Jane Dough (a fictitious inheritor), age 24, lamenting to herself:
"Rich people like me have caused the troubles of the world. I should do something brilliant to change things. I haven't yet, so I'm a disgusting privileged worm, living off money I don't deserve...I think I'll make something to eat..."
(Later, while eating warm quiche on her sun porch) "I have the resources to choose any work in the world! I should do something powerful, worthy of all my caring and resources. I keep trying to find something like that, but no job ever seems to fit that bill-at least none I'm yet qualified for..."
(That evening, while serving soup at the local shelter.) "I could create my own job doing something that matters to me. But what right do I have to hire myself, so to speak, and not someone else who might be more skilled and experienced than I am? My family's no help figuring this out-they're just disappointed I haven't become a famous lawyer. My friends are no help-they're just envious that I don't have to work. I can't talk to anyone about this!"
What should Jane do?
____ Get a job, any job.
____ Stay in bed until she feels an impulse from within.
____ See a psychiatrist-maybe medication will help.
____ Try to find a lover who will save her.
____ Read More than Money .
Jane Dough may be fictitious and the choices whimsical, but her dilemmas are very real. We've worked with a great number of inheritors who feel torn up about work-especially people who want to help create a more just and peaceful world.
As you can see in Jane's story, some of the pain is internal: feelings of heavy responsibility, superiority, and unrealistically high expectations leading to shame and isolation-all common for young people raised wealthy. Some dilemmas are external: jobs to change the world are scarce, poorly paid, and have low status compared to most professions. And unlike becoming a doctor or a lawyer, there is no recognized, accredited path for an unconventional career.
Finding a meaningful job can be enormously challenging. But using inherited wealth to fund oneself can be fraught with ethical questions and practical difficulties. Without financial incentive, many inheritors find themselves painfully ambivalent about earning money and end up drifting- unfocused, jobless and isolated.
Fortunately, people have figured out creative ways to resolve the tension between being rich and finding meaningful work. For any of our readers who are in these shoes, we offer here a road map of four basic work alternatives. People often mix and match aspects of the four options or move from one choice to another over time. There are endless "right" choices.
Keep in mind that we are defining work not as making money, but as doing something focused and productive that is fulfilling and builds self-esteem. This kind of work, whether paid or not, seems to be a basic human need.
Develop a Fulfilling Career.
Many inheritors decide to pursue "a regular job." Some-like Ellen (see page10)-want the confidence that comes from earning their own way. Some are drawn to fields where satisfying jobs are available. Others, like Chuck (see page 2), believe living off inherited money is ethically wrong; they feel better working as most people do.
If a career path appeals to you, questions to explore include: how much do you want to earn, and why? Do you plan to support yourself entirely or to use some earned and some unearned money? What will you do with your inheritance once you earn enough that you don't need your assets to live on?
Fund Your Own Work
Some people decide that their true calling doesn't exist as a paying job or they want more freedom or meaning in their work than a regular job can give. Others feel it is ethically wrong to "take a job from someone who needs it" when they don't need the money. For these reasons, many inheritors decide to live on the money they were given and work without a paycheck. They volunteer with existing organizations, work independently (e.g. as artists), or start their own organizations.
Although this path looks easy from the outside, it has its challenges: to go without the validation of a regular job title and salary; to create your own systems of structure and accountability; to accept that many people will know you have independent money; and to make peace with using a privilege that few others have. The reward is the opportunity to follow your heart and do what you find most meaningful.
Make Your Money be Your Work
If you enjoy working with money and feel excited about the impact you can have with investments and philanthropy, your money can be your life's work (given you have enough of it.) You could set up a foundation or charitable trust and get great satisfaction from seeing the money make a difference in the world.
If you have the skills, you could manage your own or your family's money by investing it in ways that build a better world. This choice has many of the same challenges as Choice #2. Some people draw a salary as a staff member of their foundation so their work feels more like a "regular" job.
Become a "Social Entrepreneur"
The term "entrepreneur" often means someone who starts a business aiming to make lots of money. Social entrepreneurs also start businesses, but their aims are different. They either start organizations with the express purpose of furthering the common good, or they make their money in traditional forms of business and then use their money and influence for social purposes. For example, we know of a computer entrepreneur who helped establish an advocacy foundation for elderly issues and then endowed it with half of his assets.
If you are drawn to this option, be humble and realistic about what you do and don't know: get expert business advice and seek successful mentors who can guide you. In addition, you might ask yourself some hard questions: Are you motivated to make lots of money because such "success" is socially validated?
For many people, even those of us with a strong social conscience, the more money we have the more we spend on ourselves. Larger and larger sums just start to feel "normal" to us and our associates. What kind of lifestyle will you choose, and how will you remain accountable to your ethics? Are you willing to fail, perhaps losing all the money you have, and start over at the beginning?
Whatever choice you're drawn to, if you feel lost at sea we encourage you to get assistance-form a "success team", see a career counselor, get help from a financial planner or other advisor. Connect with other inheritors to learn from their experiences. Don't expect fulfillment overnight-good work can be a long-term journey.
Even if you never put to rest all of the practical and ethical dilemmas posed by being a wealthy worker, we hope that you will feel encouraged to ask others how they craft their work path and then to pursue your own journey with creativity and determination.
(Jane, writing in her journal): "I've known Sarah almost a year, but I never guessed she has a secret inheritance just like I do! We talked for hours. We decided to get together once a month to help each other think about work..."
Parts of this article were adapted from the chapter "Finding Meaningful Work" in We Gave Away a Fortune, by Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian with Peter Woodrow, New Society Publishers, 1992.
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