newsletters, audios, and daily resources to help people take control over their finances. My life was all about numbers: getting more clients so I could hit my target revenue. So why couldn’t I wrap my head around that big number?
What strategy would get me to a billion? The question haunted me as I drove home from the airport. If I couldn’t figure that out, even in theory, what did that say about me, about my value? That thought set off a chain reaction of self-defeating thoughts:
You are insignificant.
You aren’t doing anything of consequence.
You are worthless
From there, it was a swift descent into feeling depressed. I remember I stopped at the convenience store and bought a huge bag of Laffy Taffy. That night, I watched reruns on TV and ate all the candy and felt terrible about myself. Pretty sexy existential crisis, eating taffy and binge-watching Friends all night.
Then, somewhere between Ross and Rachel arguing about breaking up and Ross and Rachel arguing about getting back together, it hit me: I don’t know how to earn a billion dollars because I don’t know what I would do with a billion dollars.
Ah, the paradox. I was right back where I started.
I couldn’t fathom how I would be a steward over that much money. And because I couldn’t even imagine that, it was impossible for me to come up with a strategy to earn it. I had been more focused on my goals than on my value. On my activity over my vision.
That realization started to substantially change my thinking. I became curious about how our clients were feeling about their lives. So many people we worked with had some arbitrary number they had to reach to feel okay with themselves. I also had numbers in my mind. These numbers in my bank, or on my balance sheet, were required before having kids, before buying a home, before considering myself successful, before considering myself okay.
Over the next few months, during our quarterly meetings with clients, I noticed a pattern. No matter what we did for them financially, no matter how much money they earned, our clients’ stories didn’t change much at all. They were still feeling they should be further ahead, they were still in the struggle, and they still didn’t have enough. For those who hit their arbitrary number, they found it rarely provided happiness, contentment, or relief because they compared themselves to others who had more.
It’s an ever-moving target that fuels the impossible, unwinnable game. There is always someone with more. Happy with a 30 percent return on investment? Sure. Unless their neighbor had a 34 percent return; now they were pissed. Are you kidding me? Thirty percent is awesome — nothing to be pissed about. And yet, because of the game of more, the game of comparison, they weren’t satisfied.
It was the same for me. Comparison is a powerful motivator, but it never ends. Acquiring stuff, achieving status, adding zeros to your bank account — these things made me feel good, for a moment. As a result, I began to understand that accumulating money just for the sake of having it wasn’t enough of a motivator.
I came to believe we were renting happiness, paying for fleeting moments with our health, our relationships, and our enjoyment of life.
Then I began to wonder, What would our clients do with a billion dollars? Could they answer the question? My guess was, probably not. I still couldn’t answer it myself, but I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it.
What amount of money would be enough?
What amount of money would provide true freedom? And can money even provide such a thing?
What amount of money would be meaningful and provide lasting happiness?
What amount of money would unlock a new financial destiny, one that would help me, and others, build a life we could love?
The Misinformation That Shapes Our Lives
I’m a coal miner’s son, as was my father before me. My great- grandfather was born in Italy into a life of scarcity and sacrifice. He carried those wounds with him and passed them down to his children, who passed them down to his children, and then on down to my sisters and me. In my book Disrupting Sacred Cows, I share how the fears, beliefs, and values around money handed down to me shaped me. Because of my inherited scarcity mindset, I pinched pennies and hoarded money like a prepper storing supplies for the apocalypse.
I also inherited my family’s work ethic, which, combined with a scarcity mindset, caused me to spend most of my time working to earn as much money as possible. Saving money and making money were my primary goals.
We have different pasts, but you have your own inherited fears, beliefs, and values around money, and I’m willing to bet you a pound of my favorite coffee that you also inherited a scarcity mindset. You see, it’s an epidemic. The world we live in is fueled by it.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that poverty isn’t real, that a good percentage of the planet does not have access to enough food and water or adequate health care. In fact, our scarcity thinking perpetuates this problem. If we continue to believe that we need to hang on to our share of the resources, people will continue to suffer.
But it is through this lens that we rarely create wealth, seldom chose love, and often become selfish. We are selfish when we think only of what’s in it for us. Or when we feel like victims or become entitled.
