Note: These thoughts are mine and not RG’s as a whole, RG policy or anything of the sort. Important questions that complicate my argument are at the bottom.
I wanna start a conversation. It touches on one of the issues I have struggled with ((In my twenties I worked a low-paying job with Americorp, part-time jobs as an after-school teacher and other work that barely covered my bills. I was able to do this because I could use or borrow a thousand dollars here and a thousand dollars there from my trust fund or family to cover my expenses. Questions like, how much should I be working? and how much money do I need to make? were constantly on my mind.)) and continue to grapple with as a young(ish) adult, and what I see as one of the biggest struggles and questions many of our RG members with inherited wealth face as we graduate college and enter the job market. I don’t think there are easy answers, I think we are faced with a set of tough choices. I am excited to put out my thinking as cleanly and clearly as I can and am hoping this starts lots of interesting discussion that makes us all smarter.
The conversation I want to start is about work. I have been thinking a lot about the question…How can young people with inherited wealth relate to paid work in a way that moves us all (including the young and wealthy) towards a better, more healthy and just world? I have come to the initial conclusion that ALL young people with inherited wealth ((I’m playing with the idea of saying “all young people with excess wealth” as I think these ideas about work might also be true for the young professional who makes a lot of money and decides to retire early and fund themselves to work on their own projects…and I am not sure. I have lots of experience talking through these questions with young people with inherited wealth and need more conversations with young professionals on this topic.)) (really all people with inherited wealth) should have jobs that cover their expenses. I think that having a job that pays your bills is a really helpful goal and decision for young people with inherited wealth and for the world.
For me a key thought behind this conclusion is that paid work has and does put me in close community and relationship with a broader, cross-class community of people than when I use my inherited wealth to opt out or subsidize my income. The community and relationships in my life are the precursor to any meaningful participation in transforming our economy, society and world. Work seems like one key way that we can connect with a wide-variety of people, align our experiences with the majority of humans on the planet, and learn how to work in institutions and with groups. What a great point of connection…even if it’s just to kvetch about how much work sucks.
So, here are my thoughts organized into my favorite thing, lists!
What type of work? I think this work should ideally have several characteristics. Ideally, we (the young people with inherited wealth)…
- make enough money to live off of without using our inheritance, and ideally make enough money that we no longer are dependent on our inherited wealth as a safety net
- have a boss or supervisor who is not us (or, ideally, not a family member), where we are accountable to someone and something else, and get feedback on our strengths and where we need to grow ((I am generally suspicious of consultant jobs as they can be highly isolating and not push us to depend on other people or break our patterns of (over) self-reliance. And I know more and more parts of our economy are using consultants instead of employees.))
- are working a job that puts us in touch with people from other class backgrounds (even if you make similar amounts of money now)
Why this would be good for young people with inherited wealth?
- We can learn how to work with people and if we’re lucky, a team, how to support a goal set by someone else, how to support leaders and ideas not our own.
- We can have daily contact with other people.
- We can gain confidence and self-esteem that we can support ourselves, and that our self-worth is not connected to the money in our families
- We get the chance to learn and see how capitalism and the economy work…often showing us how inhuman it is.
- We can become more confident about our ability to support ourselves…giving us greater confidence and freedom to move our inherited money to issues, causes and people we care about.
- We can learn how to rely on other people, and learn how to get our needs met through our relationships and community, rather than depending on our wealth.
- If we get a job that pays our bills, and give our inherited wealth, we can become more invested in making sure everyone has the safety net we need to lead good lives. It can mean we are more invested in finding communal solutions to issues like health care, a living wage, a fair tax system…rather than using our inherited wealth as a way to find an individual solution, for ourselves, to the lack of a safety net in our society
- We get to be part of a local, national and international labor movement! It’s not just us alone working for a just world, we get to re-join the vast majority of humanity in making a better world (cause the majority of people in the world are workers).
What young people with inherited wealth might need to take on this goal?
- Lots of people telling us that you can do it! it might be hard…and its worth it! Because it can be hard. There aren’t enough living wage, well-supported, healthy jobs in our economy. The unemployment rate for young people is high, and we are going to have to face the same crappy job market as our peers.
