Friday, 2 December 2011

Faussone, millionaires and I

Note: I didn't planned it as such, but this post has become quite long. Please, prepare yourself a cup of tea, sit comfortably, maybe get a blanket too and be patient. This post shall end too.

On Tuesday evening I was victim of a powerful "laziness" attack.
When Masterchef finished (ah, Monica and those lovely eyebrows of yours! Have I told you lately that I love you? Have I told you there's no one else above you? Elvis Costello's taking a break, so Van stepped in), instead of standing up from the sofa and go on doing something useful (ironing perhaps? Who, moi!?!?!), I somehow find myself still sitting on the sofa, shaping it into the likeness and image of my derrière.
That's how I ended watching the first part of a series of 3 documentary by Vanessa Engle, focused on the topic of money.
"Money: Who wants to be a millionaire" is about wealth gurus, those people that get rich by writing books on how to get rich, and about the people that buy into the idea these books foster. Sometimes it works; 99% of the time it doesn't, ending up with people in big debts and wealth gurus in Lamborghini.

It was a very interesting, yet frightening, documentary.
All the gurus interviewed base their "philosophy" on the fact that everything is possible, there is no limitation but the one we pose to ourselves and that getting rich is easy peasy and once you reach that amount of wealth, 
"life is just a long party", as one of those who did get rich says.
But getting rich is not for everybody and it shouldn't as another of this new rich, a retired nurse with a 29 properties portfolio says:"If everybody wanted to do what we do the world would be very unbalanced. We need DSS tenants, otherwise we wouldn’t have those tenants in our properties.

What comes out is the description of a society where people would rather not work, stay home, living a live that resembles a long party. Who wouldn't? I'm the first one that finds herself wishing for the life of the rich: not having to worry about making ends meet. Sod the alarm, I'm staying in bed this morning. But at the end, I still get up and go on with my daily life.

I was fascinated yet really scared by the documentary.
By watching it, I'm under the impression that the best way to get rich is to write a book about how to get reach. Or run seminars on how to get rich. Or the two of them, combined with some other similar business, like the "get rich" game board.
And rest assured there will be flocks of people buying those books and attending the seminars.

The guru remarks is not just about getting rich, but also to become financially free.
So what do kids just out of school, carers and many other people from different walks of life need to to in order to become financially free?
They have to spend some quids to buy the books and then splash some other hundreds, thousands of pouds to attend seminars or pay for consultancies. 
At the seminars they learn some autotraining exercise, like repeating "I'm a millionaire" over and over in front of the mirror while massaging your ears. Or some aerobics exercise rhythmed with the mantra "I-am-rich-!"
As for the consultants, the main advice is to smile more and to be ready manage the multiple streams of investment and their returns.
Eh?! It sells that all the richness comes from buy-to-let properties.
All those who got rich through the methods proposed in the seminars are basically landlords.
Those that wants to get rich basically are landlord-wannabes.
Right, just what we need: extra-speculation on rent and properties, yet another property-bubble waiting to explode.

I found scaring that people that looked smart enough to live well and happy were ready to end up in serious debts or blew savings, whole inheritances up for something like this.

But this wasn't the most unsettling part of the whole documentary.
One of the gurus interviewed, if not the most important one, is a Mr. Kiyosaky, author of the bestseller "Rich dad, poor dad". At a seminar in London he proclaims: "The idea of going to school and getting a job is probably the most destructive thought in your brain today."
Yeah, just sit, invest on real estate and wait for the cash to roll into your pockets. Rees, barely 18, is more than ready to agree and to keep working for Homebase, while pursuing this new chapter of his life.
I honestly wished he could succeed, that he could get rich, because the path he's on looks more pointed towards bankruptcy.

His girlfriend Sarah feels the same way, her eyes seems to have the $ flashing in all the time, and sounds so dangerously convinced when she says "Unlimited income appeals to me [...] I find the whole idea of having a job is quite ridiculous."
I wish they both succeed, for their own sakes.

This disdain for working, yet the need other people do work to sustain these renting portfolios, left me feeling uneasy.
Somehow it clicked with something else happening in my life.

When I was a teenager, I read "The Wrench" by Primo Levi for the first time. I can't remember who gave me the book, it was an old hardcover, one of the first edition published in the '70s. It smelled of the basement it had been kept for some year, but I didn't mind it as it was summer and I was reading it in my grandparent's garden: the smell of the pages mixed pretty well with the one of the freshly cut grass and the flowers my granny had planted and the resinous barks of the pines nearby.