The concept of scarcity is misleading. It’s a belief that there is only so much to go around, that we have to sacrifice to succeed, and that money is value, our value. Scarcity is hard to detect for most, because it becomes familiar, like a companion. That companion is what we know, what we see, what we hear, and even how we feel. It is as invisible as air and as suffocating as carbon dioxide — hard to detect, but deadly. Scarcity is reinforced on the news and social media. It is a common language of competition, division, and even defeat.
Scarcity is in our words and embedded in our phrases:
There isn’t enough.
Who decides what is enough? Will we have enough? Can I provide enough? Am I good enough? Have I sacrificed enough?
It is through the avenue of sacrifice that scarcity grows; it lives in our emotions, and it permeates every aspect of being. It’s in the lyrics of our music, the voice in our head, and the memes of our life. It has defined our culture.
It’s clichéd but powerful. Persuasive, but untrue.
In scarcity we ignore resourcefulness, collaboration, and innovation. Scarcity begs us to take what is ours or hold on to what we have because you can never have enough.
In scarcity the only solution to enough is more. It is never enough; there is always more. More comes from others.
More is the vernacular that feeds the scarcity hunger inside. Disguised as protection and providing, thoughts of more are lies and thieves.
Taking our energy.
Stealing our time.
Tugging at our emotions, telling us we can be at peace eventually, but only after other things are complete.
A bigger retirement account.
A certain amount in the bank.
Or the next promotion, award, or accolade.
Wanting more security, more money, more time.
Well, more of anything. Robbing us of what is most divine.
Our Soul Purpose. Our life.
Keeping us in the constant struggle where there can never be enough, until we finally say . . .
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
When we operate from the belief that resources are scarce, the game will always be rigged against us. And when we live in scarcity, exhausted and divided, we are prone to a disease of the mind, what I call the Consumer Condition. This is the belief there is only so much to go around, so everything is a win-lose transaction, rooted in competition, fear, destruction, and even entitlement.
We feel entitled when we are afraid.
Is it too late? Did I miss out? Am I capable? Will someone take too much and leave me without?
In scarcity, ownership by another means the loss of opportunity for oneself. Scarcity breeds fear, and that fear causes us to make irrational decisions (especially when it comes to our finances) that limit, rather than enhance, our life. In a world of potential freedom, joy, abundance, and service, a scarcity mindset allows us to see only limitations, suffering, poverty, and selfishness. It is crippling.
Scarcity is fueled by sacrifice.
Sacrificing who we are for what the world tells us to want. Sacrifice misleads us. It tells us the only way to live the life we want is by doing things we hate, temporarily. What? To eventually have a better situation, we have to sacrifice our health, our time, and our quality of life so that one day, someday, we can finally be happy. But someday never comes. Someday doesn’t exist.
We become our sacrifices.
It permeates all that we are and how we operate.
Sacrifice is the language of scarcity that convinces us we must do things we hate to provide a better life in the future and to live at the expense of enjoying things along the way. How can this be? Through the belief in scarcity. There is only so much time, limited money, or not enough ability.
Scarcity creates a long list of excuses disguised as evidence: why we aren’t good enough, don’t have enough, or don’t deserve and should feel guilty about what we do have, and why limitation is something we simply must accept. The outcome is sacrifice — where we hear, accept, and then live by the myths and misinformation that hold us back.
Hustle, grind, and work.
I don’t have the time.
I don’t have the money.
I’ll get to it later.
I’ll be happy when____.
The list goes on and on. And that list controls our lives and shapes our futures.
That list also shapes our beliefs around how much money is enough. If we buy into it, we will remain stuck in the Consumer Condition; and no matter how hard we try, we will never find that magic number that will finally help us relax into life and find enjoyment in the abundance we’ve created.
If you’ve heard me speak or read my other books, you already know the cure for the Consumer Condition is to shift to what I call the Producer Paradigm. This is where you produce more value than you consume. Rather than focus on how much you can get (take) from the world, you create more for the world. Producers lift, bless, serve, and contribute. They operate in abundance, and their worldview includes expanded possibilities for value creation.
I had considered myself a producer, but now I was shaken because in the back of my mind, the question lingered: What would I do with a billion dollars? I wasn’t any closer to an answer. I still couldn’t find the magic number that would unlock everything. And although I had started to free myself from the scarcity mindset, I still chased growth. I convinced myself that because I was contributing and creating value, then sacrificing family time, my health, and my own happiness for the business was okay — maybe even required.
