Money is the genie in the bottle that we can turn into anything we want, it’s the Abra Cadabra of life, that magic elixir that can change everything overnight. Or is it? Social media has made us feel we need to go viral to succeed, it peddles the idea that beautiful is better and rich is better still. I sat down with Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, author of Fragile Power, to discuss the allure of wealth and how it shows up in most everyone’s life.
Tian: Paul, why does “having it all” not feel like you have it all?
Paul: The notion of ‘having it all’ is an elusive one. It’s like perfection, impossible to attain and scampers away the minute it you think it’s within your grasp. This is because the pull towards ‘having it all’ can be obsessive and based on emotions generated from fear and scarcity. Having it all can be grounded in a story of ourselves where we’re deficient, unsafe, unseen and loved.
In addition, ‘having it all’ is a relative construct. It’s sometimes rooted in a distorted comparison to others where we’ll always find someone with more- more beauty, more love, more security, more fame and fortune.
Tian: Is there a point of diminishing returns when it comes to having wealth, I think that seems to be a recurring theme in your book.
Paul: The message in my book is not that wealth and success are bad per se. Without a doubt, money, power and success can provide us with an enormous amount of grace. They enable us to live in the safest neighborhoods, drive the safest cars, eat the safest foods. They provide access to a world of possibilities. Plus striving to improve our lives and the lives of those around us is a worthwhile goal. But there is a place where the benefits of wealth begin to diminish and wealth becomes a liability. This is the point at which wealth eclipses our ability to see ourselves and be seen in the fullness of our humanity. At this point, we no longer feel a part of a community of other human beings but rather separated from them.
Tian: What are the pressures on kinds who grow up in wealthy homes?
Paul: Children who are raised in a culture of affluence and success are under an extraordinary amount of pressure. Over the years in working with families of wealth, I’ve seen this pressure expanding exponentially. Most of these pressures come from living in a hyper competitive world, a world where there has been a huge divide between economic classes, and the obliteration of the middle classes. Opportunities for advancement have shrunk as our population has swelled. Because we live in a capitalistic culture where success is sometimes defined by how much you acquire, simply maintaining the status quo is viewed as a failure. Children growing up in these households internalize this dominate cultural message and feel they are unworthy or flawed if they don’t exceed the material success of their parents- which in this day and age is approaching impossible.
Tian: Do you think our country has become more wealth focused and what are the results of that?
Paul: Our country and our world have become pathologically focused on wealth. I attribute this to a number of factors. The first is the digital industrial revolution that is reducing working and middle-class jobs. Jobs that involve human interaction are being replaced with artificial intelligence. Simultaneous with the elimination of these jobs has been the increasing popularity of reality television and the inescapability of the internet. These two phenomena have manufactured a world that celebrates veneer. People are looking to assuage their anxiety over their economic insecurity by losing themselves in the fantasy of the celebrities created by reality television and the internet. Shows like the Real Housewives and the Kardashians tell us that we need designer handbags, Range Rovers, McMansions, hair extensions, augmented breasts and lips to be of value in the world. Sites like Facebook and Instagram are all about looking good, rich and famous. It’s a dangerous and destructive standard that has gutted the integrity of our interpersonal relationships, our families, our communities and our country.
Tian: What advice would you give parents who are raising their kids in an affluent world?
Paul: Parents need to teach their children the value of finding an identity that’s independent of wealth and power. They need to encourage them to find something early in life that has a resonance with their child– even if it’s something that the parents may not feel will add to their success later in life. Recently, I began working with a failure to launch millennial who told me that when he was a kid, his parents made him take karate when he wanted to take ballet. He said that he hated karate and intentionally did poorly to force his parent to allow him to change course. His parent refused and the messages he internalized- that his voice didn’t matter, that he was powerless to create meaning in his life and that he had to communicate through failure- has caused him enormous difficulty throughout his life. Parents also need to teach their children the value of money, that it doesn’t grow on trees and that it must be used wisely. This last bit is often difficult for parents who value their own comfort and convenience. Yes, flying private is certainly convenient, but it’s a tough legacy to live up to.
Tian: Are there some people who handle wealth better than others and if so, what are their qualities?
Paul: People who handle their wealth well are those who have a diversified personal portfolio. They have an identity or a series of identities that are independent of their wealth. These identities are vast and diverse. They also have a small group of friends who are not on their payroll who they look to for support, advice and for whom they are present for in an emotional rather than financial way. They have a strong moral compass and strive to make the world a healthier more compassionate place. They do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because they think they will derive a material gain from doing it. They have a strong faith in a power outside of themselves. They may call this power God, or they may view it as an energetic force that has its roots in quantum physics.