What I Would Do With a Billion

A million dollars isn’t what it used to be. 1 million Australian dollars in 1973 (50 years ago) would be worth over 11 BILLION AUD in 2023. Certainly, nobody would complain at receiving a million dollars whenever it happened, and it would be enough to set you up for life if you were smart about it, but it’s not the immediate “quit your job, do whatever you want” ticket it once was.

So for this thought experiment, I decided to take a more corpulent number in today’s terms, a billion, and think about what my life would look like if that amount of money magically appeared in my bank account, no strings attached.

What would I do with it?

Pay off loans, buy houses, gifts to friends/family, travel around the world, live in the lap of luxury. Let’s get this one out of the way. We’ve all fantasised extensively about the wonders we could experience with an unlimited budget, and I think anyone who earns a huge windfall like this would undoubtedly relax and live it up for a while. I certainly would. 

But that isn’t the focus nor the thesis of this blog post, because I contend that for many, myself included, there would come a time (maybe months, maybe years down the line) where even the most magnanimous of consumption wouldn’t be enough, in the sense that I would want to give back, to contribute something and make a mark on the world, make it a better place.

Now, the big caveat here is that this first phase may well change me enough that the remaining items on the list change as a result. I hope not, but it’s entirely possible. But let’s assume that I emerge from this phase of pure experience enriched and energised, but with much the same dreams as before.

Invest. This is another no-brainer, but the remaining items on the list are not going to be started with the aim of making a profit. With a billion dollars I can easily make a self-sustaining fund from which to sink huge amounts of money into the things I care about and not have to care in the slightest if they make a profit or not. 

Now, onto the good stuff!

Defend the world’s forests. Over 80% of New Zealand used to be forest (source). A chunk of my money would go to buying up all the forests, particularly old-growth forests, that I can get my hands on, world-wide, and either keeping them privately-owned or handing them over to conservation organisations to protect and nurture. Forests hold a special mystique and wonder for me as they do for many, and too much of the world views them merely as a resource to be exploited. 

A fiction magazine dedicated to unpublished authors. Many fiction authors are encouraged to start with short stories before they tackle novels, and many professional-paying short fiction magazines won’t even consider you until you can say in your submission “my work has previously appeared in A, B, and C.” Getting that first credit, that first paying published piece, is a stepping off point for authors, and a source of validation and encouragement that they can make their dream a reality. I would start a short fiction magazine that only accepts submissions from unpublished authors and pays professional rates. I want as many people who yearn to become professional fiction writers to succeed, and giving them a destination that accepts them with open arms will help them on their way.

If I like how this goes, I could even double down on this to establish grants for aspiring novelists, or even make a full-on publishing house for novels.

A record label. Just like with writing, there are people out there with ideas for music that can enrich others’ lives but can’t commit to making those ideas real because they have to contend with holding down a fucking job. I want to break those people out of the heinous cycle of capitalism and give them album-and-tour deals with complete creative control at very generous terms. I don’t care about making money off this – I want to kickstart these bands and music artists and send them on their way so they can inspire others and make this world a better place. 

Because this is a private venture, all the people I hire to help these bands along will have to share the ethos. This is not about making albums that will make money back, this is about giving aspiring artists a chance to make their vision real. Certainly the artists can seek advice from the staff (who will hopefully know about the industry etc), but in the end, what the band decides goes.

This label will probably lean towards metal music, especially metal music that tells good stories (because that’s the music I like) but I’ll do my best to be flexible.

The Mythic Tales Festival. The name’s a work-in-progress, okay? This is a music festival that goes all around the world, and exclusively features bands that have written concept albums playing those albums in full from start to finish. I can’t believe no one has done this already.

It’s hard to overstate the impact concept albums have had on my life. From American Idiot by Green Day, the very first album I ever listened to properly when I was maybe 13, to Deep Blue by Parkway Drive, an album that both soothed and exploded my teenage disillusionment and misanthropy, to practically everything by Coheed and Cambria, to Vessels by Be’lakor, which I have already written about extensively, to The Forest Seasons by Wintersun… concept albums, collections of songs that together tell a story, speak to my soul in a way that nothing else does. These need to be celebrated so much more than they are, and I would be willing to sink a lot of money into a festival that brings these juggernauts of musical storytelling together so the world can experience them.

