Actor and writer Hill Harper is on a mission to help others redefine wealth and unearth their passion in his latest book “The Wealth Cure: Putting Money In Its Place (Gotham Books).” In it, he discusses a plan that differentiates between monetary and personal wealth, based on his own personal journey last year when it was discovered he had thyroid cancer. Now cancer-free, Harper discusses his journey back to health, why he chose to wait until now to reveal his diagnosis, and what he hopes new readers will learn on their road to physical and mental riches.
Generally your books discuss relationships with other individuals and elements in one’s life. This book explores money, and most notably the idea of wealth in other places. Why did you want it to be so different from your others?
Well, what’s interesting is with a lot of the work I do through my foundation, the “Manifest Your Destiny” foundation, we really encourage people and we attempt to empower, uplift and inspire people to live out their dreams, live out their destiny. And I started hearing a lot coming back to me from people telling me the reason why they couldn’t – particularly young people, to be quite honest. And even adults – [the reason] they couldn’t do what they really wanted to do was because they couldn’t afford it, or “It’s money. I can’t do this because of the money. I don’t have the money.” And so I said, you know what? Let’s deal with this money issue. Let’s deal with it head on. You know, because if it’s going to be people’s excuse for not living their best life, then let’s deal with that.
We have to be strategic about the way we use the tool of money, no question about it. But money can’t be the excuse — or lack thereof or the way we use it, or stop us from actually living our best life.
What is your message for young people who are only focused on monetary wealth?
The whole idea is you definitely want to investigate what you love and what you’re passionate about. And then if you are chasing material things ask yourself why. Literally, really, “Why do I want to chase this? What’s so important about me having two carats in my ears? Is that actually going to make my life better? Does that get me closer to the life that I ultimately want to have?” And most people, when pressed and pushed, they realize that all those external material things aren’t necessarily the things that feed them or necessarily make them happy.
Now, the question is: The money that you would have spent on acquiring things that get you one step closer, those external things – could you use it in a different way to actually create a foundation for the life you want to live? And that’s where the savings and investment comes in. You know, money is very, a very powerful tool, if you hold on to it. If you let it go, you can’t use it as a tool, because your tool is going out. And so, that’s what I talk about to young people, and the best time to start in saving and investing is when you’re young, because there’s a timed value to money. Not every dollar is created equally. The longer you hold a dollar, the longer you hold money, the more valuable it becomes over time. So the younger you are, the more ability you have to hold money longer term.
What was the experience that led you to redefine wealth in this way?
I started out writing a very – pretty much a straightforward book on money and finance, for the reason that I outlined earlier. And then when I was shooting the film “For Colored Girls,” with Tyler Perry, I was diagnosed with [thyroid] cancer, and it really set me for a loop. First of all, because the male side of my family, most of the prominent males have died of cancer. My father, my uncle, my grandfather – and so it’s something that’s definitely been on my radar. And when I was diagnosed with it I was very fearful that I [was] going to follow the same trend. And it really made me reevaluate where I was going with the book in many ways just because at the end of the day – if you don’t have your health, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve saved or have or acquired … it does you absolutely no good.
And so I wanted to come up with what I want to call “wellness factors,” health as being one of them, love of friends and family being another. Doing what you love and being passionate about each day and getting up passionate is another.
So that’s where this whole idea of “Money + Wellness = wealth” [comes from], because “What really is wealth for you?” It’s different, and we all can define it differently. But money is a piece of it. But those wellness factors that we all have different definitions of are the other piece. And that’s critical — critical when it’s coming to defining your own personal version of being wealthy.
How is your health now?
I had surgery, it was successful. My thyroid was completely removed, and the prognosis is very good. They say they got the cancer out, and if none of those little insidious bad cells meandered out of my thyroid and are burying somewhere else in my body, I should be pretty good to go.
And you didn’t really talk about your diagnosis, did you?
