The Lost Art of Modesty

We live in an age of overreaching self-promotion. The digital age has hatched self-proclaimed experts in every field imaginable.We list our accomplishments brazenly on social media. We don airs of confidence and promises of performance that may or may not exceed our competence. To paraphrase an old saying, our mouths often write checks that our abilities may not be able to cash.

The current culture pervading sports is one of pomp and pose: every time a tackle is made on the football field or a basket is made from outside the 3-point line, chest thumping and warrior-like cries of triumph are sure to follow. I remember a time when athletes simply did their job on the field or court and kept their focus on winning the game.

I often amuse myself imagining the dance that a plumber would do in my kitchen if he celebrated unclogging the sink (which is, you know, his job) the way that so many modern-day athletes and entertainers do, congratulating themselves with more enthusiasm, sometimes, than their fans. It is, after all, their job, what they are paid to do. Of course, they’re passionate about it, but applause, approval, and adulation are usually things that come from the audience. It’s a little odd, it seems to me, to give them to yourself.

It makes my like my plumber more because he just comes in, does his work, and leaves me to congratulate him for a job well done, and enjoy a sink that doesn’t leak.

So where does this overly-extroverted, hyper-competitive world leave the concept of modesty? Is there still a place for it?

I believe there is, but it may not be a place you arrive at easily. First, you’ll have to be very confident with yourself and your abilities. That may seem ironic, but the reality is that the more you can do and the better you can do it, the more modest you’ll probably become. Your work will speak for itself and the world will, many times, beat a the proverbial path to your door. This is not to say that your efforts will be totally lacking in elements of self-promotion, but these efforts will be secondary to the actual work you do.

The reputation you get for being someone who is simply very good at what you do or, more rarely, the best at what you do, will speak volumes on your behalf. Coming from others in the form of referrals or repeat business, it will also speak more loudly, as actions often do.

Another thing you can do to remain modest is to gain some perspective. You’ll want to read the works of Shakespeare and understand what he’s really saying sometimes. You may need a professor or a professional actor or director to explain some of the more profound passages to you. That should take you down a peg.

If that doesn’t work, I recommend you go to Florence or Rome. In Florence, you can take a look at Michelangelo’s David. The statue is 17 feet tall. Despite its scale, you can see the tendons and veins in David’s hand. If that doesn’t impress you sufficiently, you can take the train down to Rome and visit the Villa d’Este. Bernini carved the sculpture of a Greek god, struggling with a fishing net as it falls around his head. You can see through the holes in the net, just like you can if you hold a real fishing net above your head. You can see the life-like strain in his muscles and the pressing of the flesh. The only difference is that, like Michelangelo’s David, the statue was carved from a single piece of marble, several centuries ago. And we still marvel at these masterpieces today.

So if you think students and scholars will stand in awe of your accomplishments four or five hundred years from today, feel free to be arrogant. Otherwise, let’s let modesty guide our dress, speech, and manner. If there are accolades to be presented, that’s for others to decide.

  • BGT


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Members of the Tribe – In Training

Members of the Tribe - In Training

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Almost Heaven

the library OMG Blog

Books, books, books…

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Where Do You Get Yours?

I accidentally landed in the otherworldly realm of network television the other night and caught a commercial. I found it curious, amusing, and disturbing, all at the same time: the spokesperson for a product promised that if I purchased it, it would certainly give me more “confidence”.

I must first confess to being fully human. I have insecurities, doubts, and regrets just like everyone else. My hairline is going north and, if it weren’t for daily exercise, I’m sure my waistline would be going south will equal deliberate speed. Of course, I instantly thought to myself, I could use more “confidence”, and I’m sure many people could. I would, however, never consider getting it from the purchase of a material possession.

I would discourage everyone from diving into the shallow end on that score. I would encourage us, instead, to examine our aspirations carefully. They will define us and determine the quality of our life to a large extend. (As will the absence of any aspirations.)

Second, I would encourage everyone to honestly determine from what sources you derive your sense of self-worth. Do you pick a lot of cotton in your prestigious occupation? Do you get a sense of superiority from the car you drive or the zip code you live in? Does that wrist watch make you Master of the Universe? Do you need a new pair of Jimmy Choo’s to stand tall?

No one can answer these questions for you. No one even knows which questions to ask. Only you know that. There’s a fine line between enjoying convenient and comfortable material possessions and needing them to feel good about yourself. That may be the reason that many Old Money folks live like Spartans: it helps keep focus on doing things, not owning things.

Your estimation of your own self worth should reside solidly and comfortably in the awareness of the person you have become through your experiences, not what you have acquired through your purchases. If you need to brag about it to others or show it off with conspicuous consumption, you don’t really have it, whatever it is.

Furthermore, this process of becoming is never finished. It’s a continuous personal evolution in which you set goals, work to achieve them, learn through mistakes, assess you performance, and savor what you’ve realized, both in terms of accomplishments and personal gain.

