man wins the lottery. Suddenly his extended family begins
to resent him, expecting him to pay for any and all their
wants and needs.
inheritor re veals her new wealth status to her fiancé,
only to find her worst fears confirmed: he can't handle
the financial disparity between them and they break off
organization convinces an anonymous donor that his well-known
name will help attract more needed funds. He reluctantly
agrees to let his name be put on the building his gift helped
to construct. The building goes up, the fund drive is a
success. The press rips the donor apart for seeking public
recognition for his philanthropy.
unfortunate stories. We've all heard them. Some dismiss
them, saying, "That's what happens when people find out
you're rich." But does it have to be that way? And how common
are these kinds of occurrences?
there are genuine risks to "coming out of the green closet,"
many people find that the reality isn't nearly as dire as
they had imagined. (anonymous author), a Silicon Valley multimillionaire,
feared he would receive an avalanche of funding solicitations
if he agreed to be interviewed for a cover story in Newsweek
magazine. He went ahead and did it anyway. To his surprise,
he found very few additional solicitations in his mailbox.
Instead, he received welcoming and supportive letters from
inheritor was so reluctant to let people know she was wealthy
that she spent an inordinate amount of time and energy hiding
both her wealth and her true interests and passions. Now
open about her wealth in selected contexts, and happy with
the rewards it has brought her, she says, "I missed opportunities
to support things I believed in because I was so scared
people would know I had money." She encourages people to
"deal with their 'stuff' about wealth, so they can move
on and use the power that comes with having money."
Choice that is Right for You
We each live in different
contexts, with different personality make-ups, and different
goals and purposes for our lives. The choices we make about
being public or private depend on the intricate web of factors
that define our own lives. For some, the "right" choice
is to be blatantly "out"; for others, it is to be intensely
private; for still others, it's a middle ground - more open
in some contexts, more private in others. The key is to
choose in an empowered way-with deliberate and aware intention,
so that other people's opinions, your own fears and emotions,
societal pressure, or circumstances beyond your control
are not making your decisions for you.
do you, personally, decide? How do you make informed choices
in alignment with your own values, beliefs, and individual
needs and aspirations?
following can be helpful guidelines:
Risks and Rewards
To determine risk, you might start with your own fears.
What are you afraid will happen if other people find out-your
fiancé, your friends, your co-workers? What will
happen if you say the wrong thing with someone with whom
you are beginning a relationship? What do you fear will
happen if you make a public donation?
Then acquaint yourself with personal
accounts of others who are already comfortable with
their choices. (You can do this by reading interviews
in More Than Money Journal, joining the MTM email discussion
group, and/or joining networks or organizations that
assist people with wealth to address issues of relevance
to them.) What have others done to mitigate the risks?
Did what they feared actually happen? If so, what did
they do? If not, what happened instead? What are the
rewards they have experienced? Were the rewards worth
Identifying ways to mitigate risk can
help prevent the feared scenario or prepare you to address
it more calmly and effectively if it does occur. Identifying
potential rewards can give you courage and incentive
to take a risk.
As humans, we seldom make choices based entirely on reason
and logic. Our emotions also play a significant role.
Many people harbor mixed feelings about wealth; and even
if they do not, they are well aware that others do. Wealth
counselor Dennis Pearne reminds us that our culture has
"a love-hate relationship with wealth." Although many
people desire to be wealthy, those with wealth are often
resented for it.
Common emotions such as fear, guilt,
and shame may inadvertently drive your decisions if
they are not fully resolved. Therapy, counseling, and
coaching can all be useful, as well as some of the newer,
energy-based approaches to emotional clearing.
Wealth counselors and coaches can help you think through
the ramifications of your decisions, bolster your confidence,
and provide emotional support. So can friends and organizations
that assist people with wealth. You don't have to do it
the Broader Impact of Your Decision
Because the choice to be public or private about wealth
necessarily has consequences for others, some argue that
is not entirely a personal decision. It can affect family,
friends, colleagues, people who look to you as an example,
and, ultimately, all of society. Saal believes it is important
to be public, in order to inspire others to become more
philanthropic. Jennifer Ladd, who inherited wealth at
age twenty-one, decided twenty-three years later that
it was time to use her wealthy identity to help reduce
the growing gap between rich and poor in America-so she
became a spokesperson for the national organization Responsible
Wealth. Anne Slepian, cofounder of More Than Money, suggests
that openness about money, if done with sensitivity, can
be a healing force among people of all financial backgrounds.
Different situations may call for different choices. For
example, with one nonprofit, you may be anonymous, because
you want to make a one-time gift; with another, you may
want to stay in touch with the organization's leaders
and invite them to give you periodic briefings to connect
you to other donors. Your best friend might know your
net worth, while your colleagues only know that you have
"some money from family." You can be a public role model
in print media, but refuse any photographs. Don't feel
you need to limit yourself to a single option.
Allow yourself whatever time you need in order to feel
you've satisfactorily explored your options. It may be
better to go slowly than to take an action you won't be
able to retract later. By considering a full range of
options, learning from the experience of others, using
both reason and emotion, and giving yourself the support
of others, as well as the time you need to make wise decisions,
you will be more able to choose for yourself exactly how
public or private you want to be about wealth. Most importantly,
you will be choosing from a place of strength and empowered
choice, so your decisions will be more fulfilling to you
and more aligned with your own values and goals.
is editor of
More Than Money Journal
Her prior work in schools, businesses, and nonprofit organizations
has focused on learning, growth, and change. She is founder
of Compelling Vision and the
and holds a doctorate in human development
from Harvard University.
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