My game dev studio, Fallen Studios. I have my own ideas for stories I want to tell, and a few of them are written fiction but a lot of them work best with interactivity. Fallen Studios would be the venture I would personally spend the most time actually working in since I have relevant skills – I know programming and I have the vision for stories. I don’t know how to make art, and I don’t know game design. Certainly I could learn, but with money effectively not being an object I’d love to hire people like a game designer, an artist, a music composer, and maybe even a writer to help me hone my ideas. We could work as a little game studio making games that exalt nature, challenge eldritch horrors, and tell heart-wrenching tales. If it goes well, I could take more of a directorial role, hiring more people to do the day to day work with me being responsible for the vision. I’m unsure how much I’d want to keep doing programming itself, but I’m always of the view that executives need to understand what goes on in the day to day of their companies, so I’d probably continue doing that to help keep me humble and to keep my skills sharp.

Fallen Studios would have a strict no crunch policy and overtime would be scrutinised. Salaries would be high. Flexible working arrangements, the whole deal. I want to make games with enthusiastic people and I want us all to be happy while we do it.


You can see the shape of where all this is going. The billionaire version of DJ turns out to be a huge patron of the arts, with a side of environmental conservation. If anyone has a spare billion dollars lying around, I can promise I’ll do good things with it.

What would you do with a billion dollars? After all the travel and gorging and sleeping and partying and experiencing was done, if ever, what would you do then?

People want to live meaningful lives. For me, meaningful means protecting Earth and promoting the arts. I am not unique. If I would take these unbelievable riches and use them to start businesses, help others pursue their dreams, and help the world, then lots of other people would too. 

Well, I’m 30

There is an album by the metal band Wintersun called The Forest Seasons. It contains one song for each season, starting from spring and ending in winter. Even disregarding the contents of the songs entirely, there is a lesson in the fact that the song for autumn is named Eternal Darkness, while winter is named Loneliness. It seems to say that eternal darkness is bearable if you can do it with others, while the soul’s true winter is that of being unwillingly alone.

I’ve had several experiences in the past few months that have driven this lesson home for me.

In late 2022 my partner and I took our long-awaited trip to New Zealand. It’s a land of incredible beauty, and we had some unforgettable experiences that I hope to remember forever. I am not saying by any means that experiences had alone are less valuable than shared ones – anyone who knows me knows that I need my alone time and my personal space – only that there was a virtuous cycle in that this amazing travel experience enriched our relationship, and that in turn deepened the impact the trip had on me as an individual.

In 2022 I started a tiny Youtube channel. I learned that I unexpectedly enjoyed the audience interactions on my videos as much as making the videos themselves. Responding to people’s comments and incorporating their suggestions into future videos made the whole thing more rewarding. It’s the flipside of the experience I had years ago when attempting to write novels. Having to work for months over something before another person could lay eyes on it, and having to commit to the entirety of a long story without incorporating any feedback was immensely draining and I never finished more than a first draft of anything.

The roleplaying games I participate in reinforce this. I get so much more joy out of telling stories and building worlds when I can do it incrementally and with friends that I like and trust. In the D&D game I run, I live for seeing the expressions on players’ faces when they uncover something, or their reactions when I describe how well they succeeded or how dismally they failed at something they attempted to do. This is what I think about and plan in my spare moments, this is what my mind drifts to when it’s vacant. I’ve spent so many years trying to find my “passion” when something I’m clearly passionate about has been staring me in the face all this time.

It’s delightful when I’m on the receiving end too. My best friends in the whole world put together a birthday RPG session for me, and throughout it all I felt loved: in how our characters riffed off of each other, in how the people running it took the unspoken but implied goals of my character and wove them into the story, in how we were able to spend 10 hours telling this story together. I want this to be a part of my life forever.

I read a lot about the experiences of digital nomads, because I’ve wanted to experience that lifestyle for some time, and the downside that I read about most often is the loss of connection, loss of friendship, and how quickly people move on when you’re not involved in their lives. I still want to travel extensively – the whole world is out there and I want to see different cultures and places. But I also want to make sure to maintain and honour the friendships I’ve built so far, to be there for those people so that we can continue to enrich each others’ lives.

Solitude is not the same as Loneliness. It’s vital that we are okay with spending time by ourselves, since it will only increase as our lives go on. However, I’ve realised how important it is to treasure and nurture the connections we have with those we love, so that when Eternal Darkness comes, we have the option, should we choose, to weather the storm together.