Faulty philosophies learned at an early age, such as unprocessed feelings from being bullied or being told to suppress emotions, to not cry, or even mistakes, missteps, and difficult circumstances can all prevent us from finding contentment. These scenarios rob us from feeling abundant and loving our life, leading us to look for answers by pursuing money.
The pursuit of success or security through external validation (bank accounts, net worth, cars, houses, awards) leaves us either running or hiding from our past. We are rushing to fill the void, the holes, or prove something to someone else so we can feel whole. Or we may be hiding from the pain — from the beliefs and fears — to try and feel secure.
I kept trying to fill the holes with more. More success, more accolades, more money.
Until June 9, 2006.
The Worst Wake-Up Call
Thunderstorm warnings flash across the television and wake me up. I had fallen asleep on the couch in front of the TV. Tired and groggy, I turn off the TV and stagger to bed.
A few hours pass and I hear another unfamiliar sound. A ringing. My landline, which never rings, especially not this early in the morning. Not quite coherent, I ignore it. But then it starts ringing again and I pick up and blurt out, “WHAT?”
In a shaky voice, quiet and somber, my business partner Mike stumbles through a sentence or two before being able to articulate the devastating news. “No one has heard from Ray and Les since the plane left St. George last night.”
I turn on the news in time to catch a breaking story.
A plane had crashed into Utah Lake.
Carrying three passengers. My partners Ray and Les, and Blaine, the pilot.
How could this be? Les wasn’t initially scheduled to go but texted me last minute the day before, asking me to cover for him on our radio show. He wanted to support Ray and go have some fun in warmer weather.
My mind wanders to the partners meeting the week before where I expressed my concern about traveling too much and really wanted a break. Ray said he would love the opportunity to go in my place, so I gratefully let him take my seat on the plane.
In an instant, I snap out of it and immediately focus on how to help my partners’ families. I rush to Ray’s house. My mind races to thoughts of keeping everything together, our forty- two employees, three offices, a radio show, an event coming up, and . . . Could this even be real?
When I arrive at Ray’s house, I have no idea how I got there.
That devastating wake-up call would lead to another wake- up call, one that would change the way I conducted every aspect of my life.
In the days, weeks, and even months after the plane crash, I coped by immersing myself even deeper in my work than ever before. I told myself that I had to work harder to preserve and protect my partners’ legacies. The crash happened on a Thursday, and I was back in the office on Monday, even doing our two- hour radio show that morning. I started getting up even earlier to get to the office, which led to sleep deprivation.
I neglected my health. I gained weight. I didn’t see my family much. My firstborn son had just turned one a few months before. He was asleep when I left for work in the morning and by the time I got home at night.
My first day off came four months later, at Thanksgiving. My wife, Carrie, and I drove a few hours to Price, Utah. Some of our best conversations happen on drives through the mountains, but on this trip, we were halfway through and had barely spoken a word.
Carrie broke the silence by saying, “Garrett, you’re an extraordinary businessman, an extraordinary speaker, and an extraordinary radio show host.” She then paused, glanced at our one-year-old son in the back seat, turned to me, and slowly spoke the words, “But you’re just . . . an ordinary husband and father.”
Initially, I looked away with embarrassment, choking back the tears. I swallowed, clenching my jaw to stave off the emotion. The feeling was overwhelming. I couldn’t fight it off, ignore it, or push it down or away. The guilt and shame burst through — because she was right.
I figured hard work would make me successful. What it really made me was exhausted. Feeling frustrated and trapped, I had become disconnected from the most important people and aspects of my life.
I was supposed to be on that plane and yet was stuck in a losing game with minimal reward or happiness due to my unexamined thinking and behavior. You can’t have it all, I thought.
I was on this treadmill of sacrifice and hard work, running faster with no clear intention other than to keep things together and to make more.
There is that word again.
An unattainable, ever-moving target that is misguided and that misleads us to sacrifice life — our life. The quest to obtain more had become my disease, and it led to disconnection and pain. All in the pursuit of more: More recognition. More clients. More status. I was chasing success with no room for fulfillment, but plenty of room for more pain.
When pain isn’t addressed, it becomes addiction. For me that addiction was work. It is what I did, what I knew, but there is so much pain in what we think “we already know.” I knew how to work hard and sacrifice at the expense of my happiness and my family. Worrying about others’ feelings (customers, employees, peers) more than my own or my family, I had lost sight of the big picture.
Thanks to my wife’s courage and honesty, everything changed — quickly. I let my employees know that I planned to take thirty days at home to focus on self-care and my family. I began working out again, playing with my son, and even found time to sleep and recharge.
