It’s easy for very wealthy people to act like having money isn’t such a big deal. “Anyone who thinks money is ever ‘just money’ couldn’t have much of it,” as Charles Van Doren says in the movie Quiz Show.
But occasionally a person with quite a lot of money demonstrates that he still thinks reasonably and practically about what money is good for. Such is the case with the ridiculously symmetrical, highly objectified Mad Men star Jon Hamm, who told Wealth Simple his thoughts on stacking paper for their money diaries series.
First off, Hamm is not a lifelong blueblood — he’s held plenty of lowly service jobs that taught him about the value of hard work:
I was a busboy and a dishwasher, and eventually I worked my way up the ladder and became a waiter. Sweet Rose was a sweet place. I learned how to cook and how to keep a clean kitchen. I learned how to be nice to people and to ask for help when I need it. I learned to love work and find meaning in it. To this day, I like going to work, clocking in and clocking out, the satisfaction of a job well done.
He knows firsthand how service jobs foster compassion for humanity — something rich people are notably bad at:
The appreciation you have for anyone working in a service capacity goes up radically the longer you work a service job yourself — you quickly learn what a difference a little bit of kindness and common courtesy can make for people. It’s important to know how to treat people, and to learn how to respond when someone you’re working with is having a bad day.
He worked as a teacher at his high school in St. Louis, and learned how undercompensated they are, so now he donates his money to students there:
Teachers in general are pretty under-respected and underpaid. That’s a real drag. Investing in higher teacher salaries is one of the most obvious things we could do to improve life in our society. I spent two years teaching drama, and then came back to L.A. Since then, I’ve found a little success, and now I’ve been able to endow a scholarship for John Burroughs students in my mother’s name: the Deborah Garner Hamm Memorial Scholarship. We just helped one kid to graduate college, and another one is working his way through right now. That’s been a gratifying way for me to spend some money.
He knows that money isn’t magic happy juice:
Money, for me, is a means to an end: to pay your bills and eat. Growing up, we were never rich, but I was around money a lot — I had friends who had money. And I didn’t see that people with money seemed any happier than those who got by on less. I’ve never been driven by money — there are more important things to life.
But he doesn’t pretend not to need it, either:
But not having money can be a hindrance — it can make life hard, and you spend time worrying about not having it. To me, the main reason to have money is to remove the hindrances that accompany being broke. Once those hindrances are out of the way, it doesn’t matter if you have a ton of money or just a comfortable amount.
Sure, that’s easy to say when your net worth is reportedly $30 million, but at least he recognizes it can’t solve his shitty life problems, either. Hamm recently went to rehab to deal with alcohol abuse and ended his long-term relationship with Jennifer Westfeldt in the public eye—both the kinds of problems money simultaneously helps to create and to fix, but cannot shield you from.
Yet all this gives him something else money can’t buy: perspective.
Some people say that the older you get, the wiser you become and the easier life gets, but I don’t find that to really hold true. As you get older, making decisions can become even harder, since it feels like there’s so much more at stake. There’s more at stake with relationship stuff, with career stuff, and with money stuff. I think the best advice I have for anyone facing tough decisions is not to let the stakes loom so large in their mind that making a decision becomes impossible. You have to keep a healthy sense of perspective — don’t sweat every choice too much or overthink things. If you take a wrong step, you’ll find the right one.
Thanks for the wisdom boner, Jon Hamm.