Top positive review
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For wealthy people and everyone else
on April 7, 2003
This is a book for anyone who has to deal with the challenges of wealth, but it is especially for the rich who either have inherited large amounts of wealth or expect to pass such wealth on to their children. It is written in a clear, compelling, easy style. In it, Thayer Cheatham Willis, who is both an accomplished psychotherapist and an inheritor of substantial wealth herself, shares both her own very personal experiences dealing with the pitfalls of her inheritance and her professional observations of the many patients she has treated for problems related to inherited wealth.
Most people who are not acquainted with the realities of being wealthy imagine that it is an idyllic condition. But, as Ms Willis came to realize, when she learned of the fifth suicide among her peers from the beautiful, sheltered neighborhood of her childhood, wealth does indeed have its dark side. The patients she describes suffer from guilt, poor self-esteem and problems with interpersonal relationships, as well as lack of a sense of drive, purpose, motivation to be productive and the discipline to stick to goals and accomplish what they set out to do. Happiness, for many of them is elusive despite the fact that inheritors may have a sense of entitlement. The fact that they can afford to have whatever they want, without having to struggle to earn it, may rob them of the challenges which foster healthy personal development in others. Because of the envy and resentment they encounter when they do reveal their circumstances, it is also difficult for many wealthy people to develop and sustain relationships with others, especially those not of similar financial status.
Ms Willis' book is filled with excellent advice on a variety of subjects including the importance of becoming aware of values, finding purpose, achieving discipline, pursuing (and completing) education, and providing good parenting for children who will someday become inheritors. She also gives advice, about what one should do to achieve financial acumen, for those who do not come to their inheritance having learned the in and outs of managing, or overseeing the management of their wealth. Another chapter provides a basic introduction to estate planning and the variety of techniques that can be used to preserve and pass on wealth.
Perhaps the two most important chapters are on the need to work and on relationships. With regard to the former she points out that, "People who don't work become shallow, bored, boring wastelands." What is clearly implied, but not spelled out, is that self esteem is based largely on the feeling that one has developed his or her potential and has something of value to share with others. This chapter focuses on the very real obstacles and challenges faced by inheritors who do not need to work for money and, so, are deprived of financial need as a motivator. There are different challenges for sons and daughters of fathers who have made great fortunes. The former, she points out, feel the need to make their mark in the world but may live with the stress of trying to live up to the standards and achievements of their very successful fathers. Daughters, on the other hand, may receive the message that it is not necessary to work and may end up feeling dependent and incompetent. Work is important to both men and women, though it may not be necessary to make money doing it. It must nevertheless be worthwhile and involve a real, personal effort and commitment. Being a mother is an example of real work and female inheritors are advised not to relinquish this role to paid caretakers. (The same advice should go to fathers.)
The other most important chapter is on the importance of relationships. In this chapter, as throughout the entire book Ms Willis' view is that among all relationships, and more important than anything else an inheritor must do to overcome the dark side of wealth, is to develop his or her relationship with God. She makes clear at several points that, although her own religious orientation is strongly rooted in Christian faith, everyone must find his or her own spiritual path. She also claims that everyone believes in a god, whether they realize it or not, and that developing a positive relationship with God is essential.
There is one assertion Ms Willis makes, a fine point really, that is hardly central to her thesis, where I nevertheless feel the need to raise a question. She states "Your god is simply what you value the most in your life..." It might be, she suggests, family, work, some other pursuit or desire or even money. This troubles me, especially the last possibility. Can your god really be whatever you value? Misers value money. Masochists value pain. Dictators value power. Workaholics value work to the exclusion of other values. I think, and I believe Ms. Willis would agree, that care must be taken to be sure that what we do value most is really what is good. That having been said, this is an intelligent, well reasoned and well-written book. It is filled with good advice good information and encouragement for anyone who may fall under the shadow of the dark side of wealth and also for anyone who imagines being wealthy and can see only sunshine there.