From the book, 21 Questions for 21 Millionaires: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Success, By Brandon Pipkin.
B: Was it during that time that you accumulated a good amount of wealth?
Wealth is an interesting thing. I accumulated and lost wealth a number of times during that time.
One of the clichés about capitalism (is) the flow of capital, cash flow. There are allusions of capitalism to flow and the reason is this: Capitalism creates a giant pool of capital. What is capital? We think money, and it is, but what it really is, is individual effort and energy, which is reflected as money.
You don't get paid unless you work. What is money but frozen work? That's all money is, frozen effort. So capitalism creates this vast pool of capital, and that capital flows constantly. Imagine the largest river you've ever seen. A capitalist is one who tries to dam off or block off a small portion of that giant stream. Then this little whirlpool of money comes in and will stay there, potentially forever, unless the rocks are washed away by changes or circumstances, or unless there's some reason why you lose it.
The laborers are those who are swimming in the river, they're just out there floating along with the capital. They're trying to grab a little bit for themselves. But the capitalists are just standing on the bank. The ultimate example of that, of course, is Bill Gates who threw some big rocks in the river and that got a pretty good little whirlpool going.
So to answer your question, ‘When did you acquire wealth?', if you talk about net worth while I was practicing law in Louisiana in the late 1970s, early 1980s, I had become wealthy by those standards.
Then we had the oil crunch. In 1974 oil fell, there were gas lines. Then again in the 1980s there was another giant oil collapse. South Louisiana was fueled by the oil economy. I owned a lot in oil and gas interest and real estate and lost all of that. My net worth went negative on at least one occasion, maybe two.
As with most people of an entrepreneurial bent, you go up, the bottom falls out and you've got to fight your way back in. That just happens.
B: Did you ever set out to make a lot of money in your life?
No, I really didn't. Justice Tate – he loved me and I loved him – said, “My Boy, you're going to be incredibly successful because you've got all the skills and talents, but you're never going to be really rich.”
I said, “Why, Judge?”
He said, “Because you don't have that burning desire to be really rich. I know people,” he was 62, he had met people, “who are really rich, big rich, and all they care about, all their waking moments, all they like in life, is focused on accumulating wealth. You don't do that. You love to spend money, love to make money, and love to be successful, but you don't have to be really wealthy.”
Although I've obviously done all right, I'm not really wealthy. I'm not wealthy like the guys who fly around in the G5 jets. The trade off to that is I have a life, I get to do things that interest me.
B: Tell me more about that.
Starting when I was 18, my mother sent me out every summer to do something different. I continued that with my children. For example, I sent all of them to Washington to work for a congressman.
She sent me out to fight forest fires in Wyoming and Canada. When I moved here 10 years ago, (I was) 50-years-old. I took up skiing and at 51, I became a ski instructor. In the second year I was here, I became a volunteer firefighter.
I was the oldest volunteer firefighter in the history of the force. I went from practicing law in south Louisiana with no hobbies to being here and having a whole new life. That's because I had the wisdom to obey my wife and move here and the courage to believe her and do what she said, which was walk away from a very successful practice and move to another state with no practice whatsoever and no future.
B: Why did she recommend that?
She came here to be with my son who was in school at the time and loved the mountains and wanted me here, but she also knew and intuitively understood that I had really become stuck in south Louisiana. The proof of it was, if you asked me ‘Why don't you move?' I would have said, ‘I can't move, there's no way.' Well, there's a way for everything. So that proved that I was stuck.
Everyone thinks of themselves as Tarzan swinging through the jungle on a vine and everybody wants to be on the other vine. But they think they're going to swing the vine a little harder until they can grab it, but they can never quite get there.
If you watch a Tarzan movie, he lets go of the vine and sails through the air and then he grabs the other vine. There is nothing in life that will invigorate you like walking away from your job with no prospects. That's sailing through the air.
I didn't relish that, I didn't want that; my wife ordered me to and she's smarter than me so I did what she said. It was scary, but it also turned out to be the best thing I ever did.
It reinvigorated me, got me unstuck. I was in a new city, a new environment. I had two things I had to walk away from. I had to walk away from my law firm and my oil services business. The latter being the more difficult one, but I walked away from both.
It was my law firm, I was the senior guy. When I got to Denver they said, “You can't quit. You can have an office there, but you can't quit.” That made that transition a lot easier, but that hadn't been promised.
We sold my oil field service company right at that time to Baker-Hughes for a lot of money, but that wasn't in the cards when I moved.
So it turned out to be OK.
…What's interesting about that (business), you'll hear this (similar story) from a lot of people, that's by my count the seventh business that I was in.
The first six failed.
They failed for every conceivable reason. One of them was too successful.
I was practicing law full-time and wanted to get in business. I had no concept whatsoever of what ‘in business meant.' I was a simple laborer. A lawyer is not a capitalist, a lawyer is a laborer.
I decided I needed to get in business, so I did. A whole series of them before it worked.
B: Why did you decide you needed to get in business?
In part because I wanted an interest other than practicing law. Second, I saw that the people who were really wealthy, who could retire very comfortably, very early, were in business. I looked around and said, ‘I see 80-year-old lawyers. I don't see any 80-year-old oil field service company owners.'
I did it mostly for family security, but also because I wanted to learn, to try something different.
B: That seems to be a theme throughout your life.
One of the most difficult things in life is the fear of fear, or the fear of panic. We tend to live very closed lives, so as not to expose ourselves to fear. Fighting the fear of fear has been the theme of my whole life. I don't know why, it's just something I'm driven to do. I don't like to do it, it's my lot in life.
I had a good friend who was a psychologist who told me that I would never be satisfied. He said, “Oh, you'll be happy and you'll have joy, but you'll never have satisfaction because you have a restless soul.”
That's a question that you ought to add to every one of these (interviews): ‘Do you have a restless soul?'
A restless soul is one that just has to keep pushing.
To read more from 21 Questions for 21 Millionaires, go to http://www.21for21.com/?p=1049.