I Found a Life More Meaningful Than Making Money (Audio Essay)
By Fang Hao, China
Lately a saying on the internet has been popular, “Without money, how will you support your family ties, solidify your love, and connect with your friends? With your words? Forget it! People are too busy for that!” In a society turned entirely to money, everything is dominated by such pragmatic considerations, everything material and immaterial are tokens that can be exchanged for money, and the number of bills in your pocket decide your value and status. If you have much money, others will scramble to serve and flatter you, but having no money makes others look down on you and make friends and relatives avoid you. As the saying goes “In time of prosperity, friends will be plenty; in time of adversity, not one amongst twenty.” More and more people use money to evaluate everything, believing that only being wealthy can express their individual value and allow them to live a superior life, so many people become slaves to money, willing to sacrifice everything to get more money, even their lives, health, and personal dignity. Once, I didn’t know what was the most meaningful life, so working to make money became my goal, until the day a serious illness brought sudden understanding, made me realize the dark actor behind money, and helped me find a more meaningful life than making money.
The Days When Making Money Was My Life
In the 1980’s, I married into a family known locally for their poverty over my father’s objections. My husband had many brothers and sisters, and they often didn’t know where their next meal would come from. In contrast with my own family, they couldn’t have been more different. But this is when I truly experienced the meaning of the saying, “Money is not everything, but without it you can do nothing.” I was proud, and I decided to rely on my own effort to rid myself of the label “poor” and live a wealthy life that others would envy. So, I sent my daughter, only months old, to be raised by my family, and went to the city with my husband to seek our fortune.
At the time, my husband only had temporary work at a state-run company. His salary was low. To earn more money, I started doing men’s work at a factor—operating large production equipment. Even though the work was tiring and dangerous, I was happy to bear it, I had often heard my father say “No pain, no gain.” Suffering was necessary to live a better life.
After working for several years, we scrimped and saved to build a 3-storey house in the county capital, and life got better. By our village’s standards, we were wealthy. The other villagers admired and looked up to us, and often said, with upraised thumbs, that I was a capable worker, which greatly satisfied my vanity. I thought, “Money is wonderful!” But compared to the people in the city, we were still poor, and were far from a life that would make others envious. So, to live an even better life, I kept struggling.
My years of experience working in the factory taught me that my ability to earn money from labor alone were far too limited. I would only be able to make more, and more quickly, if I were my own boss. So, I looked for business opportunities everywhere and prepared to open my own business. After a period of market research, I saw that health and beauty supplements were a popular industry with high customer turnover. This, I thought, was a good way to get rich! After I discussed it with my husband, I scraped together 200,000 yuan to open a beauty products, cosmetics, and health supplements direct sales shop. To help get my business going, I busied myself with all kinds of training classes like business management, professional knowledge, how to develop customer resources, etc. After a period of effort, I gradually began to get more customers, and my business became more and more brisk. To develop more sources of customers, improve my business, and augment the income, I spent every day among women from rich families, eating and going out to dance halls with them, complimenting them, and flattering them, because only then would they open their wallets and spend at my shop. Even though I loathed doing things in such a false way, to make money, I had to force myself to fit in with this upper echelon of society where people all live wearing a mask. If I was physically exhausted during my days working at the factory, my days doing business were mentally and physically exhausting. But, after several years of struggle and effort, my business prospered and grew more with each passing day. I bought a 5-storey villa in the city center as well as a sedan, and I finally lived the upper-middle class life I had dreamed of every night. My accomplishments earned me effusive praise and compliments from my neighbors, as well as commendations and admiration from my neighbors and friends. My pride swelled, and I felt that the respect, flattery, and privileges given to those with money was wonderful. At this moment, I felt everything I sacrificed had been worth it.
Human desire is said to be a hole that can never be filled, and the facts proved this saying true. As my business grew, so did my yearning for wealth. I made a plan to expand my company to 16 shops in short order, at which point I would have over ten million yuan in the bank. To further grow my business, I was often away running errands and was rarely at home, so my husband had to take care of everything there. My husband often complained about this, saying I only cared about my business and money, and that I didn’t care about my family at all. I was furious at my husband’s complaints and lack of understanding. I felt insulted and didn’t know who I could confide in. I thought, “Why do I work this hard to make money if not for the family? My family was notoriously poor, but thanks to my years of hard work, we’ve become people everyone admires for having money. Isn’t this the result of all my hard work? If I wasn’t concerned about this family, would I run myself ragged like this?” The different views of myself and my husband led to constant fighting over insignificant issues. My family members didn’t understand me, and added to the usual infighting, struggles, and two-faced nature of the business world, I was constantly physically and emotionally exhausted. Nearly every day my stress showed on my face, I didn’t eat or sleep well, my insomnia got worse, and many kinds of chronic illnesses began to affect me: recurrent mastitis, nerves, chronic heart disease … Seeing that I was exhausted every day, my concerned daughter said to me, with pity, “Mom, you used to be healthy. Why did you get so sick once you started making money? Is money really that important?” My daughter’s words made me think: To get rid of poverty and live a life others would envy, I struggled and drove myself to exhaustion to make money. Even though I had a good life and had made others look up to me, the result was that I drove my body to collapse and my family misunderstood me. Who could know the bitter suffering behind the glamorous exterior? Was this really a price worth paying to earn more money? The torment of my illness and in my soul made me miserable, and I often found myself crying alone.