- CHOICE!! (Alternative title: NO MORE GUILT TRIPS). If we so choose, we need to take on this project for ourselves, not because our parents, grandparents, brothers or friends think it’s the right thing to do. And especially not if we are guilt tripping ourselves into doing this because it becomes the cool rich kid thing to do. Young people with wealth often suffer from enough feelings of guilt and responsibility as it is…any action in the direction of making enough money to live off of needs to be OUR CHOICE not because I or anyone else told us too.
- An understanding that for some of us this will be a process not a quick decision. That moving step by step towards earning a living will take time and intention…and that we will be patient with ourselves and others along the way.
- Help dealing with the classism and class oppression we will face if we choose to work in working or middle class jobs. Crappy health care, long hours, an abusive boss, layoffs! There is a ton of crap to deal with (that poor, working and middle class people are all too familiar with) if we are in professions that are not highly paid, owning class or upwardly mobile young professional jobs. We will need help from our friends and co-workers who have dealt with these experiences before.
- Support from a community of other young people with inherited wealth (like RG) sharing the successes and the challenges of making this happen, and continually giving us the chance to re-connect with our values and big dreams for our lives and the world
- Stories of young people with inherited wealth who have pulled this off, sharing what they learned and had to face along the way (who wants to write their story and share it on the rg blog?!)
Why this could be good for the world?
- A generation of young people with inherited wealth more connected to people and less confused that our worth, safety and security comes from the money in our families
- A generation of young people with inherited wealth confident that they have the skills and experience and relationships to support ourselves without our inheritances…and therefore giving more boldly than ever, moving our inherited wealth towards building the world we all want and need
- A generation of young people with inherited wealth who have learned how to work with others, be part of a team, aware of our strengths and challenges, know how to support others and navigate organizations and institutions.
- A generation of young people with inherited wealth who have a better understanding of what it means to work, how messed up our current economy and economic system are and know that we get to be part of changing it (rather than using our inherited wealth to opt out)…alongside (rather than outside of or as the bosses of) the vast majority of humans
Some questions this all brings up for me…
- How does this idea mix with the idea that everyone needs more leisure time, less work, more time with our families, more time to organize? How does this not just slide into some protestant work ethic, “we should all be cogs in the machine” sort of ethos?
- How does this idea work for people with disabilities?!
- Im a white guy who grew up with wealth, easy for me to say “get a job, it’s gonna be good for you”…how might this change or be modified to take into consideration the sexism, homophobia, racism and other oppressions faced by many young people with inherited wealth in the workplace or in the economy in general? For example, it looks real different for me, as a white guy, to get a job, keep a job and make a living wage than a women, person of color or other groups discriminated against in the job market.
- Is this idea also true for young professionals who use their excess wealth to fund themselves to work on their own projects?
- Does it make a difference if someone was raised wealthy, middle, working class or poor?
- But what if I’m working for my families’ foundation or business, strategically moving money to social change or transforming it’s labor and environmental practices? You said, don’t work for your family!? Hmm. Good question. That is such important work. I am in full support of it. And I think it would be great for everyone to have work experiences outside of their family before they take on that sort of project.
- All people are completely good and worthy for just being, not DOING anything. Where does this spiritual/ethical idea fit in…I want all humans to know, really know, that we are worthy and lovable because of simply being who we are, not what we do. How do we get this sense of our own self worth (outside of what we do) while also having this focus on the helpfulness of work?
Wadya think? I’d love to hear from you.
It makes no difference how the bills get paid, anyone can live within their means. The important thing is to do work that is meaningful to you. A bitter baker makes bitter bread, etc. In the real world, you may not get the job you desire. Wealth does not open every door, ya know. And if it does, it may be the wrong door.
Do what you love first. If the job doesn’t pay the bills, adjust or spend the trust fund. There is no shame in consumption of an inheritance, the ‘shame’ is in living a shallow life, wherever the funds come from.
Rich or poor, the first bubble is in our head.
However, your wealth is an opportunity. Like the Parable of Talents, you can do big things with it, if you so choose. That is a much bigger and important question. As young people, you are automatically inexperienced and faced with the traditional daunting choice (what should I do) and a second one (what should I do with this money).
Linking the two does not make the first question any easier.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a philanthropist (I have a generous spirit). Today, I have an different understanding of money. People need wisdom more than money. Money is just a tool. Like all tools, you need to develop the skill before you can craft a masterpiece.
