Rich vs. Wealthy

Rich vs. Wealthy

I was born with STEM skills like a lot of us nerds – skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and logic. As skilled as I am on that left side of my brain, I think the right side failed to develop in utero (Can anyone else relate?). This explains why growing up I relied so heavily on tools like that big, red hardcopy of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary with its endless vault of information on tissue paper pages. But, after years of trusting that big red book, I finally found a mistake in the dictionary (I think they pay you for finding those): they have “Riches” and “Wealth” listed as synonyms. While I know many use rich and wealthy interchangeably, in real life you have to learn the difference between the two and why it matters.


My journey is one towards wealth, not riches.


Being rich is most often described as having a relative abundance of material possessions, resources and money- essentially more WHAT than you need. It’s the essence of materialism, which has become more and more pejorative, and for good reason. Richness is quantitative, measurable and comparable. It’s visible, tangible and essentially central to all transactions.


However, no matter how rich you become, very few of those valuable resources that define your richness actually appreciate with time. Most erode in value through depreciation, inflation, market preference change or frank decay. Paradoxically, the value of your riches depends on what others perceive. Your perception usually doesn’t matter as much. Ever try to sell your favorite used furniture piece? Quite simply, where you are today is not where you will be tomorrow unless you continue to accumulate.


Fortunately, as a physician, being rich probably won’t be a major concern for you. This may be hard to see now at this point in your career or you may not yet appreciate the trajectory you are already on. In most other people’s eyes, you are already rich, and that richness will grow as you continue to accumulate utilizing your education, hard work and good counsel. Stay on your current path and your riches box will be checked.


What is more important than your riches box is your wealth box. Both your pursuit of riches and wealth are a pursuit of zeroes.1 While riches are measured in the number of zeroes in your brokerage account, wealth depends on much more than that. True wealth is measured by a different set of zeroes: zero regrets, zero missed experiences, zero missed learning opportunities, zero bad relationships. I am certain that you have seen an example (if not many) of someone who is undoubtably rich but certainly not wealthy (or happy, for that matter). I am equally certain that although they are a lot richer than you will ever be, you wouldn’t trade places with them.


If you’ll recall, the “why’s” of life are those things that can’t be counted with numbers. They are those things that make you feel alive, fulfilled and connected – the fuel for your joy. Being wealthy is having a life of WHY abundance. The truth is, you can be wealthy without even being rich, though in our American culture of materialism and accumulation, this can be difficult to achieve. Interestingly, in all my travels I have found that the happiest place on earth wasn’t Disneyland. The loudest laughter, the liveliest singing and the widest smiles were found in the villages of west Africa, the poorest continent on earth. I learned a great lesson on true wealth from a whole group of children playing with the simplest of toys- a rolling coffee can lid attached to a stick with a single nail. They didn’t need their Nintendo switch or ipad. They didn’t need to be rich. They had their “why”.


So let’s put this lesson into practice – how do we move from being rich to being truly wealthy?


Here are three steps to accomplishing this goal:

  1. Build a strong & resilient wealth foundation by learning to manage your Time & Health
  2. Grow your WHAT for the sole purpose of facilitating a life of true wealth.
  3. Fill your life abundantly full of living “why’s”.


When it comes to these steps, I relate well with the esteemed 21st century philosopher Ted Lasso (season three, yeah!)- I am a work in “progmess.” We weren’t taught any of this in school, college, med school or fellowship. Nope, these lessons come through living, failing forward, and learning from those moments. I know I have a long way to go, but I constantly strive to get 1% better every day at living a life of true wealth. It does seem to get easier as you get richer and older, when the relative value of the WHAT goes down and the relative value of the WHY increases.


I believe the key to success in this lesson is to take the above-mentioned steps early enough to avoid living with a weak wealth foundation. As always, being the center spot in Nerd Bingo, my motto is to be ahead of the curve. Looking ahead, we’ll spend some time breaking down these three steps in detail. I’m looking forward to learning from each other.


Talk soon.


*Terance Tsue MD FACS, as Manager of TTTsue LLC

1Andrew Rosen Kiplinger 3/24/23: Being Rich vs being wealthy: what’s the difference