Work?! Mike's thoughts on young people with inherited wealth and earning a living

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.