The short answer: do something you love, pay your bills, help others. That is the formula for the rich and the poor.
(Note: in general, wealth in not created by following that formula. It is impossible to become a philanthropist if one has a generous spirit. It has to be someone else’s money. A lot of the angst being discussed is the conflict caused by taking too much and giving to little, which is what you really inherited).
What about when all your not wealthy friends go on and on about all the things they would do if they didn’t have to work and when they learn you are wealthy give you the “why are you working instead of…[insert any one of the bajillion life dreams you’ve heard from people]?!?!?”
I find it hard to justify working instead of following life long dreams when I’m given the great gift of the opportunity to live my dream…for example, I just quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, something many of my friends only dream of doing. I did this in part because I heard too many times from them that “if only I didn’t have to work” and when my heart was telling me “all I want to do is stay at home and raise my daughter” which could be “not work and create [insert any world changing or creative project someone is dreaming of]” I decided the right thing to do was to take the opportunity. That doesn’t mean I then have to live a solitary life, secluded from and ignorant of the rest of the world and the community I live in…I just don’t have a 9-5….I chose to work 24/7 for free at the hardest “job” I could ever have…because I could…..just something else to consider.
Hey Regina, Thanks so much for your comment on my post. Just the type of conversation and good push back and thinking I was hoping for. I really appreciate it.
A couple thoughts…
1. Quitting work to be a stay-at-home mom should have gone in one of my questions at the bottom of my post. its so clear to me that in the US we have horribly in-sufficient and oppressive policies around maternity (and paternity) leave. We generally don’t have a society setup well to take care of kids and value the work that goes into taking care of and raising kids.
There definitely is a particularly wicked piece of sexism that makes raising kids valued less and paid less compared to most other employment. I imagine in that context, supporting yourself to be at home and raise your kid with your inheritance could make a lot of sense. And I think that, as you said, just because you are using your inheritance doesn’t mean you are isolated. I think that money often can be a disincentive to depending on others as fully as if we didn’t have it…and I know that lots of folks with money lead connected lives in community. I especially think that women and queer friends with wealth that I have know lots about how to depend on others.
And I always think its helpful for those of us with inherited wealth to ask the question…”how would i do this without using that money?” what would we have to do? figure out? who would we need to ask for help from? reach out too?
2. those voices from friends from other class backgrounds (or who are also wealthy) who say “if i was you”, “if i had wealth, i would do this or that” can be and are loud for sure. and i dont want to rely or be swayed by other’s peoples feelings about money, wealth or class. so many folks are confused that being wealthy solves everything and makes human’s lives easier and better. its true up to a certain extent and then i believe its really not true. i want to challenge the narrative that using money to opt out of the struggles that the vast majority of humans face makes our lives better. i dont want any of us wealthy folks to be making decisions based on guilt from ourselves, our families or our friends on what we should be doing…but instead based on a vision of the big full lives we want where we are connected to lots of others.
phew. thats what i got for now.
i really appreciate you writing and am happy to continued the conversation.
thanks for sharing all of this thinking, Mike. i always appreciate your posts. there are so many interesting ideas and questions here for all of us to respond to… i look forward to seeing the conversation continue! in the meantime, i’ll make one quick point:
having been a consultant for several years, i agree it can be isolating and feed a sense of self-reliance, and at the same time, as consultants we are actually extremely dependent on and accountable to other people (our “clients”), and, if we’re any good, we are constantly getting feedback from them on our work/interpersonal skills/etc.
hope i’ve reduced your suspicions a bit 🙂
Thanks for your post. I love this topic and am so glad that you wrote such a thoughtful opener to this conversation.
As I think about my own experience as a young person with inherited wealth who has struggled to find (and stay with) work that actually sustains me financially, two responses kind of hit me.
Both, I think, have a whole lot to do with class privilege, and the messages I heard, models I was given for work, ways I was pushed in school, etc.
#1: Having grown up upper class and having attended private schools throughout my life, it was assumed I would go to college and graduate school. My grandfather, dad, step-dad, and step-mother-figure were lawyers, so the message around graduate study was more specifically, the law. I don’t remember ever telling anyone I wanted to be a lawyer — I said I wanted to be a writer, which I now understand as an artistic aspiration that’s often used as a reason someone should study the legal profession, along with enjoyment of history, a love of debate, a heart for justice, etc. “You love to write! Be a lawyer.” “Not a writer?” No, a lawyer.
