Thursday, May 24, 2012

"The Man Who Quit Money" by Mark Sundeen

Finished a few days ago reading The Man Who Quit Money and found it a thought-provoking book. It's written by Mark Sundeen and a biography of Daniel Suelo, an old acquittance of Sundeen's who lives in Moab, Utah and hasn't earned or spent any money since 2000.

I learned of the book after reading Sundeen's ridiculously captivating piece "Why Noah Went to the Woods" for Outside Magazine and unfortunately missed seeing Sundeen (along with Suelo) at a recent book signing here in the Bay Area (and he's since moved on to my old college towns of Eugene and Bellingham).

The book itself moved quickly in telling Suelo's life story up to now and had a number of things in it that stood out as interesting both on their own and in common with ideas from other solid books I've read.

Suelo is someone who at many points of his life prior to quitting money dealt with depression and struggled to find his place in the world. As such, this seemingly dramatic life decision was simply one that made sense to him within his interpretation of the world and how he wanted to live. A refrain that comes up repeatedly in the book is that he’s happy living in the immediate and as complete free will doesn't exist (we all die eventually), this is his way of having what free will he can. A concept I kept thinking of while reading was his living way outside of the norm echoed an idea from Tim Ferriss in his book The 4-Hour Workweek (which I reviewed earlier this week). Concept from Ferriss was a good way to make big life changes is to think in terms of worst case scenarios… and if the worst case scenario isn’t that cataclysmic (and it’s usually not), then maybe the big change should be moved forward with.

Also of interest to me from Suelo was his relationship with his community, his family and religion. One knee jerk response to the notion of a guy living without money would be that he must be a hermit, someone estranged from the outside world and especially those he grew up with. Reality of his life is this could hardly be further from the truth. He’s very community oriented and has a close relationship with his parents and siblings. Suelo has an appreciation of how we was raised and the decision to step away from money based on his beliefs is not entirely dissimilar to decisions his parents have made based on their principles.

One aspect of his relationship with his parents is religion, something also important overall in Suelo’s life overall. He was raised a fundamentalist Christian and it’s interesting reading in the book about his struggle in college and early adulthood to figure out whether religion would play the same front and center role in his life that it has for his parents. Suelo went to India to study eastern religions and while there found a reconnection with the beliefs of his parents and teachings of Christianity, but not necessarily with the leadership of organized Christian religion. Additionally, he talks in the book of wanting to live like Jesus and (closely related to this) there’s the notion of living as if heaven was not simply a pearly gate after-death finish line, but a place to live in here on earth. It’s an interesting idea that echoes almost exactly one expressed by Rob Bell in his book Love Wins (which I wrote about a year ago).

Last thing to mention that stood out from the book was something that helped drive Suelo to his life change decision, the concept of money and debt. Going back to the Ferriss book, he wrote in there of how he avoids investments over which he has no control (pretty much the entire stock market for most everyone) and Suelo takes this a step further in the Sundeen book to talk about the illusion of wealth and its negative consequences. This idea around money being the basis of debt and obligation is definitely an interesting one and whether or not the system one day collapses (as some predict), there’s something to the idea (from Suelo and many others) that there’s more compelling and meaningful drivers of behavior than money.