After posting yesterday, I ended up having a small conversation in the comments section with my frat brother Louis. He related pretty well to the situation I described and shared some of his views on the topic from the perspective of a business owner.
Here is an excerpt from his comment:
I tell people that I have my own business and they say “Well, you should give me money then.” It’s not at the point where it is completely stable yet, but even still I do the work to make the money for the things I need to accomplish and not to help you out because you want to be irresponsible with your money. It’s a realization that people who are working towards success must come to terms with at some point in time. The bottom line: you can’t save the world.
It is unfortunate, but successful people will always have to deal with people who want their money and prestige without the work that comes along with it. That’s a part of the reason so many successful people are viewed suspiciously. It is often easier to accuse someone of achieving great things through shady dealings than it is to acknowledge that hard work and effort that such achievement requires. When I was in college, a friend / frat brother of mine regularly preached about people wanting the product without going through the process. Those words ring more and more true to me as I move closer to my goals.
However, at the heart of Louis’ comment is the importance of self-preservation. From the vantage point of people looking into his life from the outside, he is a successful college graduate with a good salary. He is the kind of man that people would want their sons to emulate and he is generous to a fault. Still, he is also well aware of his limitations. As the owner of a small, relatively young business, he is aware that every little bit counts. (I relate to that very well given that my business ventures are still in their very early stage.)
In contrast to Louis, my father constantly felt that it was his responsibility to take care of everybody around him. Since people in his environment treated him like Superman, he actually felt that it was within his power to save the world. It wasn’t. When he became ill, my brother and I found out that he had been giving large sums of money to his friends and relatives for years to the point of placing his own finances in shambles. Sure he was a successful physician, but even physicians need to live within their means. He didn’t and now it is up to my brother and me to figure out how to help him to survive on the little bit of money that is still available to him.
In that same way, my mom’s brother spent years and years saving up his money as a hospital janitor. Now that he has retired, he is having trouble enjoying the fruits of his labor because he has become the official family lending service (except that his loans are rarely repaid). Every time someone in the family is in a financial crisis, they come to him knowing that he will come to their rescue. Thankfully, he is a very frugal man who lives so far below his means that these “loans” do not affect him much. Nonetheless, it does bother me to see him still living under such a tight budget while many of his frequent borrowers enjoy a much higher standard of living than he does.
As we have seen through the stories of numerous celebrities like M.C. Hammer, extremely high incomes do not always last forever. That’s why it is important to always think in terms of budget sustainability. Unfortunately, people who have never had large sums of money before have a bad habit of overestimating its reach. There was a Showtime documentary in 2005 called Reversal of Fortune where a homeless man was given a check for $100,000. When filming for the documentary ended six months later, the man was homeless again because he blew through the money and gave much of it away. The same thing happens to lottery winners all the time.
The reality is that self-preservation is a necessary part of life. I am learning to accept as a minister that even though I may want to change the world someday, I have to take care of myself in the process or else I will not be around to make a difference. That isn’t just limited to financial matters. I am responsible for all aspects of my life including my spiritual, mental, physical, and social wellbeing. (Yes, I’m aware that I just ripped a portion of that last sentence from my fraternity’s vision. I guess it really is a part of me now.) If any of those things is lacking, it is ultimately my fault for not making them my priority.
In that same way, we all have to take responsibility for the lives that God has given to us.