John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, is frustrated not only with the financial world, but also with how many of us seem to focus too much on stuff, and not enough on the more important things in life. In his book Enough, he reflects on his career and life experiences to offer ideas on how to counter our culture of greed and complicated materialism. At 79, he sounds a bit like a wise grandfather gathering his readers by his side for a long, cozy chat.
"I've developed a profound concern that our society is moving in the wrong direction," he says. "In life... we focus too much on things and not enough on the intangibles that make things worthwhile; too much on success (a word I've never liked), and not enough on character, without which success is meaningless... We let false notions of personal satisfaction blind us to the real sense of calling that gives work meaning for ourselves, our communities, and our society."
Bogle has provided a grounded perspective throughout the financial crisis; earlier in the year, he testified in front of Congress about some of the underlying problems of our retirement savings systems: People tend to be overly conservative or overly risky with their investments and over-pay in fees. He explains why he favors simple and low-cost financial vehicles, such as the type of mutual funds that he pioneered at Vanguard, over more complicated options.
On a more personal level, Bogle recommends we stop obsessing over our net worth for long enough to count our blessings. He shares his own appreciation for his circumstances: His family taught him to work hard at an early age, his mother made sure he got a great education, and he received a new heart when he needed it. Of course, it's easy to feel lucky when you have been as financially successful as Bogle.
He admits that he has more than "enough;" he can provide for his wife, children, and grandchildren, as well as donate half of his income to charities. In comparison to his peers that head up financial companies, he says he earns relatively little. Of course, in a world where net worth is measured in the billions, "relatively little" is still fabulously wealthy. But despite the fact that it's easier for Bogle to feel financially fulfilled than it is for the rest of us, his philosophy still resonates. If we take the time to shift our perspective a bit, most of us probably also have more than "enough."