FIRE,  Life,  Work

4 Paths to Accumulating Wealth

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

I wrote earlier this year about how “Being Rich Eliminates 67% of Life’s Problems” (link here).

Well, following on from the study Tom Corley did…

You know, Tom Corley?

The guy who spent 12 years conducting a study by interviewing and researching millionaires, multi-millionaires, multi-multi-millionaires and a group designated… “poor”, to try and see what’s the difference between “rich” and “poor”.

In short, it is habits, habits and habits.

However in this, he also discerned 4 very different paths towards accumulating wealth.

The Dreamer/Entrepreneur

These are people who the phrase “love what you do” is coined.

And it showed, with an average net worth of $7.4 million.

But the path is loooong, strenuous and not guaranteed.

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An entrepreneur.

Long work hours

The average in this group worked 61 hours a week, for 12 years. Weekends and holidays? Nah, too busy working.

Friends and family? No time for them unfortunately.

Financial Stress

Many of us who have a dream and are plugging away single-handedly at it, know that making ends meet, especially in the formative years, is a constant challenge for an entrepreneur.

Only the strong can survive this stress, and this includes your spouse. Inevitably, weak marriages will almost certainly crumble apart due to the stress caused.

High Risk

Of course, when you go all in, there is no fallback option, when the boats are burned, it’s either victory or death…

That’s why the true entrepreneur/dream often puts everything they own on the line – including refinancing the family home, halting retirement plans and churning through savings.

Pursuing a dream is a gamble at best, and a nightmare at worse.

That is why there’s no guarantee it will ever pay off. 27% of the dreamers in the study failed at least once.

Corporate Ladder Climber

The next category of wealth creators are those who work for large firms and steadily climb the corporate ladder – until they reach the coveted senior executive status.

Image result for corporate climber
Wow you can now play as you in virtual life!

Climbers in the study took about 22 years to accumulate an average net worth of $3.4m. Much of that from stock compensation or share of profits.

Again, the path is fraught, slippery and not guaranteed, because of:

Long work hours

You’d have to be right? Being a corporate “YES” wo/man routinely requires extended work hours, regular travel, and generally having your waking life revolve around the company. This usually includes weekends and working holidays.


Knowing how to build relationships is key in general, but absolutely paramount for ladder climbers.

Those at the top of big corporates are almost certainly talented in building relationships both within the organisation and within their industry. It takes time, energy and money to network.

Political Prowess

Any of us who have worked in corporate know that there is an element of politics required at every level. But to reach the top, there is an insane amount of maneuvering and out-maneuvering that needs to be done.

Unfortunately the higher up you go, the more you have to watch your back as other climbers will try to undermine you in order to advance their own personal agenda… that being, climbing further up their ladder.

Medium/High Risk

Similar to the dreamers, the climbers have unique risks in that if their company struggles financially, they may be either made redundant or restructured into a completely different role/area.

This may require starting from scratch and the time investment may not be rewarded to the extent which you expected.

Image result for corporate climber
This game is so cool!

The Virtuoso

When I say Virtuoso, I mean being among the top experts in your industry or field.

That expertise may be knowledge-based (like a doctor or a lawyer) or skill-based (like a sports athlete or a musician).

Virtuosos are paid a high premium for their expertise.

But again, it is a long and winding road to getting there:

Significant Investment

Becoming a Virtuoso requires a ridiculous amount of investment in time and more often than not, money. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Outliers, that the key to being a master is to repeat the same task for 10,000 hours.

This is in the form of formal education – such as advanced degrees (PhDs, Medical and Law degrees), or in the form of training and practice, usually with a coach, mentor or expert providing immediate feedback to hone your skills.

Medium Risk

Like climbers and dreams, there is a looooong time to see the fruits of your labours, you would need to implement long hours, perfecting knowledge and/or skills.

However unlike the dreamer or climber, Virtuoso’s usually can rely on some form of back up plan, like the injury plagued athlete entering the corporate world, or the Medical Surgeon transitioning to being a family doctor.

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Or the heavily pregnant, half-dead, killer assassin retraining how to punch through wood, cos y’know, just might be buried alive one day – always be prepared I say.

The Saver-Investor Path

The last path to building wealth in the study, doesn’t actually require any unique set of skills, knowledge and taking significant risks.

This is the saver-investor path, and is often the easiest path to building wealth.

Although it does come with some caveats:

Middle Class Income

It’s hard to save when you do not have at least some decent income coming in.

It’s also difficult to save when your income can barely maintain your standard of living.


However if your income levels allow, the saver-investor in the study accumulated on average $3.3 million in net wealth by saving and investing 20% of their income and living off the 80%.


Like all the types of wealth builders, consistency is key. The average saver-investor took around 32 years in order to build sufficient wealth for FIRE.

Low Risk

It’s low risk because most people can do this, it just takes… decent income, financial discipline, consistency and time. However it does not work if any of the elements are missing.


For the likes of yours truly, who are genuinely lacking in a particular skill/knowledge, have no ambition to climb the corporate ladder and not clever enough to be a dreamer/entrepreneur… well, there’s really only one path for me.

What type are you? Let me know in the comments below!

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