Anyway, once I decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer, well, then what? As I started getting into teaching, and recognizing that I enjoyed it, that I had always been interested in what teachers do, that I felt rewarded by it, that it felt like work that could impact people’s lives in positive ways, I also had to deal with some of the negative messages — coming from my family and my social class! — around choosing this career. I mean, it seemed ok enough if I was going for a PHD and to be a professor. But just a school teacher? That’s what you do for two years after college before applying to grad school. (I feel shame even as I write this)
Point being, one of the hard things about finding work is that it can be hard to find if you are interested in exploring choices outside of what was a class-affirmed choice.
(To be transparent, I did pursue graduate study, and I work as a Community College instructor, both choices I think I made in part to seek affirmation from family and peers)
#2 The second message I received around work, and one I continue to struggle with, is that we should do work that we love. What I’ve found in my working life is that I sometimes love it, and sometimes like it, and sometimes strongly dislike certain tasks, and a lot of times, well, it’s good enough to stay with it, because I get paid and I watch my students grow and I don’t know what else I would do that would feel as meaningful. In my 20’s I kept searching for that perfect job that would feel like it met my need for stimulation, connection, and meaning all the time. But I don’t think work really is like that all the time — a lesson I’ve learned in part from having friends and colleagues who don’t have as many choices around when they work and what they do. They’ve made their choices, and at least until they figure out how to make ends meet in other ways, they’ve got to see them through.
For me, the meaning of my work often comes from seeing it through, even when it sucks. I know that being able to say that comes from having a certain amount of privilege — there are plenty of jobs I probably wouldn’t find meaningful even if I stuck with them — but the value of commitment has been a powerful way for me to find meaning in my paid work.
I perceive that there is more nuance to this intriguing set of topics. A few that I will name right now are: (a) what can someone with inherited wealth offer the economy (or role(s) can they play) that another worker could never entertain?
(b) how does this change for one person over time?
Chad! Id love to hear or read your thoughts on some of the additional nuance. Id be curious about your additional thoughts.
On the one’s you named…
a. i like the idea of young wealthy people giving the money we would spend to subsidize ourselves to organizations or individuals we think are doing great work that might not be easily funded…rather than starting off assuming we are the right folks to be subsidized to do the many many important things are economy doesn’t support.
b. great question. i think it can and does often change
Two thoughts that have come up for me in talking about this with folks…
1. i love the idea that whenever we, as young people with wealth, use our inheritances to fund ourselves to not work…we just ask the question “how would I do this without using my inheritance/if I didn’t have this money?” I like it as a thought exercise that can help us see if there are other ways to go about getting to the same goal without using the money and potentially with more dependence on other people, inter-dependence, patience, etc…
2. im real curious if giving goes up when/if young people with inherited wealth have jobs that cover our expenses. id love to see a study on that question. my hope would be that giving would be up. and who knows!?
Much of the preaching from the top of this page is the same I heard from a now-former friend of mine, as an irrevocable trust recipient myself. He has “wise,” “conservative,” “moral” working-class parents, who spend their spare time listening to certain talk radio, from whom he gains (and imposes) such facts of life unto others. But paradoxically, this same fella (who I graduated college with) is a public school teacher — in teacher unions supported by arch-liberals. Nothing wrong with teaching as a profession, even public teaching. But factor in that amazingly, he’s been fired at least twice (from the public schools) and is now in his 5th position in just over a decade. Sounds like someone with quite the work (and behavioral) ethic himself. As for me: I am an independent writer/journalist. Before we start loading on the starving-artist stereotypes, this was initiated with grant money I EARNED (albeit years ago). I am writing two books, and consult (that’s right) with a journal, and occasionally publish in it, too. Admittedly, my work options are limited due to mental mood and anxiety afflictions I have. There were a couple of (non-physician) shrinks along the way who pressured that I get the “McJob” to do “in the meantime,” supposedly for my mental health (but definitely more for my perceived non-extant work ethic). What I’m saying is this: there is a lot of ignorance and jealousy surrounding this discussion. How many jobs (whether doing writing, “McJobs” or what have you) come with teacher union “guarantees?” I know, those low-paid jobs I think I’m “too good for” instill the basic work ethic. They also qualify half their workers for welfare subsidies (Wal Mart being the chief example). So which is worse, trust funds, or welfare? I wonder what the hypocrite, looney-toon teacher would say now.
