Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ben Stein Rocks

I read the weirdest personal finance column today.

Yahoo! Finance has a few rotating columnists, including my beloved Suze Orman, the guy who writes the Automatic Millionaire stuff, and Ben Stein (as in "Bueller? Bueller?," Clear Eyes commercials, and the Nixon administration). Here's the specific part of Ben's column today that I found completely odd yet absolutely true:

I'm 61, and have many friends who are roughly the same age. In fact, most of my friends range in age from 50 to around 65. Some of them are far happier and more self-confident than others. Some of them have plans to go places, play golf, take photos of exotic lands.

That's some of them. The others are in fear, afraid to leave their houses, afraid to think of growing old -- just plain afraid.

I can think of two major differences between the ones who are successful and the ones who are not. The first difference is that the confident group did not disable themselves by drug use or excessive alcohol use.

It's an amazing thing, but it's true: The men and women I know who have spent a lot of time smoking pot have, by and large, thrown their lives away in the pursuit of feeling no pain. There are exceptions, but typically they can barely get out of bed, let alone pursue a career aggressively or save in a disciplined way. Basic, long-term sobriety seems to me a precondition for a successful life, and certainly a precondition -- in most cases -- for a life of prudence as far as money is concerned. The man or woman lost in marijuana-induced bliss cannot and will not be able to evaluate investment options and pick the best ones -- it's that simple. One of the many blessings of sobriety is to be able to invest sensibly.

After I read that, I thought to myself, "I knew there was a reason I've never done illicit drugs! Take that, college friends who mocked me for being a goody two-shoes!" But then I realized something: Most of the heavy pot-smokers I knew several years ago aren't doing a whole lot with themselves these days. They're still hanging around their hometowns or their careers aren't as bright and shiny as they could be. Also, let's take the Us Weekly angle (and, yes, this a stretch, but let me argue it): Jennifer Aniston is rumored to be a heavy pot smoker, and what does she do on her time off? Hides in her house, chain-smokes cigarettes, calls her friends to consult with them on every little thing, and generally comes off as this timid ice queen who's neither extremely likeable nor extremely bankable.

Makes sense in the context of Ben's article.

I was so taken with his piece that I e-mailed him a short question about it. And, guess what? He e-mailed me back. I'm not even talking the next week or even the next day. Within a couple of hours of sending my initial e-mail, I got a short, to-the-point response from him. Okay, put me down as an instant fan. But at the same time, I wasn't surprised. He seems like a stand-up guy, and he is one. It's just that simple.

Also, speaking of Us Weekly, I was puttering around on Ben's website, and I found this 2003 article he wrote about the baseline vapidity of celebrity culture and what really matters in life. Whatever your political views or religious beliefs (and I don't necessarily agree with everything he says), you've got to admit he has a point that I think most of us -- especially in New York -- could stand to hear a little more often.


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