Few men during their lifetime come anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are deep wells of strength that are never used.
- Richard Byrd
When you think of someone who’s extremely resourceful, what images come to mind? Do you think of someone who’s wealthy, well-connected, and in control of significant assets? Or do you imagine someone who’s creative, intelligent, and determined?
When I think of resourcefulness, I picture someone like Les Stroud, the guy who lived in the Canadian wilderness with his wife for a year, built an off-grid house powered by the sun and wind, and stars in the show Survivorman. Instead of taking advantage of modern camping gear, he brings a pocketknife and a video camera and films himself living off the land. His primary resources are internal, not external.
Inner vs. Outer Resources
Consider these two lists (not exhaustive, just for the sake of illustration):
Which is more important to you? Which do you spend the most time developing?
For example, if you work at a job because you need the money, but the work doesn’t challenge or inspire you, then you’re devoting a lot of time to acquiring outer resources while investing little in your inner resources. On the other hand, if you’re going to school to acquire knowledge and skills, you’re building your inner resources while investing little in your external resources.
Here are some key differences between inner and outer resources:
- Depletion. Inner resources aren’t depleted when spent. In fact, the more you exercise them, the stronger they become. Outer resources are usually diminished from use, or there’s an additional resource drain to use them. For example, to use technology, you need electricity, which you can pay for with money, and the value of the technology depreciates while you use it, eventually becoming obsolete.
- Conversion. It’s easier to use inner resources to create outer resources than vice versa. If you’re very disciplined, you can earn plenty of money, but if you’re rich, you can’t readily buy a more disciplined mind.
- Security. Inner resources are more secure than outer resources. It’s more likely you’ll lose your money than your knowledge. Outer resources are subject to greater risk of loss.
- Transferability. Outer resources can be transferred from one person to another. Inner resources are tied to the individual.
To be thrown upon one’s own resources, is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously unsusceptible.
- Benjamin Franklin
Because of their strong advantages, I think it’s more important to build inner resources than outer resources, especially during your 20s. If you find yourself at age 30 to be someone who’s driven, disciplined, ambitious, and skillful but completely broke, you’ll be in far better shape to lead a fulfilling life than someone who’s wealthy but lazy and unfocused.
When you build your inner resources, even at the expense of your outer resources, you’ll enjoy more freedom in the long run. But if you do the opposite and focus on building outer resources first, you’ll create a cage for yourself, becoming dependent on unstable assets.
If forced to make a choice, I’d rather give up all my outer resources than my inner ones. Take away my money and possessions. Nuke my website. Eliminate my business contacts and friends. Destroy my reputation. Put me in a situation where I must work two jobs just to make ends meet, so I have little free time. But allow me to retain my intelligence, self-discipline, passion, and other inner resources, and I’ll do just fine. I know the inner resources will enable me to eventually recreate anything I might desire on the outside.
In today’s uncertain economy, people are trying to figure out where to hold their resources/wealth. Should you invest in oil, gold, foreign currency, etc? Honestly the best place to invest is yourself. Turn your external assets into internal knowledge and skills. If you want to invest in some external entity, consider investing in one that helps people invest in themselves. When external resources get scarce, it’s time to pump more energy into the internal side, such as by investing in education and training for yourself and others. That will produce far more benefit than owning shiny metal.
The human mind is our fundamental resource.
- John F. Kennedy
The most reliable way to acquire outer resources is via your inner resources. By creating value for others through focused, disciplined effort, you gain access to the fruits of their labors as well, usually through the medium of money. The added benefit is that when you exercise your inner resources, they grow stronger, thereby allowing you to acquire outer resources more efficiently as well.
Outer resources are merely a means to an end. The point of acquiring inner and outer resources is to apply them to an interesting purpose. Otherwise you fall back on the default purpose of survival, which by itself isn’t very motivating. For most people it isn’t terribly difficult to prevent themselves from dying.
Some people get so caught up in resource acquisition, especially on the external side, that they never set any serious goals other than to acquire more resources. This effectively translates into working for survival. Utterly pointless.
Cultivating a healthy flow of resources may be an important goal in your life, but it can’t be the most important goal.
When people don’t take the time to define a clear purpose for their lives, they pick up a socially conditioned false purpose like resource acquisition. Then they get depressed and feel empty because resource acquisition just isn’t inspiring enough to center one’s whole life around it.
Another problem is that people fall back on the goal of resource acquisition as a way of procrastinating on their true purpose. They say, “I need to do X, Y, and Z first, so I’ll have the money and freedom to do what I really should be doing.” That’s a hollow excuse.
You can build the inner and outer resources you need while working directly on your most inspiring goals. Skip the side projects where money is your primary aim unless you’re absolutely desperate for cash and really do need to focus on survival. Otherwise you’re just distracting yourself from what really matters. Don’t let the fear of big goals push you back into survival mode.
If there’s some grand mission you’d finally tackle if only you had a few billion dollars, you should be pursuing that mission now. Not having a billion dollars is just an excuse. Chances are that someone else is doing something similar while completely broke. If you were more resourceful, could you get started right now? Certainly you could.
Stick with the path that has a heart, even if it scares you. You’ll acquire the resources you need along the way, whether they be internal or external. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that resource acquisition is the point of life.