The Limits of Belief

Most of the time, my life here in the City of Light is a steady but varied melange (French word) of writing, reading, phone calls, emails, meetings, long walks, and casual conversations. But every once in awhile, the routine’s sidewalk-cafe dreaminess is jolted, and I get cranky.

The most recent occasion was marked by a conversation with a young man. He had been referred to me by his uncle, who was having difficulty communicating with his nephew. It was a critical juncture in the 20-something’s life: he was gainfully employed, the paychecks were rolling in, and the money management was not happening, to put it mildly.

My mission, since I chose to accept it, was to talk some sense into the lad. During our phone conversation, I ask a few questions (always a good idea before giving advice). The answers were evasive. Finally, I pinned the young man down and asked him what the problem was with setting a budget, living within his means, and thinking of the future.

“I just don’t believe the things you talk about in your book are really going to help me,” he replied. At this point, I lost my patience.

“I really don’t care what you believe. Your belief, or lack thereof, has no bearing on the effectiveness of the principals I advocate.” After that, my memory of what I said is a little foggy because I was more than a little irritated. But I’ll paraphrase…

“If you eat nothing but fast food for a month, you’re going to get sick. It doesn’t matter what you believe. If you go to the gym and lift weights everyday for a year, you’re going to get ripped. It doesn’t matter what you believe. And if you follow the principles I’ve laid out in The Old Money Book, you’re going to reap the benefits in much the same way.

“So I really don’t care what you believe. You just have to decide if you’re going to buckle down and do it. And you’re not.”

Needles to say, the conversation wrapped up fairly quickly after that. I haven’t heard from the young man, or his uncle, since then.

The Old Money philosophy is like whiskey: it can be refined, it can be distilled, and it can be aged. But it’s still whiskey. It’s still strong. It can still burn.

  • BGT

26 thoughts on “The Limits of Belief

  1. Oh the time I have wasted trying to educate the ill informed. They know what they know and they are not interested in the facts.

  2. Sometimes ideas need time to percolate before they are acted upon. Maybe he needs to get the recklessness out of his system, after which he will have the tools he needs going forward. You may have done some good after all.

  3. It’s hard to be farsighted and think about how you’re going to fund your retirement when you’re in your twenties, especially if you’re on your own and earning money for the first time. Let’s not forget that not many people, at any stage of life, live by old money principles. I see this as mostly a product of him being in his twenties. I come from an old money family but even I went through a brief phase like this in my twenties. It taught me the importance of living below my means.

  4. It’s assumed that Thomas Aquinas was born to a family of means, related to the Counts of Aquino. At the age of nineteen, he decided to join the (mendicant) Dominican order, much to the displeasure of his family. While on his journey to Rome, he was abducted by his brothers and held prisoner for almost a year at his family’s castles. But he was so determined that, eventually, they let him go. The rest is history.

    Deliberately poor people — friars, philosophers, artists, writers…– have often been at the forefront of sciences and arts. Their names live one, though they never made much or any money.

    So, one can’t force a person to be happy, or financially independent, when they’re committed to other goals.

  5. Good afternoon Byron,

    May I respectfully offer the following, please. If you do not already have this chap’s address, obtain it. Then send him a signed copy of the ‘Old Money Book’ with a short note wishing him well and hoping that one day you might have a more enlightened conversation.

    That way you will have regained your dignity and very possibly sown a seed. In the US you have a wonderful expression, not often heard these days. It goes like this:

    “ You can attract more bees with honey, than you can with vinegar “.

    Thanks as always for the opportunity to comment.

    Coffee is on me.


  6. When I am faced with similar situations I don’t look at who is right or wrong, but I take a selfish approach. I lost my temper and what can I do so it doesn’t happen again. Just like we have attorney’s to shield us from the big stuff, the question is how do we buffer ourselves and protect our composure from the everyday inequities that make life hard, such as offering advice to someone unwilling to take it. The answer is: A book and a portable music player. If you are in a long line, read your book, someone not taking advice, crank up volume on your favorite music and grab an expresso. On an airplane, cover up with some blankets and play that music. The goal is to detach and realize that It just doesn’t matter.

  7. Mr. Tully, your post reminded me of the phrase ‘you can’t save someone from themselves.’ He will need to make his own mistakes. Rest assured he will remember your conversation once he has. A copy of your book, as David suggested, will help jar the memory when he does. And, yes, this is commonplace with 20-somethings. When a bird is given freedom for the first time they sometimes fly in the wrong direction. A clipping of the wings and they get back on the right flight path.

  8. Ah, youth. If I’m lucky I may one day actually know as much as I thought I knew in my terrible twenties.

    Here’s hoping the seed you planted in the nephew’s mind sprouts and flourishes in due course.

  9. The conversation you relate reminds me of so many similar situations that come up each semester with the undergraduates I (try to) teach. Lots of skipping class, screwing around, and wasting time — flying in the face of all of the considerable information and advice presented in the course syllabi — until it’s too late in the game to fix the situation. It’s the old “You can lead a horse to water. . .” situation.

    Best Regards,


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