What would you do if you woke up one day and were suddenly worth $100 million? Well, if you were like Max Levchin (the co-founder of PayPal), you’d start off by feeling “worthless and stupid.” Then you’d spend a year being overwhelmed because you wouldn’t know what to do with the rest of your life. And finally, you’d start a new company where you’d work yourself so hard – one hundred hours a week hard – that you’d rarely see your fiancée or have enough time to move into your apartment, so instead, you’d live out of boxes for the next three years.
In Max Levchin’s defense, none of this was part of his original plan. As he explained to the NYTimes, after eBay bought PayPal, Mr. Levchin wanted to spend the next year “exploring his inner self”. But apparently there was something so unappealing about that exploration (which in Levchin’s case would have included getting to know his Jewish self, as he was born a Jew in Communist Ukraine) that he dove right back into the workforce from which he had just become liberated. You see, there was one luxury that all of Levchin’s money couldn’t buy. Distraction.
Many of us claim that we only work in order to live and not the other way around, but being relieved of financial burdens seems to be a burden in and of itself. It forces you to figure out what you’re living for. Which is a pretty big question to tackle. So instead of facing the issue head on, Levchin opted to get distracted all over again.
Although Mr. Levchin admitted to the Times that he has already earned more money than he could ever spend, he will not feel successful until his new company, Slide.com, is worth, “at least $1.54 billion” – what eBay paid for PayPal. “Otherwise,” Levchin quipped, “what have I learned?”
Mr. Levchin doesn’t even particularly care what services his company offers. As he explained to the Times, “I’d run any company; it’s completely irrelevant to me. It’s really about this drive to win.” But the kind of game Max Levchin is playing has no winners. And it has no end. If Mr. Levchin had only spent that year delving into his inner Jewish self, he might have finally learned how to become wealthy. As our sages so wisely once said, “Who is truly rich, he who is happy with his lot.”
Stop running, Max. The answers are out there if you’re brave enough to look. Just go and learn what your heritage has to say about purpose and meaning. You won’t be sorry. And hey, if the money’s too much of a distraction, it’s not a problem, I’ll gladly take it off your hands.