Nine years ago, after starting several businesses that had left me dissatisfied, I decided I would stop focusing on money and only pursue things that were interesting to me. At the time, I just wanted to do something fun. But what I didn’t realize back then was that I was actually switching my personal operating system from one based on money to one based on character, and the change would be far more profound than I could have ever imagined.

Virtually everybody runs on a money- and hype-driven OS. For everyone using this standard — and it really is almost everyone — fame and fortune are the only measurements that matter. The quality of someone’s character is irrelevant as long as they have wealth or notoriety. But if your operating system is based on character, these “normal” standards have no bearing. Like someone using a Mac in a world full of Windows, the rules and constraints of Windows, or in this case the money OS, simply don’t pertain to you. The end result is both liberating and empowering.

In the process of rejecting wealth as the primary standard of measuring a person’s worth, one is also released from having that same standard applied to them. People using the money driven OS might try to judge you strictly by your net worth, but it’s no longer applicable. It’s like someone judging you for having a bad jump shot during a math competition. It doesn’t matter.

I didn’t realize how much being free from this judgment contributed to my self confidence, until one day an acquaintance asked me where I had made my money. I’ve never claimed to be rich, so I was a bit puzzled why she would assume that I was. I replied, “Money? I don’t have any money.” She said, “You carry yourself like you do.”

In letting go of the money-based OS, I had subconsciously begun to measure myself on the character standard. Based on character, I never felt inferior, because I was confident I stacked up favorably. What this person was interpreting as the self assurance of someone with a lot of money, was actually the self assurance of someone for whom the money standard wasn’t being applied at all.

Paradoxically, adopting a character-based operating system has actually opened doors to people who are financially successful. As people gain wealth, money often gets in the way of building genuine friendships. It becomes easy for suspicion to creep in. Many wealthy people end up associating exclusively with people of similar economic status, which sounds okay until you realize this means entire segments of the population, including many interesting people, are effectively closed to them. It is truly a gilded cage.

For financially successful people, the character of those around them takes on a new level of importance. It’s no longer just about being around good people, but about needing to be around people whom they can trust. Unless you’re already on a similar economic level, a person using the money OS will always carry with them the taint of suspicion.

When I decided to put character first, I had no idea that rejecting money as my primary standard of measurement would result in a plethora of friendships with people who were financially successful, but that’s exactly what happened. Money stopped being “a thing” and we could relate as equals on the basis of character.

I’m not so naive as to suggest money is completely irrelevant. We all have bills to pay, and there is a base level of financial need. But it should not be the only, or even the dominant, measurement of a person’s worth — not for others and definitely not for yourself.

Letting go of the money-based operating system in favor of one based on character means being liberated from the common judgments of others. It means you can measure your self worth and your happiness by something other than your outward success. And it means associating with people based on who they are as a person and not the size of their wallet or the reach of their fame.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]