Sunday started at four AM when the sprinkler system went off in my fragile house alerting me to the morning. From the small window in my bathroom I could see the palms reflected against the sky prompting me to go out in the garden and take a photo which I have posted here. If I had to tell the story of Palm Sunday on this page I couldn’t do it as I am cloudy on certain practices and traditions of my church. What I am interested in at this moment is not palms, however, but bounty in general.
I have always been interested in the paths which people chose in life. I worked for ten years in a business school where my job was to help people achieve success in interviews for the job of their dreams and so I spent a lot of time listening to what these dreams were. I heard all about job satisfaction, balancing work and family, good health and how much money was needed to be happy. The last measure was the most interesting to me which may sound surprising to you, my spiritual readers.
I have met and known many very successful people in my life and found them usually very interesting which is why I wrote a book on success and spent over a year interviewing these people. I am interested in why certain people have a drive to succeed and why others are content with doing little in their lives. I am also interested in the connection between accruing wealth and success and the transition from active work life to retirement. I am interested in the mind set of those who are making millions of dollars and have children. Some say they are doing what they do for their kids but then they resent it if their kids are not attempting to achieve as strongly as they did. Or they resent it if their kids surpass their own achievements. Some very successful people somehow manage to pass on wealth in their family and also create a family that functions well as each individual finds their own way and is respected. Even if they are not achieving the kind of financial success their parents did, their path is a solid one and is supported by family.
I grew up in a family where my father was well known and very successful and was once on the cover of TIME magazine as “The World’s Most Famous Capitalist” As a child my world was filled with people who were like me: children of “companies”. My best friend was the daughter of a mattress company founder, another was the child of the president of the stock exchange, and a third had a Dad who owned a major shipping company. AT school everyone seemed about the same to me: same economic level, same ethnicity, same thoughts, and same parents. Life was a blur of beauty and similarity. Households were run by our mothers with the help of staff and the focus of the day was the hour when our fathers would arrive home on the train and we would have family dinner. I don’t remember thinking about my future much except to fantasize about whom I would marry and how many children I would have.
Eventually I left home and went out to live in the real world where I wasn’t exactly certain what I was supposed to be doing with my life. As I hadn’t been raised with a career goal I started to look around to find one for myself. I married and moved to a new town where I meet a lot of people and enjoyed my life. I noticed how important it was to others to know who my family was. I also noticed I was often introduced as “the child of…” which began to bother me. Sure there were times when I was happy to be in that circle of light. Don’t get me wrong here; I am not going to whine about my advantages in any way. I am grateful for them. What I am writing about here is what success brings to the children in a family because it is a subject I have thought of for a very long time. A lifetime, in fact.
Many people dream of providing their children with lives that supersede their own and they do. Few people make a lot of money and are able to raise kids that are proud and happy of their achievements because, to the world, if you inherit money or a prestigious family, you are not accomplishing much on your own as you had this “head start”. I will try not to generalize here and focus on my own experience because that is what I know best.
I am still being introduced as “the child of..” and I am sixty years old. I have accomplished a lot in my life and am proud of my achievements but I still suffer that bit of doubt because of the entitled childhood I received. There isn’t much sympathy around for people like me as for the most part we are looked upon with envy and a bit of awe. It is difficult to know whether or not someone likes you because of who you are, what you have, what you can do for them, or just because you are a likable person who is fun to have around. You can chose to be friends with others who come from families just like yours which is what many people do, or you can chose to branch out in life and test the theory of relatedness. You can try to find people you love because they are wonderful people and you can chose to trust them because life is infinitely more pleasurable with trusted friends.
The other choice you have is to forgive people who want to stereotype you and downgrade your achievements because of jealousy. This is a harder decision and takes more time. The hardest part of being in a family where one of the parents has been a great achiever is to find achievements of your own that may be completely different and believe in them. It is harder to do this than if you come from a middle class family where all parents can afford to do is get you to college. In this type of family your achievements are yours, alone.
Probably, to most readers, this piece makes not much sense as it applies to a very minute part of the population and one that is not in any way in need of help. I find it interesting for obvious reasons. I freely admit my inheritance has in many ways prevented me from believing in my own ability: in my case it was a combination of personality and situation that caused this to happen. In other cases I see arrogance, anger, sadness, complacency, joy, acceptance, accomplishment: a whole plethora of results of having an entitled childhood.
I write this as a way of asking others to consider the results of accomplishment and to consider the choices available to you when you don’t have to work. Now, to most people, this is an impossible dream. No one will have compassion for someone in this position nor do I ask them for compassion. I ask you to consider what you would do with your life if you didn’t have to work? Would you accomplish great things in the world of philanthropy? Would you travel constantly? Would you shop until you dropped? And what if you were a bright and thoughtful person? What then? How would you fill your days if you didn’t need a paycheck and you valued your work on the sheer basis of personal reward? Now we are getting closer to the meat of what I am asking. What if you were brought up in a family like my own where you were not given a career choice and the possibility of work was never really discussed. What then? How would you choose to live out your days?
Still not asking for sympathy here only commenting on life and its complexities. Most people out there believe that having a lot of money is the best thing in life they could possibly have. I think having a lot of money is a wonderful thing and giving away a lot of money is even better. I also think that there is an interesting relation between success and sorrow within families and it is important to look at how the children of success can believe in their own lives and their own abilities.