the undeniable connection between money and power, many
of us find that personal power does not come easily at
all. This is especially true if we are following in the
large footsteps of much-touted ancestors, or if our money
is tightly bound by parental control. To find a path that
is right for who we are, we sometimes need to separate
from our families' expectations and from other societal
pressures attempting to mold us. Below are a few stories
of individuals who are forging their own identities amidst
the sometimes overwhelming influence of wealth.
I wanted to get started as an artist in oil paints, what
would I need? A few canvasses, a dozen small tubes of
colors, two or three brushes, right? What if, instead,
huge trucks each carrying thousands of gallons of paint
came roaring down my street and stopped in front of my
house--three truck loads of sunflower yellow, nine truck
loads of cobalt blue... do I have more power to become
a painter, or less?
with my inheritance has been like spending a decade directing
trucks of paint, showing them where to park, figuring
out how to unload them. When all I've ever wanted is to
paint the one small canvas of my true self, my real life.
two decades of dealing with wealth, my experience has
been this: whenever my money has felt larger than my own
sense of self and purpose, it has undermined my power;
when my self-esteem and life purpose have been bigger
than my money, then my wealth has been a most welcome
grew up in South Carolina where my family name was a household
word. I hated being set apart by my wealth and in college
I went to absurd lengths to avoid "revealing my pedigree."
When I received my inheritance at age 21, it came with
my parents' message of fear: "Watch out. There's power
in this that can ruin your life." I ended up supporting
myself with my money, yet felt furtive about it.
spent most of the 70's pursuing spiritual goals, and eventually
turned to face the heritage I had tried so hard to escape.
I soon found my way to a heretofore obscure family investment--a
forest land ownership in Maine. To my amazement, I discovered
that the company's commitment to long-term financial growth
had translated into long-term management of our forest
holdings. (Previously, I had joked that the only thing
"green" about my patriarchs is that green is the color
of their favorite currency.)
wanted to get involved in the company management to better
understand this apparently happy marriage between business
and the environment. Because my father is strongly opposed
to nepotism, I had to fight hard to justify a role for
myself in the company. I now see that joining our business
was a personal turning point: I was embracing work that
called to me and committing to it.
turning point was joining the Threshold Foundation, a
community of peers where, for the first time in my life,
having money was irrelevant because we all had it. Finally
I could explore with others the questions "Who am I? What
matters in life?" without unspoken judgments about my
wealth getting in the way. Threshold was like a greenhouse
where my trust in my identity and values apart from my
money started to bloom. This gave me the courage to be
myself in other parts of my life, building a reinforcing
loop of experimentation and positive feedback.
position within the family company enabled me to take
part in statewide public policy debates around forestry
issues. I worked with the environmental and forest landowner
communities to broker Maine's first Forest Practices Act
in 1989. This landmark legislation restricted landowners'
ability to practice extensive clearcutting in the Maine
recently co-founded a non-profit effort that seeks to build public understanding
around ecological and economic issues before they erupt.
We have brought over a hundred people into constructive
dialogue, including commercial forest landowners, scientists,
conservationists--every sector that has an interest in
these forests. By helping people build common ground instead
of honing their latest attack rhetoric, we believe political
and biological crises (like those that characterized the
spotted owl debates in the Pacific Northwest) can be avoided.
relationships inside the timber industry and the environmental
movement--as well as listening and leadership skills honed
in Threshold--have been instrumental in these successes.
Now in the fullness of middle age, I feel blessed to have
cultivated my spiritual values and used my family heritage
to express them in the world.
- anonymous author
father believed that you had to first make money by being
a hard-ass businessman. Only then could you use your wealth
to support good causes--even if that meant that you made
your money from Philip Morris and then donated it to the
American Cancer Society.
college I was always trying to change my father and make
him wrong for the way he earned his money. At the urging
of my college mentors I decided to stop my criticism and
instead try to let my father be persuaded by my own path
to success. When I made over a million dollars from the
sale of a socially responsible company I started, my father
was indeed proud of me for succeeding without compromising
my values. From that day on he has became more accepting
of socially responsible investments (albeit begrudgingly).
I feel fairly powerful in my chosen field, but I still
feel controlled by my need for my father's approval, especially
in situations where he is giving money to me. I am afraid
that if I piss off either my father or my mother, they
might stop letting me guide the family foundation's investments
towards socially responsible companies. I also fear it
could impact my inheritance. I've been working hard to
change these dynamics and improve relationships in my
family--and I'm humbled by how long changes take.
say money is power. Power can be used in all kinds of
ways: to create, support, nurture,... or control and to
hurt. For the past twenty-five years I have been struggling
against the powerful legal and financial mechanisms my
father put in place to control me--even after his death--until
the day I die.
was twenty-eight when the trust papers arrived in the
mail. My father told me where to sign, and I did without
even reading the text. (I was brought up not to ask questions!)
Not until years later did I discover that I had no access
to the principal and that I could never dissolve the trust.
The trust officers, who march to my father's drummer even
now that he is dead, won't invest my capital according
to my wishes, and I can't fire them because legally they
don't work for me (even though they take a big cut of
gift of wealth is like a bad dream. My money is not mine,
except for the income I receive. I can never use the principal,
and I have no voice in how it is invested. I will forever
be treated like a child who is not capable of making her
own financial decisions.
My Own Voice
Robbins is the author of the international best-seller
Diet for a New America and the founder of EarthSave, a
nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting more healthful
and environmentally-sound food choices.
childhood on it was expected that I would someday take
over and run what has become the world's largest ice cream
company--Baskin-Robbins. The ice cream cone shaped swimming
pool in the backyard of the house in which I lived was
a symbol of the success awaiting me.
people are able to embrace their wealth and not lose themselves.
But for me, it was essential that I turn down that entire
life. I remember telling my dad that developing a 32nd
flavor just didn't feel like an adequate goal for my life,
especially given the critical state of the world! My wife
and I went to homestead in British Colombia (on $500/year),
and later, through writing and activism, we created work
that was both economically and spiritually sustaining.
children of the very wealthy people I have known are happy.
The power of their money always seemed to become greater
than the power they were able to summon within themselves.
Those of us who are happy have had to calm down first
and to disassociate from the dominant belief systems in
our families and our culture. Only after giving up all
expectation or hope to be involved with my family's wealth
was I able to tune into that deeper language of my soul--into
the poetry of my being, into the rhythm and cadence and
purpose of my life.
excerpted with permission from
Diet for a New America
Stillpoint Publishing, 1987.)
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