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Hard Work or Easy Money

I generally subscribe to the theory that hard work pays off. Some would say, “There are no shortcuts.”

But that’s not always true.

You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of people who have received extraordinary payoffs from decidedly unextraordinary work.

Three short stories illustrate this point.


Mariah Carey was well on her way to becoming a singing sensation in 1994. She was 24 years old, had five singles on the Hot 100 chart, and was the top female pop artist. In the summer of 1994, Carey and a co-writer sat down to compose a song for her upcoming Christmas album.

Fifteen minutes later, they had the bulk of a global smash hit written and produced.

That song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” would eventually become Carey’s best-selling recording. It has now been 27 years since the song was written, but Carey, now 52, is still cashing in on its success.

Between downloads, streams, and royalties, it is estimated that she will rake in $1-2 million in revenue from the song this year. Aside from a little promotion each year, Carey simply collects a current of cash each Christmas season.

All from roughly 15 minutes worth of work.


After a string of bad business investments in 2001, Page Howe was forced to sell his house and baseball card collection to make ends meet. He was down on his luck and was looking for the next big thing.

He stumbled upon the idea of buying website domain names online.

Shortly after, he purchased and To be fair, Howe spent some bucks to acquire the websites. Both required an investment of around $100,000.

He held onto the rights to the two websites until 2007.

Howe sold for $1.8 million, and four months later he offloaded for $1 million.

A few mouse clicks, a little typing, and some patience was handsomely rewarded for Howe.


Bill Ackman runs an investment firm in New York City. Over the years, Ackman has basked in big wins – and endured a few dramatic losses, too – in his stock portfolio. Overall, the investors in his fund have earned fat returns. But they hadn’t seen anything yet.

Early in 2020, Ackman began detecting warning signs in the stock market. He wanted to find a way to protect his stock portfolio in case the market took a hit.

After a bit of research, he decided on a trade that would pay off if the world suddenly become wary of taking big risks. Little did he know, a virus about 50-140 nanometers in diameter – a nanometer being one billionth of a meter – would generate the biggest payoff in his career.

Ackman plunked down $27 million on his trade. When he exited his position just one month later, his profit totaled $2.6 billion.

For the record, Ackman went on to reinvest those proceeds back into stocks, right as they were hitting their coronavirus-lows. He probably made untold billions more on those investments.


Time and effort had little to do with the success in these three stories. But that’s rare. There will always be outliers, who minted a fortune with little effort. Those types of anecdotes are seductive, tempting people to search for a shortcut on the road to riches.

Most of us, however, would do well to remember that hard work pays off.

Justin Lueger is President of Invisor Financial LLC, a registered investor adviser firm in the State of Kansas. All opinions expressed are his own and should not be viewed as individual advice. He can be reached at

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