Some time ago, as I sat sipping my coffee in a Starbucks in New York City’s Greenwich Village, my ears perked up at an animated conversation at the adjacent table. A group of financial investors, fresh off a successful deal, were discussing the latest plans to make it big. My curiosity piqued, I leaned back and let their voices wash over me.
“That guy has everything,” one mused, his eyes glazed with admiration.
“But will he stay on top?” another retorted, a knowing smirk tugging at his lips.
That conversation left an imprint, embedding itself into my mind. It aroused a troubling thought, like a pebble in a shoe that you can’t quite shake out. A paradox, it seemed, was alive and well in our world—we idolize wealth and success until it reaches the summit, and then we begin to methodically and relentlessly undermine it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked hard for my wealth, and I enjoy its comforts—the delicious freedom, the ability to gift myself experiences, the ability to help others, and of course the relief from constantly worrying over unpaid bills. I believe in hard work, and I admire success. This wealth thing… I don’t get it. This relentless cycle of lionizing and demonizing people, merely based on their net worth, confounds me. It seems that the more wealth you accumulate, the greater the spectacle you become, and the tighter the noose of public opinion closes around your neck.
In the beginning, you are the underdog, the hustler, the go-getter, the hard worker. Your struggle, your dreams, your drive to push beyond boundaries—they are relatable, they are respected. They strike a chord, not just with your peers, but with the general public, too. You’re not just an individual pursuing wealth; you become a symbol of perseverance, of aspiration, and a beacon of hope that one can rise from the ashes.
But as you climb the wealth ladder, something changes. With each rung you ascend, the cheers become fainter and the whispers of dissent grow louder. By the time you reach the top, the applause has faded into a low ominous murmur, a background score to the chorus of relentless criticism.
In our society, wealth is often equated with success, and success in turn is seen as a measure of ones personal worth. This perspective puts immense pressure on those who have attained great wealth. Suddenly, they are held to higher moral standards, their actions are scrutinized more intensely, and their mistakes are magnified, often leaving them stranded on a lonely pinnacle of prosperity.
From my own experience, I have seen that the route to financial freedom is far from linear. It is marked by long days and sleepless nights, relentless pursuits, and bouts of self-doubt, by triumphs and failures, and of seemingly endless struggles. And yet, when you finally scale the summit, the world looks up and questions finally, “Do you really deserve to be there?”
The pinnacle of success, I have come to realize, is a slippery slope. It is buffeted by winds of public opinion, eroded by scrutiny, shrouded by a false sense of security, and treacherous with the risk of falling from grace. Each step taken is a precarious one, where a misstep can send you tumbling into the abyss of public scorn.
So, where does this leave those who seek to accumulate wealth? Are they doomed to tread a path that eventually leads to resentment and censure? Must the summit of prosperity always be a lonely place?
I realize now that the problem isn’t the wealth or the pursuit of it. It’s our perception of wealth and the expectations we place on those who possess it. We should celebrate hard work, perseverance, and entrepreneurial spirit, but we should also remember that wealth does not in any way, equate to moral superiority, or infallibility.
As a society, we must move beyond the narrative of wealth accumulation as the ultimate goal, and instead foster a culture that values the journey as much as the destination. We need to create an environment that encourages wealth creation without the specter of vilification.
For those of us at the top, we must strive to use our positions not just for personal gain, but for the greater good. We need to show that wealth can be a force for good, a tool for change, rather than just a symbol of success.
Wealth, at the end of the day, is just a tool. It is neither inherently good nor bad. It is what we do with it, and how we let it shape us, that truly matters.
July 22, 2023