How To Fill A Hole

I recently found myself out of place, i.e., at an art exhibition. My default strategy: grab a plastic flute of the free champagne, find a neutral corner, decline the hors d’oeuvres, ignore the art, watch the people. I was soon joined by a kindred spirit.

The Brit was clad in the standard issue ‘English country gentleman’ attire: well-worn wools and weathered loafers. After a quiet nod, we waded into a quiet conversation.

After he learned I was a writer, he explained that he was working with his city council (or the English equivalent) to preserve and renovate some of the historic buildings near his home. It had turned into a full time job, and he was surprised how much he enjoyed it.

The hours were erratic, but could be long. Rounding up a consensus among the citizens could be challenging, as common sense often took a back seat to petty grudges from a decade ago. But progress had been made, and the village (or town, I’m not sure what it was actually called) was looking better, preserving it’s architectural heritage, and attracting families and professionals with small offices.

How’s the pay? I ask sardonically. He replied he’d be on the street with his hand out if he relied on the town to pay him a wage. He verbally strolled around facts: his family had been there for ‘quite a long time’, he felt he had a ‘duty’ to ‘hold up the side’.

The signet ring on his pinky, I quickly surmised, was not a trinket that he’d picked up a Harrods.

When I mentioned that I wrote about choosing a life full of meaning, hard work, and purpose, over the acquisition of material possessions, he quickly became engaged. He held his own champagne flute in one hand, but used it to point, emphasizing his words to the point of spillage.

His small sermon went something like this:

“Yes, filling that hole! You’re not going to fill that hole in your soul with buying another shiny object. Not for long, anyway.

“You can try to fill it up with external stimuli: the great food and luxuries, drugs and sex, that the world continuously offers up as the answers to that nagging ennui. (He spoke French fluently.)

“What’s more likely to happen is that, ironically, you start giving in order to fill that hole. You find work with purpose, build a life with meaning, and look outside yourself for the chance to be of service. I should have learned this early, but, there you are.

“Forget trying to be happy. I’ve had everything you could think you’d ever want. Now I’m back to the fundamentals. Am I happy? I never really think about it. I do my work because it fills that hole. I try to be considerate of my wife. I yell at my children because they tend to be lazy. I try not to drink as much as I once did. Now I’m trying to save the place.”

When I floated the hypothesis that people have a ‘water level’ of happiness that they will instinctively return to and maintain, regardless of how much good fortune or misery they experience, the Brit was circumspect.

“Only if they have the fundamentals,” he replied. “If they don’t, they’ll be more miserable than they normally would be. It’s exhausting chasing it.”

He abruptly cut the conversation short. His wife had spied a piece of art that struck her fancy and that, he confided, could be disastrous.

“You can have a houseful of beautiful pieces and nobody notices. One stinker and it brings the entire show down.”

And he was off, I think quite happily. He’d learned how to fill that hole.

  • BGT

23 thoughts on “How To Fill A Hole

  1. Loved this post, Byron! Thanks for sharing your experience. And bless this gentleman for working hard to preserve his town’s heritage. In the U.S., I work full-time in historic preservation (that is, when I’m not standing with a sign by the freeway off-ramp…ha!). He is right…preservation is not a lucrative gig, but the satisfaction of doing meaningful work is a big part of the compensation. I use your “old money” tips–like buying quality shoes and repairing them for a decade or two–to stretch my budget. Thank you for your books and your posts, Byron. They’ve helped steer me–and I’m sure many others–in a smart direction. You’re doing important work!

  2. Purpose. Service. Yes. After all, what’s the point of inter-generational money if you don’t take the opportunity to use it for good? For more on this, see Inheritance, dated Sep 5, 2019 published at

    BTW … what was it about the signet ring which said it wasn’t a Harrods trinket?

    1. I’m assuming Byron means that it was obviously inherited as the gentleman in question didnt seem to be new money, or to have been born without. Many Brits wears a signet ring as that’s what the OMG do, (and the aristocrats), but most are people who buy them to fit in, not because they’ve inherited them.


  3. I completely agree re:the hole. I am still in an age bracket (early 30s) where the majority of my friends and associates are desperately competing in the rat race, nicest car/toy/name brand. I’ve realized a fair while ago that the inner itch for fulfillment we feel can’t be filled with things, but only with purpose. I look forward to doing something similar to the gentleman above in the future!


  4. Jon,

    Thanks for sharing. It’s a familiar subject.

    I’m an inherited-signet-ring-wearing 51 year old. *smile* If I had an honest talk with my 31 year old self and offered him a practical approach to ‘filling the hole’, I’d say seven things:

    1. I wasted 15 years on this matter;

    2. Most people never achieve financial independence;

    3. If you want to ‘fill the hole’ after you amass sufficient capital the returns from which you can live on, you’ll therefore probably never reach the stage of fulfilling that higher order activity;

    4. Best then start today at 31 in little ways;

    5. You don’t have much money or much time at 31. However, if you donated one hour to a worthy cause every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, that labor is equivalent to two days a month or 10% of your time. That’s tithing in-kind.

    6. Pick a charity or community project you have faith in.

    7. Start tithing in-kind and make it an automatic habit. Compounding works outside the realm of money too.

    Old money people contribute to society because they have the time and money. However, families with money only achieved that by serving others. Rockefeller senior started early in life by tithing his income as a humble bookkeeper. That focus on giving and service guided him to wealth and continued three generations to Vice President and Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

    Start early. Contribute modestly. Practice regularly.

    That’s a life well lived. That’s service old money style.

  5. When I was young, I joined the military as a sense of purpose. Many in my family have served and we felt we owed the US that due to how much better our family has been since coming to America now over a century ago. After 4 years, I though I had done my part and wanted to play. I came back to NYC. Found work I cared little about, and drank too much flittering away years chasing women and drinking. I found that lacking and miss my service time. I found a wife, ditched alcohol, and became a father. We are now well on the path to FI, and now I am back to thinking how I can make a contribution.

    This may sound silly, but I think the novel, and the movie which did a good job on the novel, Contact, really hits these points. Meaning comes from connection to eachother. Hell, isn’t that the theme of It’s a Wonderful Life? I think we all have our own journey to finding it.

  6. It sounds like a very interesting exchange. Constantly acquiring stuff might be the key to what troubles so many, in all socioeconomic brackets (Dare I use the word ‘classes?’), in the United States and elsewhere. By and large, people look to material things in a vain attempt to fill that hole in themselves instead of looking beyond themselves. Put another way, they are chasing their tails.

    Best Regards,


  7. Some thoughts from the well-known shoe designer Manolo Blahnik:

    Life lessons aren’t really important.

    Simply remain dignified, dress well, be good to other people

    …….and you’ll be fine.

  8. If one is winning a tennis match by the end of the first set, one isn’t the winner yet. The same applies to happiness, according to Aristotle. Happiness is the quality of a whole life. Ergo, a life must be complete before it can be judged whether it was a happy one. For the simple reason that conditions may change — through luck or hard work, or the opposite — later in life.

    Aristotle also said that happiness is made of its components: health, wealth, friends, knowledge, virtue. Ergo, “to fill the hole” implies finding a reasonable balance of those components, and keeping that balance until one’s time is over.

    Always enjoyable to read your daily adventures, thank you.

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