The idea of “fuck you money”—first popularised by Nassim Taleb—is accepted as common coin now. The idea is that having a significant reserve of cash makes it easier to speak truth to power, or to stand up for what you believe in and the people you care about. For example, if you have a mortgage and three kids, but no savings, it’s unlikely that you’ll call out your boss for being unethical, stupid or sexually harassing an employee. The consequences for you—and for the family you support—might be too high. But if you had a one or two year runway, you’d be much more likely to push back, speak up and face the consequences.
This is the problem. What most people focus on with this idea is the third word: “money”. They think that “money” is a prerequisite to “fuck you”. They think that once they have the money, then they can start saying “fuck you”. They think that once they have security and comfort propping them up, that then and only then can they start being a truth speaker, someone who takes no shit. Wrong.
Think about all the people who could be classified as having fuck you money, people who have enough enough resources to live for several years at their current standard of living with no income. It’s a lot of people. Now, how many of these people embody the “fuck you” mindset? How many of them, upon acquiring financial security or independence, become warriors for their own moral and ethical beliefs? Not many.
That’s because “fuck you money” is pointless without a “fuck you” mindset. If having nothing, you haven’t got the courage to speak or stand up, what makes you think that a few zeroes are going to change that?
In my short time on this planet, I’ve never heard of someone undergoing a complete character transformation solely because of an upswing in riches and resources. I’ve definitely heard of the opposite, a degradation, but never have I come across a virtuous transformation due only to a newfound abundance. The point is, if you’re not courageous when you’ve got nothing, it’s unlikely you’ll be brave when you have everything.
I’m only talking about this because I came across this passage in Hemingway on Writing. It’s from one of Hemingway’s letters to Alfred Rice:
“I do not wish to squawk about being hit financially any more than I would squawk about being hit physically. I need money, badly, but not badly enough to do one dishonorable, shady, borderline or "fast" thing to get it. I hope this is quite clear."
That, dear reader, is the “fuck you” mindset. Hemingway, riches or no riches, renown or no renown—judging by this passage at least—knew how to tell you to do one. And he didn’t need much to do it. He didn’t need a cushion of cash. He didn’t need a union standing menacingly behind him. He didn’t need powerful friends. All he needed to be able to tell you to go fuck yourself was an awareness that you did something worthy of being told that.