The main character of "The Wrench" is Libertino Faussone, a steel rigger that narrates to a chemist friend of his some stories of the works he did around the world, the problems he encountered, how he fixed them and how sometimes he didn't solve them.
Faussone is a worker, a proud one. He loves what he does, he enjoys his craft. He happily recalls his success as well as the times he failed. There is a tangible joy he express when talking about working, about producing something physical with your own hands.
In the book, Levi says that loving our own job is the closest concrete approximation to happiness we can ever get on earth, yet this truth is unknown to many.
Even if Faussone is described as a man in his mid-thirties, in my mind he ended up being shaped as a older version of himself, a figure that took a lot from my grandparents.
In my mind, Faussone had same strong hands of my granddads, the same resistance to hardship of my grandmothers. He had the commitment of my mum, and the proudness of my dad. To me, he was alive in the pages of the book and outside of them, as he seemed to reflect perfectly so many people around me.

I grew up in a family of workers, where everybody worked since a very young age, where it was important that the new generations could get better jobs and better working condition. 
Having a job was considered important and I was taught since a early age of the importance of money. But that importance had implication: money doesn't fall off the sky, nor it grows on tree. "Money doesn't happen, money is the result of working. Money has to be earned". It was like a mantra and even today I feel extremely conscious with my spending. Even when I "splash" out money, I do it considerately, after having some maths done in my head. I'm not able to use a credit card, unless I'm sure I have enough money by the end of the month (no minimal payments for me, thanks).
When I was 16, I wanted a Swatch, they were so popular back then. The one I wanted costed 50 thousands lire and I spent months stopping in the shop in Via Roma, looking at the watch, at the price tag, thinking about it and then go home. When I finally stepped out of the shop with the watch at my wrist, my hands were shaking, because I had spent that money, just like that. 

Still, working was the key of everything.
Working ennobles the man (and the woman) has never been just a saying at home, more a modus vivendi. 
When I was out of job, I felt incredibly bad, depressed, anxious, powerless and, above all, lost. I was not able to function properly anymore. That part of me that kept complaining about work had nothing to be grumpy about and I had moment of pure desperation thinking of what could become of me if I kept being unemployed. I was out of jobs for barely 3 months, but it was more than enough to drive me up to the wall (and my mum too, as she had to endured most of my rants and mood swings).

Nowadays I got a job and I wish I could say I love it, I wish I could feel the same kind of pride Faussone did. It's very hard, not only because it's unlikely for me to see the end results, the product, my work has helped to create, but mainly because offices are realm of managers not real workers. I think there are more manager than the rest: meetings, power point presentation, excel charts with pie and bars, I struggle to feel proud and it makes me sad. Especially if I think about the proud I felt at times in the past for the job I've done. It's the same job, even though in a different field, and even if better paid than in Italy, I find myself more and more thinking about the feeling of getting my job done "back in those days", how a mail of Dj, my manager in India, complimenting the team for the work done made me hilariously happy.
I keep working hard and I still try to do my best; and yes, I still get upset too often when I see things not changing, but looping in managerial mails. I have been told repeatedly not to get too involved in the job, to not care too much. I tried to, but most of the time I fail. Because Faussone is so much into my head, I find it hard to detach from it, to not care. 

And maybe it's because of Faussone I feel the need of making: knitting, baking, anything that will end with some material results in my hands.
I got more compliments for the canestrelli I brought to work today, than for any real result my work ever managed to produce. I wish I could feel as much proud and happy about my job as I do about my canestrelli and baking.

Maybe this is the reason why I found the documentary uneasy. If a pile of money were to fall on my lap tomorrow, I probably would open my own patisserie, rather than partying for the rest of my life. Oh yes, I do hope to retire at some point, if you wonder, but work is still essential to me.

Yet more and more I can see people preferring these easy routes advocated by gurus and advisors or just showing up at work. It's an easy path, the temptation is strong, but why so many people decide to take it? I know it's my family legacy, alongside Faussone, blocking me from taking that path, but after watching "Who wants to be a millionaire?" I can't see what captivated Sarah, Lee and the many like them. I can't understand them.
Partly I envy them.
I wish I could have the same strong (blind?) faith they have in their future success, in their path of life and the decisions they take in order to reach their objective.
Partly I think they lie, to themselves firstly. 
What those books advice is common sense on one side and reckless speculation on the other, a dangerous combination not everybody can handle.
Mainly I believe I rather go on with a life where work is present, trying to be proud of what I do, maybe in the hope of really enjoying it again in the very next future. Well, as long as the job doesn't involve ironing!

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