A few thoughts based on your questions, and what you laid out above”
•How does this idea mix with the idea that everyone needs more leisure time, less work, more time with our families, more time to organize? How does this not just slide into some protestant work ethic, “we should all be cogs in the machine” sort of ethos?
Answer: To hold a job in today’s American workplace is to embrace the Protestant work ethic. MOST employment in the U.S. is “at will,” i.e., they can fire you as fast as you can quit, for any reason. If you’re full-time (technically 35 hrs./wk.), you’ll actually being doing more like 50 hours/wk., plus commute. You also have to consider those who have trustees lording over their TFs, limiting what they can have any given month or year. While that may be “just another reason” to get hired someplace, it goes against the stereotype envious people have that a trust fund always functions as a private slush fund.
As too many millennials have learned, “entry level” jobs that DO NOT cover basic costs of living are usually no ladders of opportunity to “work your way up.” Statistics show this.
•How does this idea work for people with disabilities?!
It depends on the disability. It’s one thing to build a ramp for wheelchair access. But there are other disabilities, like psychological illness, that can cause A LOT of problems in a standard workplace. I am one of those people with diagnoses that don’t function well with a combination of work stress, commuting, co-workers and bosses (most of whom are not your true friends), on top of the pretty wild symptoms I have. Then there’s the stigma of psychological illness that would spill over. Never mind this “try it, it’ll make you feel better” garbage. People can (and have always) worked from home, and can ultimately make a pretty damn good living. All while having a social life separate from any type of work.
•Im a white guy who grew up with wealth, easy for me to say “get a job, it’s gonna be good for you”…how might this change or be modified to take into consideration the sexism, homophobia, racism and other oppressions faced by many young people with inherited wealth in the workplace or in the economy in general? For example, it looks real different for me, as a white guy, to get a job, keep a job and make a living wage than a women, person of color or other groups discriminated against in the job market.
I don’t see how identity politics fits into this equation. Anybody who says anything negative about the above mentioned groups will be fired, or can be sued. On average, young American women (who have more college and advanced degrees) now OUTEARN men. It may even out when the women start having kids, but the fact that young men earn less shows that there are fewer “marriageable” men. So more women are keeping their careers and doing quite well.
•Is this idea also true for young professionals who use their excess wealth to fund themselves to work on their own projects?
It depend on what project. If it’s fixing bicycles or model cars, then they’d probably do well to get hired doing something more gainful. But if it involves a project where someone has serious, real world connections and gainful opportunities, then SOME of their “excess wealth” can be invested in it. These things can take time, and getting a “steady job” can often stifle productive, independent work.
•Does it make a difference if someone was raised wealthy, middle, working class or poor?
As I’ve learned, some people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are very envious of those who inherit enough money to live off of. But the vice of envy is worse than sloth, and we should not organize our lives around making jealous people feel better about themselves by trying to be “regular folks,” and conforming to the very social and economic system you object to.
•But what if I’m working for my families’ foundation or business, strategically moving money to social change or transforming it’s labor and environmental practices? You said, don’t work for your family!? Hmm. Good question. That is such important work. I am in full support of it. And I think it would be great for everyone to have work experiences outside of their family before they take on that sort of project.
A part-time job in high school and college would suffice.
•All people are completely good and worthy for just being, not DOING anything. Where does this spiritual/ethical idea fit in…I want all humans to know, really know, that we are worthy and lovable because of simply being who we are, not what we do. How do we get this sense of our own self worth (outside of what we do) while also having this focus on the helpfulness of work?
By not conforming to the Protestant or Ayn Rand work ethic of this society, where living wages that once supported families (let alone an individual) are scoffed at. By not conforming to workplaces that hold only those at the bottom accountable, allowing those in authority to pass the buck down. By doing work that maximizes our talents and abilities, in whatever setting (while ignoring critics who have jealousy or control issues).