W * E * A * L * T * H
Gold and legal tender? A defining attribute? A moniker for one’s position?
Maybe all three, maybe more or less. It’s hard to say. I’ve heard it explained so many different ways.
Author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and other books) has a podcast series, “Revisionist History.” He takes a subject previously understood in a traditional way, then often dramatically flips that subject on its head. — Very compelling listening and fascinating commentary.
Wealth has traditionally been defined as an abundance of money and other valuable possessions. More broadly, it might be defined by a state of being, a set of characteristics, or a philosophy of life. Taking this broader meaning, let’s explore what true WEALTH really is — and isn’t.
It isn’t what the traditional Merriam-Webster or Cambridge dictionaries say it is. — Not by a long shot. To extract the valuable ore of true WEALTH, one must dig much deeper. For our purpose here, let’s mine W*E*A*L*T*H as a useful acronym, starting with “W.”
A world view — what Germans call “Weltsicht” — embodies a particular philosophy. It can broaden one’s perspective about wealth, by empathizing with more people, and understanding their needs and aspirations. Will and will power come into play here, too — an unflinching determination, strength of character, single-mindedness, and intent to see wealth put to responsible use. Then there’s Whimsy — that playful, curious, appealing attribute that we grew up with as kids. We were wealthy in spirit — young in age and young at heart, a bit goofy, non-traditional, off-putting to our parents at times, but fun-loving, sociable and (usually) well-intentioned. That’s before we got so seasoned. So educated. So staid and boring. So darn serious.
Now that we’ve chatted about “W,” let’s talk about “E.” Surely Education is integrally linked to wealth creation and management — the study, learning, innovation, coaching, training, guidance, patience and forbearance necessary for success. Hand in hand with education is an egalitarian Golden Rule attitude toward others: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Egalitarians lack many of the common prejudices that keep others from clearly seeing people for whom they are. There are more than 7.5 billion folks on this planet, the overwhelming majority making their way through life the best way they can. Egalitarians view everyone as being created equal, deserving equal rights, and being treated equally in dignity and respect. While ethnicity, social strata, creed, intelligence, personality and appearance can describe and differentiate individuals, that is NOT what truly defines us. Egalitarians know that wealth is not defined by these things. Wealth is far more about will and spirit, hopes and dreams, bucket lists and hope chests. Yes, I know, a bit mushy. But true.
Next up in our W*E*A*L*T*H acronym is “A.” Human lives, fully realized, must involve Adventure — exploring the unknown, embracing the unusual, experiencing excitement and sometimes stepping up to challenges. Certainly linked with adventure is the Amorphous — things not clearly defined, things not fully structured and easily classifiable. What do these attributes have to do with wealth? A great, great deal. Internet entrepreneur Drew Houston advises, “Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.”
What distinguishes adventurous, amorphous people? What are they truly about? For starters, they are absolutely fascinating. They command our rapt attention. They are equal parts insightful and mysterious. They resemble the blind Shaolin monk, Master Po, in the popular 1970s TV series, “Kung Fu.” Master Po teaches his young student, Kwai Chang Caine — “Grasshopper,” played by David Carradine — about the simple, sometimes mysterious, path by which one successfully journeys through life. Seemingly obscure states of being, as Master Po teaches, turn out to be very practical truths that are universally applicable in everyday life. They form the basis of our character, integrity, ethos, and the plain and simple tenets of a life well-lived. The attractive aspect of adventurous, amorphous individuals is their patient willingness to help others dig down deep into their psyches and learn firsthand through practical experiences who they truly are and can become — if they are attentive and proactive.
So, we’ve discussed “W,” “E” and “A” — now for the “L” in my wealth acronym. Let’s start with Leadership: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” insisted 18th century Irish statesman Edmund Burke. Entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan says of leaders, “Fear is peeing your pants. Courage is doing what you’re supposed to do with wet pants.”
Leadership is doing things after wetting one’s pants. — Not glamorous, not sexy, but ultimately the critical factor that provides direction, impetus and encouragement for those who have yet to soil their skivvies. There are no born leaders. Everyone is a potential leader. Leaders are developed. There’s hope for all of us.
There’s a story about the 13th century monk, Saint Francis of Assisi. In his later years he founded and led his priestly order in the small Italian town of Assisi. One day he asked one of his priests to walk with him to town to preach. The priest accompanied Saint Francis as they walked to town, walked around the square, and returned to their monastery. Upon their return the puzzled priest asked Saint Francis why they hadn’t preached in town. Saint Francis replied, “We just did.”
