How to Create Sustainable Wealth and Avoid Death-by-Cubicle!

If you want any hope of retiring and escaping the cubicle life, you need to create sustainable wealth. That's only possible by doing this one thing.

how to avoid wasting your life in a cubicleThe last time I went to a tropical island, the showers only ran for 4 hours per day. If you missed that window, you had to wait 20 hours.

If you wanted to “flush” the toilet, you’d have to carry a bucket of ocean water to your bathroom.

This was a necessity. Freshwater was delivered by boat, and it needed to get strictly rationed. If you wanted enough for drinking and cooking, you needed to budget.

People elsewhere in the world, though, have become accustomed to luxuries like unfettered access to showers and toilets. They’ll demand this luxury at any cost, even if their wallets and the environment can’t support it.

Until recently, that was the case in Aruba.

To satisfy demand, Aruba coverts saltwater into drinking water. The process is called “desalination,” and this 70-square-mile island (about the size of Washington, D.C.) is home to the world’s second-largest desalination plant.

But desalination requires a ton of energy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Aruba’s energy consumption.

Teriyaki potato chips

To keep people happy, Aruba imports cheddar cheese, Oreo cookies and some curious flavors of potato chips. (Teriyaki-flavored potato chips? Really?) It keeps its roadways well-maintained, offers strong public transportation, and spends a substantial amount of its GDP educating its local children.

(Aruba also imports designer clothes and handbags, which baffles me. Why ship that stuff down to the Caribbean, just so tourists can carry it back to Europe and the U.S.?)

Fortunately, Aruban officials recognized how energy-intensive the island’s lifestyle has become. But they also recognized a concurrent reality: People don’t want to pare back on their lifestyle. People love Oreo cookies and curiously-flavored potato chips.

So instead of sacrificing its quality of life, Aruba decided to make that lifestyle sustainable. In the midst of the last recession, Aruba unveiled an ambitious plan to become the world’s first economy to run entirely on sustainable energy.

In 2009, Aruba built a wind farm that generates about 20 percent of its total energy. It’s on-track to run 100 percent on renewable energy by the year 2020.

Protect Your Most Precious Limited Resource: Time

Sustainability isn’t just a national issue, it’s a personal one. A country’s leaders can tackle waste at the macro-level. But what about waste within our own lives?

How can you create a sustainable life?

I’m not (just) talking about recycling your beer cans. I’m talking about creating multiple self-renewing sources of income.

It doesn’t make sense to ship coal and freshwater to a remote island. That requires too much ongoing effort. It’s much more sensible to build a sustainable solution.

protect your time

Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to wake up to a beeping alarm, drink stale coffee, battle rush-hour traffic, sit in a grey cubicle under flickering florescent lighting, and then battle even worse traffic back home.

It’s downright ludicrous to endure this agony year after year, until your eyes strain from the computer screen, your back hurts from your corporate-issued chair, and your face gets etched with frown lines.

Sustainable wealth is much more sensible.

Rental properties create sustainable wealth. So do stock dividends, interest, royalties, and businesses that someone else manages.

In short: Investing creates sustainability.

Investing is our ONLY antidote to the hamster wheel. It’s our ticket out.

Learn as much about investing as you can. Hustle, earn more, and apply all that extra money towards your investments. Buy some index funds. Put a down payment on a rental property. Build a small online business, then hire a VA to manage it.

Make just $10 in passive income per year. C’mon, just $10 per year. Anyone can do that.

Done? Okay, great. Now double it.

And double it again.

And again.

You see where I’m going with this …

This is sustainability at the personal level. This is freedom from paycheck dependence. This is how you can maintain an awesome lifestyle without polluting your most valuable (and limited) resource: your time.

P.S. The island in my introduction (with the 4-hour showering window and the ocean-bucket toilets) is Seraya Island, off the coast of Flores, Indonesia. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

P.P.S. I should take a moment to mention that Aruba does a LOT of things right. Their crime rate is close to zero. They have fewer than 30 traffic fatalities a year. They have 96 percent literacy, 94 percent employment, and many Arubans speak four languages: Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamento. There’s a lot we can learn from their example.


  1. says

    Great comparison, I love the example of Aruba’s energy infrastructure. I feel like my life has become so much more efficient (energy and money) by riding the train to work. It leaves me free to read, write or sleep while it’s cheaper and more environmentally sustainable. Sustainability isnt just about doing something greener, it’s about doing it better on all fronts.

  2. says

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I need to make a game plan to figure out what I want and how to get there. First, we must clear ourselves of my wife’s student loan debt, then plan the next steps!

  3. says

    This is timely. I’m actually in the stages of purchasing my first rental property, thanks in part to reading your blog. While I actually really like my office job, I’m excited to add another stream of income!

  4. says

    Paula, it IS crazy to keep trading your time for money at a cubicle. But most people would rather spend the money they earn now than to invest it for renewable income tomorrow.

    I guess everyone has to decide for themselves whether they value instant gratification more or freedom more.

    Personally, I would rather delay gratification for a bit in order to have the freedom sooner. After all, once you’ve achieved sustainable wealth, you can have both gratification AND freedom.

  5. says

    Today I learned a lot about Aruba, can’t wait to visit it. Great take on creating a sustainable income for my future.

    The whole death by cubicle I strongly agree with. Though, I am in a mid career point, 9 years in the USN 12 by the time my contract is up. Do I sacrifice 8 more years for the retirement check? Or should I switch gears and get out? I feel I’m heavily invested and am now just setting myself up so that whichever way the wind changes not being able to re-enlist or re-enlisting.

  6. says

    I think Aruba is FANTASTIC! While St. Lucia is my TOP place in the Caribbean, Aruba is beautiful. The people are friendly, the food is delicious (their dine-around program package I sell to my clients is incredibly appreciated), and the fact that they really don’t get hurricanes, makes it an A+ place to travel.

    I’m glad you are enjoying yourself there, and thank you for providing us additional information on their desalination process. I’d heard about it a few years ago, but have not kept abreast of its progression. Good for them!

    Every time I think about going back to a cubicle life…it makes me want to cry! While I’ll do anything (legally) so as not to live on the street; it’s hard when you’ve been away from the “corporate life,” because the longer you are out of it, the harder it is to stomach if you have/had to go back. I have to make all my endeavors a success (working for myself), so I won’t have to go back!

    Thanks for another great post, and happy travels…now, where to next? =)

    • says

      @Chante — I plan on visiting St. Lucia soon. I’m only going to live in Atlanta for another 2-3 years, maximum, so while I’m here I want to take advantage of the cheap flights to explore the Caribbean. :-)

  7. says

    Love it! Passive income is definitely my long-term goal. For now, I’m happy with my one rental property. I’ll be focusing more on flipping for quicker ROI in the short-term.

  8. says

    Great intro with the island to explain how to build sustainable passive income. I have decided to go the real estate route and the dividend paying stock route. I have also been to Aruba and it’s a great island with friendly people. I would definitely go back.

  9. says

    Interesting thoughts. I do wonder, however, if everybody followed this advice, would it still work? I think most passive income streams depend on somebody, somewhere, doing something active. Although I know this will never happen, what if every cubicle dweller abandoned their job and followed your advice? Would there be anybody there to rent the properties? So, although this idea may be sustainable on a personal level, is it truly scalable? So, although I agree that your advice will work, so long as a only a small minority of the people do it, I am not ready to agree that this is a sustainable strategy.

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