Focusing on the only other thing

There are only two possible states for the mind to be in: internal reflection, or external focus. Internal reflection is what you typically consider thinking – you’re puzzling over something, figuring out to solve a problem, replaying a memory in your head, etc. External focus is when you turn a corner and a stunning view makes you gasp, or you really feel the warmth of someone’s skin on yours. Of course, the mind is almost always doing both of these things at once, but the reason I’m reducing the mind to these two states is because it’s really helpful to me in dealing with overthinking and anxiety.

When I get anxious, I start thinking about a past event or an imagined future (the only kind of future, really, right?). If it were just that, it might be fine. But my brain then goes and starts this cannibalistic recursion where I think about my own thoughts about something, endlessly imagine possible permutations, replay the same event over and over again… it’s a downward spiral. Sometimes I lose a lot of sleep over this because I just can’t stop. When I’m in this state, it’s impossible to divert the mind from anxious thinking to calm. No matter what, the anxious thoughts take priority and barge in again.

The only other option is to get the mind feeding on something that isn’t internal. The only other option is focusing on the sensory input that the body is sending in. Consider your heartbeat, or the mindfulness classic of your breathing. This is an endless stream of data, never static, always changing, and it’s something that the mind can do nothing about. It’s the biological equivalent of watching waves crash or a fire crackle. Ample fuel for the frenzied mind to consume, and it provides you with a real alternative to indulging those unwelcome thoughts.

It does take practice to learn to focus on those things instead of being led along by the mind. I and many others are unused to truly focusing on the present. This is what mindfulness teaches. I use Headspace, which costs money (though there is a free trial), but there are heaps of free options for guided meditation and mindfulness apps. I meditate for 10 minutes a day in the mornings before work, and then sometimes use a sleep meditation if I’m having a rough night. When I started, I did 5 minutes a day and skipped weekends. That’s all it takes.

I’ve heard a lot about meditation, with people claiming that it’s transformed their lives. It hasn’t quite been that impactful for me, but it’s a very significant tool in my battle for mental health. When I stop using it, I notice demonstrable, significant declines. When I pick it back up again, I find improvement. This post, as well as encouraging others to give it a try if you feel like it might help you, is a reminder to myself that even if I feel like it’s not helping, it’s definitely actually helping.

Waking Up

So that while paralyzed in thought

I will always have an alibi

Just another excuse to hesitate

Delaying true progress with passivity

Paralyzed – As I Lay Dying

The past year has been one of great change for me, and yet not enough change. It’s been the first year where I’ve felt like I’ve started, started, to take an active role in shaping my life rather than just letting things happen to me. 

I turned 28 yesterday. I did wonder if we should perhaps round our ages to the closest birthday – wouldn’t it be more accurate for me to tell people I was 28 for the six months preceding my birthday, and six months after, until I flipped over to the point where my next birthday was closer than my last one? 

Anyway. Waking up. This last year I’ve allowed myself to think things that I wouldn’t have thought before. I’ve known for a long time that I don’t want the “normal” path through life of a suburban home, kids running around in the backyard, and putting on a buttoned shirt for my day job. I have been graced by utmost fortune in finding a life partner who doesn’t want these things either.

Let’s briefly review the most notable things that happened to this random internet stranger over the past year:

Firstly, I moved interstate, out of my own suburban home with a backyard and into renting an apartment with my partner. I’ve since gotten targeted ads on Instagram encouraging me to “escape the rent trap” and give myself back over to the mortgage hellhole. Let me be clear: I love living in an apartment. There’s no lawn to mow or weeds to pull, there’s no plants to water, no retaining walls or infernal bark chips or black tarp or pavers or paving liners. If I want nature, I can walk five minutes to the nearby lake and make googly eyes at all the adorable ducklings waddling around (I do this frequently). My suburban home is still sitting there in a different state, being rented out, giving someone else the same flexibility that we have now: if we get tired of the place in a year, we can go somewhere else. Freedom. 

Secondly, I switched from working for a company of 500+ people where I was doing projects for defence and coal miners, to a startup where I’m one of 3 full-time employees. I’m contributing positively to the climate change disaster by building renewable energy storage systems instead of taking money from the soulless husks who are actively dooming the whole damn world. The fact that I was able to find a job like this in Australia of all places is something I’m incredibly grateful for. 

