Wealth without work

Does wealth define you ?

Written for Lead with Humanity in 2020

Whilst growing up, my father always reminded me that ‘the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary’. I wasn’t sure what he meant until it was my turn to earn a salary, run a business, pay bills and care for a family.  My respect for that statement increased 10-fold.

But today, I find myself asking, what is enough and who defines this?

During COVID-19s period of unexpected uncertainty, it has been interesting to witness the varying responses of humankind.  Everyone is affected and nobody has been unharmed.  We are gifted with a levelled playing field.  People have had to make tough decisions, think creatively and be braver than ever before.

Some of us have lost much material wealth and have been confronted with giving up meaningful commitments and parts of our accustomed lifestyles. Amid the disruption, some of us have found joy and discovered that less has the possibility to bring so much more.

Similarly, I’ve noticed many individuals took advantageous risks in continuing to work, possibly manipulating rules and restrictions, or abusing the circumstances by charging exorbitant prices for new essentials.

I most certainly found an additional level of respect for professionals like teachers and nurses, who give unconditionally and tirelessly, even though their financial rewards seem out of proportion to the value of their work?

There has been an undeniable shift in the way we think about our necessities, our values, and our place in the world.  Has this disruption made us realise that money does not and should not define us?

In the 70’s and 80’s, the world of a minority of South Africans, including my own, was particularly glamourous.  For some, this period, required a ‘well to do’ image to fit in to society, regardless of the consequences.  I often wonder to what extent this has influenced the choices made by this generation’s children. Do such luxurious notions of wealth influence the choices they make?

One of Gandhi’s seven deadly sins for humanity speaks to the dangers of Wealth without Work.  Yet how do we define wealth? Is it purely financial? Or, is it based on the joy experienced from giving of your time, talents, and skills?  Is it doing something that brings you fulfilment?  And if given the choice, would you choose lower financial returns in lieu of higher personal fulfilment?

I have the privilege of working with individuals who personify the latter, who stand up in the face of adversity and define their wealth by the number of lives they’ve touched, people they’ve impacted and a conscious shift they’ve created in the world.  These individuals have chosen to pursue something they love and are rich by a different standard and concept.

What is your immediate reaction to the word ‘work’?   Does it sound something like ‘’I hate to work too hard’’ or ‘’hard work is what pays the bills’’.  

What is your reaction to the word wealth? Is it ‘money is the root of most evil’’, ‘’money brings happiness’’, ‘’money creates social distress’’, ‘’wealth is doing what I love, being talented and generous.’’

To what extent do your perceptions influence your experience of both work and wealth?

Let’s delve a little deeper.  Consider that if your response to work is that it is an unpleasant necessity, to what extent is what you are doing without purpose?  If your response is the opposite, perhaps this might be the reason you are thriving, loving what you’re doing and seeing great possibilities opening up for you?  If your response to wealth brings you a sense of fulfilment and gratitude or if it merely brings you anxiety, do you know what might be driving this response?

Consider the possibility that your relationship to work and to wealth, determines your experiences of them ?  And now consider that you have the power to shift this relationship at anytime, anywhere, requiring nothing but a choice to do so.

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