Then something unexpected started to happen. Not only did I have renewed energy, but my income also started to rise as well. My entire mindset began to shift and transform as I invested in myself and emphasized quality of life.
In the two years prior to the plane crash, I had been tinkering with my first book. I had seventy-two choppy pages and a terrible title (The Strongest String). In the month I spent at home, I was able to finish the entire manuscript, all while spending more time with my family.
It was as if a portal to genius, a gateway of renewed energy, had opened up as my reward for removing busyness, being present, and investing time in what mattered most. That manuscript became the New York Times best seller, Killing Sacred Cows.
I put what had happened in a new context by creating a new narrative moving forward. I was learning from the past rather than being held captive by it — in essence, playing a new game. Instead of ruminating on the pain of the past, I chose to look at the pain as a gift.
I didn’t love the packaging, of course. It created stress, sadness, and numbness; but that pain was my tap on the shoulder and kick in the ass to set me on a path of learning meaningful lessons, increasing gratitude, and finding purpose.
This pain became a driver for passion, a way to reconsider the direction I was heading and to determine what was most important — not the trappings of what society told me was important. One by one, I started dropping the myths by which I had lived my life. I abandoned the scarcity mindset and all the lies I had believed about money — for good.
And then, I asked myself a series of questions, which unlocked the hidden magic number. Those questions became the Value Index.
The Value Index
Now, right now, imagine you are given ten dollars every month, for the rest of your life, no strings attached. You don’t have to come up with a way to get it. You don’t have to work for it. You don’t even have to ask for it. This is ten bucks above and beyond what you already have. Not a one-time extra ten; ten dollars free and clear, every single month, for the rest of your life.
What would you do with that extra money? Go to the movies? Save up for a bigger purchase? Pay down debt? Take a friend out for coffee?
How do you feel about having that money? Does the thought of getting an extra ten dollars every month matter? Does it make you feel excited? Hopeful? More secure?
Now, let’s add a zero. Imagine you are given one hundred dollars every month, no strings attached, for the rest of your life.
What would you do? Would you invest the money? Spend it on date night? Hide it under your mattress for a rainy day?
How do you feel? Would this money make you feel happier?
Let’s add another zero. Now you’re up to one thousand dollars. Each and every month, for the rest of your life.
What would you do? Stop and think about it. Really ask yourself what you’d do with that money. There are so many options, right? Make a quick list.
How do you feel? Does the extra zero make a difference in your happiness? Does it make you feel better — less stressed, less worried, less scared? Does it make you feel hopeful?
Keep going. Add another zero. Imagine you receive, without any effort on your part and no obligation, ten thousand dollars every month for the rest of your life.
What would you do with it? How do you feel about it? Jot down your thoughts. I know you want to just keep reading, but remember, this is how we find that hidden number that works like a key to unlock you. So, play along. Take a minute, or half that, and really think about that ten grand showing up in your bank account like clockwork every month. What would you do, and how do you feel about that?
Okay. Let’s go ahead and add another zero. You now get one hundred thousand dollars every month.
What would you do? Launch a new business? Build your dream home? Take time to travel the world?
How do you feel?
Add another zero. You’re up to one million now. Not once. Every. Single. Month. Yes, one million dollars every month. What would you do with that amount of money? Remember, you didn’t have to earn it, find it, or ask for it. You don’t owe anyone anything for it, and you don’t have to pay taxes on it. How do you feel about being a millionaire every single month for the rest of your life?
Look at your answers at every stage. Quite different as the money increases. We’re not done yet, but we’re not going to add one zero. We’re going to add two.
You know what’s coming. Of course, I’m going to ask you the question that stumped me all those years ago, the question most people can’t answer: What about a billion dollars? What if you were a billionaire?
If you can’t come up with what you’d do with a billion dollars, don’t spend too much time on it. It’s not the point of this exercise, and it’s not the hidden number.
This question, though — this is the question that matters:
At what point in this exercise did you stop thinking about what you could buy, or what the money could do for you, and start thinking about the value you could create for others? At what point did you create a vision rooted in value creation, focused on service?
What was your number?
If you made the flip at ten thousand a month, that is your hidden number. I call it the Value Index. This is the point when we turn our attention to value for others rather than consumption for ourselves. When we are in value creation mode, we are in service. We are focused on how we serve others, solve problems, and deliver value.
