After a few too many scotches the other night, a group of friends (OMGs one and all, some by birth, others by choice) drafted a list of the things they’d like to whisper to the newly minted rich but are too polite to do so.
Which leaves it up to me. Not unlike a strong shot of whiskey, the effects of these comments may leave the reader with a bad taste in the mouth, or even nausea. The other side of the coin is that the recognition of these truths may also provide a familiar, warm glow.
In no particular order, here are the most common things Old Money would like New Money to know…
We’ve seen New Money come and we’ve seen New Money go. As confident and all powerful as you feel right now, most if not all of your bravado lies resides in your ability to earn an income. It is a highly valued skill which is obviously and justifiably rewarded. The real test is how you do over the long haul and in the broader scheme of things. Sudden wealth brings danger: temptations include insider trading, marital infidelity, substance abuse, and conspicuous consumption. It’s easy to lose your way, and your cash. Which brings us to our second point…
It’s not what you make. It’s what you keep. Bad investment and tax advice, an unsustainable lifestyle, the inability or reluctance to plan for the future, thinking that the (income-earning) party will go on forever. These are New Money’s biggest adversaries. Failure is easy to deal with: you just get back up, dust yourself off, and go at it again (and still stay on a budget). Success is challenging: you have to stay focused and continue to perform while managing and preserving the fruits of your labor (as you adjust to a new standard of living.)
Material possessions will betray you. You’ll acquire every ‘thing’ that is supposed to make you happy, and you may still not be happy. This will make you angry, confused, and may drive you mad if you don’t have something bigger in your life. So enjoy the toys, but don’t embrace them. They will not be a source of comfort during life’s inevitable tough times. To believe that they will be is folly.
You may have more money, but it’s quality of life that counts. At a certain net worth or income level, you can pretty much buy or do anything you want. So now you’re buying and doing all those things. Good for you. You’ve shown everybody that you’ve made it. Understandable. The real question now is: can you settle down and learn to live well? Quality of life is only occasionally directly correlated to income level or net worth. That’s the hard lesson for New Money and a concept that only a small percentage grasp.
Your family will tell on you. Your bank statement may proclaim your financial prowess. Your attorneys may protect you from litigation. Offshore trusts may shelter your assets. A publicist may put a glow on your public personae. But your family will tell the world who you really are. Can’t keep a wife? Children in and out of rehab? Drive whatever car you like and strike whatever pose you want, it matters not to us. You’ve got to get your priorities straight. Invest the same energy, time, and passion in your relationships that you invested in your business. The dividends pay handsomely.
When you think you’ve ‘made it’, look out. You’re in dangerous territory. When you’ve succeeded beyond your dreams, get a bigger goal immediately. Keep meaningful, constructive goals in front of you all the time. These goals must require effort and build new muscles. If you’ve mastered your profession, teach. If you’ve made more money than you know what to do with, give. If you know secrets that can change the world, share. But for God’s sake, keep going. Nothing is so quickly uncomfortable or so obviously awkward as a man resting on his laurels.
We need you. We need you, New Money, to preserve your wealth so that you and your descendants can gradually and permanently assimilate into our culture. We need you to instill our values, priorities, and habits into your children and grandchildren. We need your contributions to our society and our world. Old Money needs new blood.
In the previous century, Old Money Guys and Gals would get a good education. If they did not follow their ancestors into the family business or seek a profit making profession, they turned their energies to public service. Sometimes this included elected office, sometimes not. But it was never for financial gain or personal glory and was often performed anonymously or certainly without fanfare. The thought behind it was as old as the money that made it possible: to whom much is given, much is required.
We need that attitude of service and that commitment to community to continue, to expand, to thrive. It’s the often overlooked, but equally important part of the American Dream: to be successful enough to put others first.
We need to reclaim this ethos. We need to return to a philosophy that views financial abundance as an opportunity to do good and help others, not a license to spend lavishly and behave badly.
Take the high road. It’s uphill much of the time, but the view’s great.