It’s not enough, though. I don’t mean this in a greedy sense, but my career is something that I’m still very much figuring out, and is going to be my main focus for the year to come. I’ve opened my eyes, but I haven’t yet sat up or gotten out of bed. I’m so, so grateful that I’m not still asleep, letting myself be steered without taking part in the steering.

Thirdly, I dyed my hair blue. This seems minor compared to the previous two items, but it is the first time I have expressed myself through my personal appearance, and I love how I look with it. It’s another thing that my previous self and circumstances would not have allowed, and I hope to keep pushing the envelope on those things. Maybe a piercing next?

Fourthly, I started a second degree. This one will lead to no career progression or upskilling, but I hope to glean a sliver of wisdom from it. I’m studying philosophy. This represents a couple of things: one, that I’m allowing myself to study something just because I’m interested in it, and two, that I’ve sufficiently come to terms with my loss of faith from a few years ago that I’m ready to venture into vaguely related areas again. I’m only doing it part time since I’m working at the same time, but that’s plenty. So far my studies have focused on ancient philosophy, since it serves as a grounding for most of what came after, but we’ve also covered basic concepts of social justice and applied it to modern day problems of immigration, wealth distribution, and climate change. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time on critical thinking skills, and analysing written and visual arguments to extract their rational core. This last in particular I have loved. 

Fifthly, I’ve started working with a professional life coach. I hope to use this to accelerate the waking up process and get to the point of taking charge of my life quicker, but I need to be wary of outsourcing my progress to my life coach and using her as a crutch. I doubt that will happen, but it’s noteworthy.

Sixthly (is that a word?), I’ve taken up the new hobbies of competitive axe throwing and sailing. Neither of these things are things I ever thought I’d do, but there you go. Axe throwing is just a plain bit of fun and makes you feel like a viking, while yacht racing/general sailing is a gesture towards my increasing desire for freedom in all aspects of life. Contrary to what you might think, you can get sailing experience for free/very cheap, at least here in WA. Owning a boat is expensive, but sailing itself is not.

Seventhly(!), in the very last days of the previous year, my partner and I sat down and crunched a bunch of numbers regarding our finances. Yes, boring, I know, but the results indicate that in 20-25 years… we could stop working if we wanted to. This is of course barring any disasters that occur, but the thought that I could be free by my late forties or early fifties is… well, it’s something. It’s a timeframe. I’m not going to say it’s comforting. Whether by design or emergent property, it seems that you need at minimum a couple decades of solid income and solid investment to accomplish something like this in modern day capitalism, provided you’re not starting with vast sums of money, which we aren’t. The trick now becomes not to squander away or sacrifice the next two decades, because that end date may never come, but to live a varied and full life, and strike a balance between investing in our future, spending to live it up now, and using our money to improve the world.

In between all this, my search for purpose continues. By practically all accounts it’s been an incredible year in retrospect. I’m on vacation until next week, and I’ve noticed that every year, being buried under the tumult of work along with all the activities described above means that it is a lot harder to actually reflect and plan ahead. So I thought I’d write this while my head is above the water, so that I can look back and appreciate all the progress I’ve made.

A key reflection point for me actually occurred on NYE, where we were all doing a few of those shitty personality quizzes for fun. One of the questions was “Which of these do you find most important?”. There were four options, but the two I remember were “knowledge” and “freedom”. I remember these because in the past, maybe even up to a year ago, I would have instantly chosen knowledge. Intelligence and knowledge were unquestionably the most valuable traits to me. This time, however, I chose freedom and was happy with my choice. I’ve undergone a fundamental shift of perspective over the past twelve months, and I’ve finally given myself permission to do so.

What is it that the child has to teach?

The child naively believes that everything should be fair and everyone should be honest, that only good should prevail, that everybody should have what they want and there should be no pain or sadness.

The child believes the world should be perfect and is outraged to discover it is not.

And the child is right.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Optional addendum: a note about the pandemic

For those of us in the first world, the whole pandemic situation has been seemingly unprecedented. The counting death tolls, the daily drama, the lockdowns, the incredible vaccine development speed… we’ve all reacted like this has never happened before, and maybe it hasn’t, not on this scale. But remember that while the first world may have had its first share of this sort of situation in centuries, people in third world countries continue to struggle with the likes of malaria and ebola. Even the freaking bubonic plague is still kicking around. We’ve had the Siddharta Gautama experience of shock at seeing a sick man, a corpse, for the first time. Our poorer neighbours have to live with terrible sickness daily and worse besides, and have done even when we were healthy.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.