Ultimately, our vision isn’t just about who we can create value for in the moment. It’s really about what compels us to bring forth the best of who we are, the container in which we can add the most value.
Vision is the ultimate container in which to create value. It’s what tells our brain what’s important, what to pay attention to. The Value Index is simply where we are no longer worried about money, where we are no longer captive to the scarcity mindset and the win-lose zero-sum game of the Consumer Condition.
When you find your Value Index, when money is no longer your primary reason or excuse for doing or not doing something, the space for possibility opens up: “Maybe I’m here for something more. Maybe I can enjoy my life today. Maybe if I could really think about the best expression of my Soul Purpose, I could be free.”
When we put value first, we can expand our vision. The Value Index is the number at which point we stop obsessing about how much we have so we can be the best of who we are.
It’s Not about the Number
Now that you have your Value Index number, you may be thinking, “Now I have a goal to work toward.” I get it. It makes sense. Why not work toward the number that will allow you to be of service?
Because the number doesn’t matter. It’s not about the number. It’s about the perspective, the vision.
Vision is the ultimate container to create value. It creates context and determines actions. Now that you have your Value Index number, remove the constraints of time, money, and even ability. Those are only limiting factors when you try to do too much alone or too quickly. Just be willing to dream without restrictions. What calls to you? What compels you?
If money were of no concern, what would you do today? What have you been putting off? What have you been sacrificing?
This is your vision. Not the vision that is important to someone else, the one that calls to you. The one inside you, once you remember. Think back to the time before money determined your actions. Before stability and security crowded out your creativity. Or before you were driven by acknowledgment through awards, accolades, and financial accomplishments.
Your Value Index is about being in the mindset where it gets to be about you, your life, your vision today. Start thinking about how you can make that vision happen. Not when you get enough money to pull it off. But now — start now.
I know this may be hard to wrap your head around, but to truly change your financial destiny, you have to get to a mindset where money isn’t a factor anymore, where it isn’t your primary consideration for doing or not doing something. Then, create from that space.
You might be thinking, “Of course money is a consideration. We all need money.” Yes, money is an essential tool. I mean, unless you want to live in the woods in a loincloth and shoot a bow and arrow. I tried that for five days and let me tell you, it was brutal. I took my kids to a survival camp. We lived in a teepee and had nothing except water and half of a saw. I thought it would be a blast, but it turned out to be something my friends would call “level two fun” — it’s only fun or funny after it’s over.
You’ve got bills. You may have kids to feed. I know you have to consider money. If it’s wealth you want, though — if you want to truly build wealth — you have to get to the point where you use money and love people, not use people and love money. That’s the difference. But you have to start with yourself.
Love yourself and build a life you don’t want to retire from.
Most people go for the money first and create value second, but that’s not going to get you out of the scarcity mindset. That’s not going to help you build a life you love.
If your vision is powerful enough, it will create value. It will attract the right people. Your vision is the catalyst for you to create value. It informs your actions, demands attention, and directs focus, zeal, and energy. When you consider value first, when money is a by-product of the value you create and is consistent with your quality of life, and your vision is worthy of your time and energy, you win. You are free.
A committed vision will attract opportunities for collaboration. And yes, it will attract money as well. It worked for me and for so many others you’ll learn about in this book.
It also worked for Mother Teresa. People think she was poor, but she wasn’t. Her vision was to help eradicate poverty, and she did — because money flowed to her like a river. She had enough money to change her corner of the world, to work toward a bold vision. Incidentally, she also flew on private planes. She never thought about money first, and as a result, she had enough of it to do the work she wanted to do. She didn’t scrimp and save and hustle and grind to get the money so she could do that work someday. She didn’t care about net worth or retirement plans. She worked toward her vision, and the money came to support it. Not through “the law of attraction” by merely thinking about it and wanting it, but by being in action and providing value.
Stop renting happiness. Expand your value. Focus on impact. Create a vision bigger than your problems. What speaks to you, inspires you? What would you dedicate your life to? One where your purpose is larger than any number in a retirement account.
Again, let me ask you: If money were of no concern, what would change in your life? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing? How would you show up differently?
You have your number now. And that number elicits a mindset that will help you unlock wealth, create purpose, move you from survival to service, and empower you to tap into your full potential.
In the coming pages, I’ll show you how to free yourself from the money mindsets that have been holding you back, and how to use your number to change your financial destiny and build a life you love.