“Being born on third base, without having to hit the triple” is how one family member described the guilt of wealth. Others talked about avoiding the topic of where they stayed on vacation, feeling like they always must pick up the check or having no right to talk about having a bad day. Becoming comfortable with wealth is often a struggle for the next generation and sometimes the wealth creators themselves.
Six members of one of our families described guilt as “the walk of shame.” Living beyond their income required a monthly walk to their family office to request funds to cover their lifestyle.
On top of guilt, there’s the added pressure of having to find one’s “purpose.” Daunting for many already saddled with growing up in the shadow of great wealth. Roy William’s favorite quote was, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Pointing to the importance of purpose tracks back all the way to Plato who stated “. . . for the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Traveling from guilt to gratitude invites the question of how do I contribute to the wealth, in addition to being a receiver of it? Here are tips to help along that journey:
1. Start with interests. Ask yourself what problems in your community or the greater world you would like to help solve and develop the skill to do it. What do you find yourself reading about on social media? How could you learn more? After hearing about the possibility of repurposing underutilized housing space for social good, a 24-year family member was inspired to shadow and learn from his brother-in-law in construction. Today he works closely with his dad in community-driven real estate projects.
2. Shift from receiver to contributor. Consider how you can contribute to the family, the family wealth, and the future generations. Perhaps it is offering to coordinate a gathering with the cousins, organizing classes in stewardship, or simply reaching out to maintain family connections. In one of our families, the cousins created an investment club and invited the family wealth advisor to teach them about managing investments.
Embrace the responsibility. Great wealth does not mean great happiness. Embarrassed by the public display of their family wealth, the younger members of one of our families formed a family council to increase communication and create a shared vision for the wealth. Today they manage all philanthropic activities, hold regular education sessions from leadership to investments, and attend community events with pride.
The entrepreneurial spirit that creates great wealth is woven into the DNA of rising generations. The path to discovering how to be a contributor with those embedded skills is an exciting journey that starts with accepting the responsibility of contributorship, and learning to embrace expectations regarding the family’s wealth and legacy.
Make 2024 your best year yet!