I’m talking about it in the book for the first time. You know, with social media and all that, it certainly offers you the opportunity to talk about anything, but there’s some things that – at least for me – I want to keep private. And particularly when I’m dealing with something that [serious] – it deserves a level of seriousness that social media doesn’t necessarily provide. And the last thing I needed to do would be worrying about coming out of the operating table, letting folks know that I was okay on Twitter.
Even in this world, there are ways to maintain some measure of privacy. And then, you can choose to release information in your own way and in your own terms. And through this book is the way I wanted to do it.
Hopefully it encourages folks to make sure that they are maintaining their health, getting tested, going in and making sure that they’re okay – being very proactive with their health. And beyond that, there’s a lot of people out there that I run into that think that myself or so-called celebrities never have issues or problems.
You never know what’s going on in someone’s life. You never know what’s really going on behind what they present. And so therefore, hopefully it encourages all of us to cut each other some slack.
There is a chapter in the book that discusses pursuing your desires despite the fact that it may not be profitable at the time, which is a common reason that people hesitate on pursuing their desires. What is your message to those who are hesitating?
It’s about following – being very strategic and following the steps that I talk about in the book. You know your passion and then you diagnose what’s keeping you away from that. So you come up with this diagnosis. And then you come up with a plan. The plan in being strategic – this treatment plan – is about: “Okay, I may need a day job to earn money. Because right now, in the position that my passion is, I may not be able to earn money to pay to live. But maybe the day job I’m doing currently doesn’t allow me the time or the flexibility I need to do it. So therefore maybe I have to look for a different type of job.”
And what would that be? Now, that type of job may be in a completely different area, or you’re not trained for it, so therefore I may need to have some training. I’ll give you an example from my own life: I graduated from Harvard with two graduate degrees – a law degree and my masters from the Kennedy School of Government. And so, as I set out to be an actor, I realized that, you know, I could have convinced myself that working in a law firm during the day is a way to make the most money, and then try to audition on the side, or try to have have my acting career on the side. But I realized that if I was serious about wanting to have an acting career, I couldn’t do that. So I had to put my ego and my bank account to the side, and take a job as a waiter working an overnight shift from 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. Then I would sleep … from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., and then I could do my auditions and acting class, etc. for the rest of the day and take another nap at around nine and then go to work at 11 p.m.
Doing law would have taken me further away from my dreams. So, we make strategic decisions and strategic sacrifices, to be able to get closer there. I’m not telling anyone “Quit your job and be homeless to go for your dream.” No, I’m saying be strategic in it and you may have to make some changes. You may have to sell the car you drive now and get a much less expensive car. You may have to put your ego to the side. However, there’s a way to get there. And it may take a little bit longer, but you can do it.
What do you want readers who are choosing this book as their first from your writings, and are more familiar with the financial writings of authors like Suze Orman, to have in mind?
The whole idea is, when I attempt to write these books, you know – and I think that part of the reason that they’ve been so successful in the nonfiction space is that I tend to write them in an extremely accessible way. People complain to me that oftentimes in the nonfiction area that they get confused and the books are kind of non-entertaining and they kind of have to work to keep reading them. And I hope to write them with a narrative base that allows the story to give the lesson or to pose the question that we can use to reflect in your own life. And in no way do I represent myself as “the expert” – the know-it-all. I attempt to represent myself as just like everybody else – someone on a journey trying to figure it out for myself. And in my journey, could that help the reader shine light on their journey? That’s the goal.
I think that I’ve hit that tone on all my books, and hopefully this is the same type of thing. You still get the same type of information, nuts-and-bolts stuff like budgeting and savings and investment and insurance, life insurance, and 401(k) talk and college stuff – all of that stuff is nuts and bolts in the book. But it’s hopefully woven in in a way that’s an entertaining read about this journey that I’m on, attempting to figure it out.
When I sign these books, I sign “live wealthy.” And we can do that.
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