This commitment to constant improvement is the real treasure you seek. Material possessions are merely an illusory reflection of the sense of purpose, personal growth, and achievement that really give life meaning. You think you want the thing, but what you really want is the sense of accomplishment the thing represents.

As a friend of mine said the other day, “If I don’t look back every six months and think, ‘Geez, I was such an idiot to do that or think that,’ then I’m not learning or growing like I should be.” He’s got a point, even though I’m not in favor of beating yourself up about past mistakes or misconceptions. We should be able to look back and see improvement, to see that we’re more highly evolved now than we were. And that takes constant work.

As a favorite aunt of mine used to say, “Real silver requires polishing.”

Let’s stay busy and keep a shine on it.

  • BGT
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Old Money Style: The Polo

OMB Blog - Lacoste Polo

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Old Money in the Country

07 Dec 1960, Middleburg, Virginia, USA --- Middleburg, Virginia: "Glen Ora," leased by President-elect Kennedy as a weekend and summer White House, is on a 400-acre estate near here. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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5 Things You’ll Need to Know and Teach Your Children If You Want to be Old Money

Recent data suggests that 70% of generational transfers of wealth fail. What does that mean? That means that most of the time the wealth that you spend your entire life creating, growing, and preserving will be gone to the wind a few short years after your death.

Why? There are a multitude of contributing factors resulting in the loss of wealth after an inheritance. Failure to properly plan for the orderly transfer of your estate is a big one. You’d be surprised to know how many people never bother to write a will or create a trust. A result of this is can be an avalanche of estate taxes, fighting among heirs, and legal fees out the wazzoo.

Uncontrolled spending is almost a cliche, but it’s still incredibly common. The concept of living off the dividend income of a lump sum just never occurs to people, much less simply not touching the principal or interest and letting it grow.

The bottom line is that the potholes people hit when they inherit assets or cash seem to be as numerous as unique as each person on the planet, but in reality they tend to be recognizable and predictable.

So the question is: how do you avoid them? I have 5 suggestions to help you do what very few families seem to be able to do, namely, pass on wealth to the next generation successfully and productively. Remember, only 30% of families master this task, and even fewer hand off substantially the same amount of money or assets to the third generation. That’s the real hat trick, and that’s where Old Money really begins.

But you’re ready to be an OMG (Old Money Guy or Old Money Gal). Half of getting there is preparation. Here’s the short list of concepts to get your pretty little head around:

  1. The Importance of Financial Literacy. You must have a fundamental understanding of how money works. You have to understand why credit card debt is a bad idea. You should have a budget and a savings plan. You should consider your insurance needs and plan for the future. Furthermore, you must educate your children so they understand these same fundamentals. Why? Because you’re going to hand the (money) ball off to them at a certain point in time in the future. It needs to be in competent hands. Planning is not just for the very rich: planning often makes one very rich. Note: you may have advisers, but you never simply hand off your financial affairs to an “expert”. It’s your money; it’s your business. You can never know everything about investments, but you should have a grasp on the fundamentals.
  2. The Role of Money. You and your children need to understand the role of money. You need to know what it can and cannot do. Money is not something to show off with or brag about. It is not something to use as you try to control others. It is something that, used properly, can provide you and your family a certain measure of security. More importantly, it is possible that money can provide you with options: do you want to get an education? Travel? Pursue something creative? Live abroad? Money, properly managed and intelligently used, can help you do that. Notice I have not said, nor will I ever say, Money can help you buy that. You don’t want to buy things; you want options and opportunities to do things.
  3. The Nobility of Work. No matter how rich you are, you work. Your children go to school, graduate, and go to work. There’s no living off the fat of the land. There’s only honoring your ancestors with effort and vision. Work does several important things: it contributes to self esteem, independent of money; it gives meaning to life; it teaches the life lesson that work is what creates wealth; and, most pragmatically, it preserves existing capital and assets by encouraging heirs to live off of what they earn, not what they’ve been given.
  4. The Power of Unity. The family unit is the most important element in upward mobility and in preserving what you’ve accumulated and accomplished. The members of your family need to understand that you have goals and dreams for the future, and that includes their dreams and their future. When everybody gets on the same page, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.  Make plans, take action, be supportive, and celebrate when you reach your goals.
  5. The Necessity of Values. You have to articulate and adopt certain Core Values for yourself and your family. You have to communicate those values to your children. (I talk about these Core Values in The Old Money Book.) The bad news is that your children will probably ignore most of what you say. The good news is that your children will probably watch everything you do. This should give you an idea of how to communicate your values, i.e., walk the walk before you talk the talk. If you properly instill these common-sense values in your children by setting a good example, you have a chance that they will be good steward of whatever legacy you leave them. If you don’t, they probably won’t.
  • BGT
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