You hear about entrepreneurs owning fancy cars, yachts, and jets, right?
Well, I once owned a helicopter. So there.
But it only lasted a few months. When I look back on my days as a high-flying, chopper-riding, bigshot entrepreneur, I have a few regrets.
And, as with anything in life, I learned some great lessons.
As soon as my buddies learned that I owned a helicopter, they started calling it the Patelicopter. (I have corny friends, but it was funny at the time.)
No, I didn't outright own the helicopter. I'm not that crazy. Helicopters are expensive. Instead, I did a fractional corporate lease (think timeshare).
Instead of dropping a few million on a fancy helicopter, I did the math and figured out a way to "own" it without too much hassle. I didn't need it on demand or everyday. It made more sense for me to lease it.
My leasing fee was only a few thousand a month and allowed me a certain number of hours to use the helicopter. The leasing fee covered fuel, the pilot, insurance, and landing fees.
Basically, on a bad month, I didn't spend more than $5,000.
Why did I lease a helicopter to begin with?
At that point in my business, I could justify the helicopter expenditure.
If you know me, you probably realize I can be obsessed with numbers and ROI. I knew down to the penny how much one hour of my time was worth. I also knew down to the penny how much money I would save by getting from point A to point B faster.
I was spending hours driving between San Diego and L.A. The trip cost me as much as three and a half hours in traffic! I also had a lot of flights into L.A., and I would waste over an hour and a half getting from LAX to my hotel. It was driving me crazy, and costing my businesses thousands of dollars in lost time!
Solution: I leased a helicopter.
Now, the trip from LAX to my hotel was only 15 minutes, and the commute from San Diego to L.A. was only 30 minutes!
My time in San Diego was extremely valuable. For example, I would spend an hour collaborating with my business partner, Mike. We would tweak a landing page, and that would net the company a few extra hundred thousand over the course of a few months. The money spent on the helicopter lease was well worth it.
Yes, it was fun to "own" a helicopter.
There are some things you can do with a helicopter that are ridiculously awesome. Sometimes, I used the helicopter to have some fun. Mostly, I just let my friends use it for their enjoyment, like fly out to Catalina for the day.
One time, just to freak out the friends who were flying with me, I had the pilot fake a crash into the ocean. (Cruel joke, but absolutely hilarious.) I would sometimes fly to the Staples Center for a Lakers game just for the heck of it. (Does anyone in their right mind want to drive a car to the stadium on game night?)
Mostly, though, the helicopter was a business tool. It served its purpose, had a positive ROI, and taught me a few things.
Lessons from the Patelicopter.
About the time that I ended my lease on the helicopter, I was having all kinds of realizations about money and life.
You see, I grew up as a normal middle-class kid in the U.S. My parents worked hard to put food on the table. I didn't go to private school, didn't receive a new car when I graduated, and didn't always wear name brand clothes.
When I started making a lot of money, I wasn't sure how to enjoy it. At age 16, my businesses were making $20,000 a month, but I wasn't even taking a salary. I sunk every penny back into the businesses.
Eventually, I decided to enjoy my success. I bought fancy clothes, started collecting watches, and scooped up real estate like crazy. Life started to spiral out of control, and into a frenzied mess of stuff, hassle, confusion, and materialism.
I hated it. So I made some major changes. Here's what I learned along the way.
When you take luxury for granted, something is wrong with you.
I was recently visiting a friend in Toronto. He's an ultra-rich multimillionaire who buys a lot of nice stuff. He picked me up from the airport in his $250,000 McLaren. This car turns heads.
On the way home from the airport, he told me, "Last week, I noticed that my side mirror got dinged up. And you know what? I didn't even care! I stopped trying to baby the car. I mean, it's just a car! I take it for granted now. And that's kind of sad."
I totally understood what he was saying, because I have experienced the same thing. When you start to experience life at a new high, it's exciting at first. But soon, the new high becomes the new normal. Any increase in enjoyment requires a huge boost in spending or risk-taking. But then it's back to humdrum, normal, boring.
Keep doing that for a while, and you'll end up ruining your life. I got to enjoy some nice things and fun experiences, but when I started taking my lavish spending for granted, I knew that I needed to change.
Wastefulness is sickening.
The other thing I noticed about owning a helicopter was the waste. First, I would waste money if I didn't use all my minutes in a month. I was also contributing to L.A.'s pollution problem.
I got to thinking about wastefulness. If I could rid my life of wastefulness, I could make a positive difference elsewhere. Instead of spending the cash on faster and better transportation, I realized I could make a great difference in other people's life with the same amount of monthly cost.
Spending money on ultra-luxury items isn't normal. It's kind of twisted.
More stuff does not equal more happiness. Even though we know this is true, we don't always act like it. I knew that yet another Patek watch wasn't going to make me happier, but I still collected them.
If I wanted something nice or expensive, I would just buy it. Helicopter? No problem. Thousand-dollar shoes? Of course.
It occurred to me that this kind of behavior wasn't normal It was actually a bit twisted.
More money on more stuff means more stress.
Stuff creates stress. And when we spend money to buy more stuff, we're basically purchasing stress!
A stress-free life doesn't cost much, as long as you have enough to cover your basic needs.
As I made more money, I started investing in real estate at a rapid pace. One day, I called up my credit card company, American Express, to add a second user to my card. The representative began working through the security questions with me, asking me about the homes that I owned. The American Express employee listed four properties, and asked me to select the one that was mine.
But I didn't recognize any of them! I had been purchasing properties so fast I didn't even know what I owned. I would buy properties without ever looking at them, let alone walking through them! I was buying homes I didn't live in (they were for investment purposes), purchasing crap I didn't need, and collecting stuff that was sucking away my enjoyment of life!
There's a limit to how much stress you can take. I was stuffing my life full of stressful stuff, and getting zero joy from it.
Gratitude is more fulfilling than greed.
What it boils down to is this: Greed sucks.
I had always wanted to be rich. As a kid, I used to dream of being able to buy Air Jordans with my own money. In high school, I thought it would be cool to be like one of the rich kids who drove to school in a new BMW. I wanted to make it big one day.
And then, eventually, I did. I waited years to give myself a salary. Then, I let myself enjoy it all.
It got disappointing fast. There's only so much happiness you can get from riding in a helicopter, sitting in a Ferrari, or wearing a Patek timepiece.
My life transformation began when I finally understood that gratitude was more fulfilling than greed. Greed cost money, created stress, and produced disappointment. Gratitude, however, was free, and it made me happier than any helicopter ever could!
I'm not saying that owning a helicopter means you're greedy! For me, it made businesses sense. If owning a helicopter makes business sense for you, then go for it!
I don't own a helicopter anymore.
My stint as a helicopter owner only lasted six months. I had it long enough to experience it and learn lessons from it. Eventually, I figured out that it was cheaper to pay people to travel to me than pay to lease a helicopter.
That's why I don't own a helicopter anymore. In fact, I don't own a car. Or a home. Or much stuff at all!
Why not? Maybe it's because I'm just reacting to the lifestyle of greed and excess. But I've found that living without stuff is a deeply fulfilling way to live.
I can focus better, enjoy more, and live in a way that allows me to value relationships over possessions. Giving my money to others is truly satisfying! Forming relationships with people is enjoyable!
My life isn't entirely normal, but it's stress free (other than business). It's a lot more enjoyable. And I don't need a helicopter to enjoy it any more.
What extravagant purchases have you made that actually seemed foolish in retrospect?