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Wealth Ownership Is a Journey, Not a Destination

June 25, 2015

Some advisors are wrestling with a troubling question: Is the American Dream alive for clients and their children? I have learned that the answer is yes. I recently spoke about that topic at a conference composed almost exclusively of Europeans. My talk focused on the challenges today’s wealth inheritors face in chasing their dreams.

While the attendees did not aspire to live in the U.S., they appreciated the fundamental proposition: The human soul wants the freedom to passionately pursue self-actualization. To do that requires optimism, financial security and the recognition that the dream is a journey and not a destination.

One’s right to passionately pursue self-actualization brings us to a question that has no national borders: How do we help children of the wealthy, engaged individuals who want to be all they can be? Is it smart to give children financial security to help them self-actualize, or should one “motivate” through deprivation?

The studies answer those questions directly and unequivocally: Make sure children of wealth have financial security and a strong sense of optimism. “Motivation” through financial insecurity is not a stick that works. Financial security does. Optimism may be more difficult to pass on, but it is more likely to travel to the next generation if there is grounding in community. And the stories of success are stories of people with vision becoming what they want to become.

How can one become optimistic and purposeful in a world full of ISIS and the economic challenges Europeans seem to be facing? Here I could draw on the impressive work and thinking of Eric Greitens, author of Resilience and a former Navy Seal, who has helped U.S. veterans recover their sense of purpose. Using mythology, the ancients and modern writing, Greitens helps veterans by encouraging them to engage in giving social services to those less fortunate than they are. He has founded and run a charity, The Mission Continues, based on that concept.

Just as the mission can continue for the veteran, through redirection to social services, so it can for the wealth inheritor. Heirs can gain a sense of purpose and optimism through engaging in a community. Whether through volunteerism or philanthropy, recognition of a relationship with the world creates a sense of optimism and purpose.

Passionate self-actualization can also be encouraged and reinforced in another important way: building a family legacy that’s rooted in becoming all one can become, not in further wealth accumulation. In fact, when life’s purpose is exclusively creating more wealth, the life is rarely a happy one.

To perpetuate the family legacy, wealth creators and inheritors need to highlight the stories of those who lived their dreams and accomplished their intended goals. Whether those are stories of the American frontier, of colonial expansion, or of a post–World War II vision, they are the models for those inheriting wealth.

Universal Desire

There’s strong reason to be optimistic about the ease with which this thinking can be instilled. In speaking with Europeans in the tiny town of Montreux in Switzerland, I saw that the American Dream resonates in the hearts of European wealth holders. They are inspired by passionate self-actualization regardless of their nationality.

What we must all recognize is that the human soul and human wisdom are universal. There is nothing exclusively American about the craving for self-actualization; there is nothing exclusively American about the restorative effect of community engagement. There are no differences culture to culture in these respects.

I experienced the same questions and responses in my talks in Phoenix the week before and in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia, several months ago. I’m likely to hear the same in an upcoming address in Hong Kong two months from now. The world of wealth is global. The challenges of wealth are global. The desire to be all you can be is in every soul.