Photo credit: Selva
There was an executive who was financially set – he was textbook Financial Planning 101. His employer provided a great pension (defined benefits, even), his financial advisor had multiplied his RRSP investments, and he owned his penthouse condo in Coal Harbour outright. Then the company wanted to replace him with someone younger who was more in touch with the online market, so they gave him a kick-ass buy-out plan. The golden handshake. As in $1M if he signed the Non Disclosure Agreement and would go away quietly anywhere but to a direct competitor.
After the initial shock passed, and some C-suite-level outplacement appointments, it was time to deal with reality. He thought to himself, “What shall I do with the $1M? My RRSPs are maxed out. I have my pension. What to do now with my life, and what to do with this $1M, what to do…” Finally he came up with a plan. “I know. I’ll buy the condo on the floor below and renovate so I have double the space, and I’ll finally buy that place in Bali I’ve been dreaming about.” Plus, his financial advisor helped him find some legitimate off-shore investments so he could save on taxes.
This made him happy. He said to himself, “Look at how well I’ve done for myself. I put myself through university, I’ve worked hard, I was disciplined with my savings and investing since day 1, and now it’s time to enjoy the good life. I sooooo deserve it after such a stressful career. I won’t return to work; I’m set for life at this point. Now, it’s time to eat, drink and have a great time.” And immediately he went out to buy the best golf clubs he could find and headed for the greens.
But just as he reached the 9th hole God said to him: You Fool!!!! Tonight you’re going to die of an aneurism and then who is going to get all that you have (so thoroughly) prepared for yourself?
So much for the protestant work ethic, eh?
You may recall I’ve started a series, somewhat lite and somewhat maybe not, about the “7 deadly sins” and the “7 virtues”. The story above was originally told by Jesus (who had a lot to say about folks and their money) and my hunch is that it gets at the deadliness of pride. Not as in healthy pride over a job well done, or an appropriate inner sense of confidence, but this kind of pride:
As I mulled over the story above, here’s what I noticed. The man’s not being condemned for having been successful. The investments and the condo are not the issue. He’s being called a fool because he focused solely on his own good life without acknowledging that he’s part of a larger context. In fact, nobody else at all factors into his thinking.
- It doesn’t occur to him that he was wealthy because he was born in Canada instead of Rwanda.
- It doesn’t occur to him that his shrewd intelligence was a sheer gift, further enhanced by an affordable (in his day!) university education.
- It doesn’t occur to him that his inner drive to work hard and succeed was due in part to a whole set of experiences in his youth which led him to believe, deeply, that success was achievable.
And ultimately, it doesn’t occur to him that he and his money had and should have any kind of connection to anyone besides himself. His pride led ultimately to a fundamental isolation. Scrooge, redux (or vice versa more accurately).
What a contrast to the joyful and life-giving generosity of the likes of Warren Buffet who is giving his fortune to charity as he himself lives on a salary of $100,000.
The point for you and me is: We too are also in the process of building up our wealth. To get quite personal, as I’m in the highest earning bracket I’ve ever been in, and as my own portfolio has plumped rather nicely, I’ve noticed just the subtlest creep of pride, as if somehow I deserve my current (operative word) blessings, rather than, well, happened to seize a few good opportunities that presented themselves. So the question is, will I, will you and I, take care to tilt in the direction of integration with our larger contexts, perhaps even a Higher Power, in happy generosity? or will we congratulate ourselves as our nest eggs grow even as we imperceptibly detach from the global, human, world we inhabit?