That is the fascinating thing about leadership. It shows up in our words, actions and inactions. We love following great leaders. We love that they inspire us. Indeed, the “L” in my acronym also stands for Love. The eminent Victorian philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer concluded: “Love is life; end, but never ending. Love is life’s wealth, never spent, but ever spending. Love’s life’s reward, rewarded in rewarding.”
Taking up the “T” attribute in W*E*A*L*T*H, careful attention must be given to time and Themes. The dry-witted, stand-up comic Steven Wright said, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” Well, obviously, that’s out of the question. As regards wealth management, effective use of time, divided between specific activities, is critical. Effective themes also must come to the fore. Again Wright: “Someone asked me, if I was stranded on a desert island, what book would I bring….’How to Build a Boat.’”
Wealth, when examined thematically, can be very revealing. What do Elon Musk and electricity, Steve Jobs and communication, and Jeff Bezos and distribution have in common? They thematically have zeroed in on one purpose, drawing on their core competencies, to improve lives on this planet. They’ve done this by applying renewable resources, communicating simply, and making the gathering of goods easy and enjoyable.
I love the entrepreneurial marketing concept of “riches in the niches.” It’s so true. When we focus intently on one thing — being an innovator to someone who needs and desires something more — we can move mountains. Surely the microchip revolutionists Musk, Jobs and Bezos stand on the shoulders of industrial giants such as Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, Ford, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan and Carnegie. I’ll give comedian Wright the final comment on taking the initiative, core competency, time and theme: “If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.”
Last up in our W*E*A*L*T*H acronym is “H” — Health and Happiness, certainly — and certainly Heroes. “The first wealth is health,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Happiness is the legal-tender of the soul,” quoting 19th century orator Robert Green Ingersoll. And as for heroes? With wealth comes responsibility. “Wealth, like happiness, is never attained when sought after directly. It comes as a by-product of providing a useful service” (Henry Ford).
America today remains a bastion of freedom, achievement, wealth and opportunity in a world frequently hostile to our core values. Just as our Founding Fathers and Mothers courageously sacrificed — just as Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells followed bravely in their footsteps — so, too, must each succeeding generation keep vigil over the flame of freedom.
The military is certainly known for producing great leaders and heroes. In my mid-20s I was assigned to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division as a Junior Captain. One of my jobs was to accompany a general giving a speech to the founding fathers of the City of Fayetteville near Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was a “meet and greet,” but also a request for community donations to help rebuild the Army’s Division Museum. The General’s speech was riveting. One could have heard a pin drop. Powerful. Uplifting. It made me fiercely proud to wear my Army green during a not so pleasant era when our military was reviled by many Americans.
I came away that day inspired, believing I could achieve anything! — Because one man, during his over 30 years of service to our country, had developed into one of the greatest leaders and heroes with whom I had the privilege to serve.
Surely we have lived long enough to see that greatness is not defined by how much wealth people acquire, but by their integrity and ability to affect those around them positively. Again, with wealth comes responsibility. Don’t we all love heroes? Sure we do. Heroes put themselves out there with no thought for their own safety, advantage, agenda or well-being. They are there to save the day.
Heroes can show up at any moment in our lives. They can be anyone: a relative, co-worker, friend or stranger who rescues, leads, or protects us in any number of heroic ways. They may be parents and grandparents, helping children and grandchildren. — Teachers taking failing students under their wing. — Coaches instilling hope in failing but talented athletes, to help them rise to their very best. — Work supervisors motivating and shepherding their willing protégés up the ladder of success.
The Army’s 1980s slogan was, “Be All You Can Be.” That’s great advice for everyone — certainly for people of means who understand the service role of wealth. Indeed, wealth is far more than just stuff. It’s something that can shape, mobilize and utterly transform people’s lives, thereby protecting and ensuring tomorrow’s future.
W*E*A*L*T*H includes intrinsic attributes vital for future success.
Leaders and heroes are intrinsically vital for human progress.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful” — the speaker, Mahala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani schoolgirl targeted for assassination, who eventually recovered from head and neck gunshot wounds, and who received the Nobel Peace Prize for continuing to speak out courageously for girls’ education worldwide.
The power of one to make a difference.
With such valorous acts of self-sacrifice, surely we are blessed indeed, with wealth beyond measure.