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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.
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on August 1, 2003
As an author of three regional-bestsellers and a book reviewer for a metropolitan paper with a circulation of more than 100,000, I read with great interest Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth, A Life Guide for Inheritors, by Thayer Cheatham Willis because I (an average middle class American) grew up with a friend that my classmates used to call "the poor little rich girl." After reading the book, I gave it to my friend because I thought it was insightful, useful, and a valuable tool as she herself is still trying to establish "normalcy" even at age 57. Very little emotional nurturing seems to come out of wealthy families, and that sad deprivation was noticeable enough to my friends of youth for them to realize that our very wealthy classmate was indeed the poorest of us all when it came to what matters the most in life.
While some may mock this book, the truth is it is hard for most people not to resent people of means and harbor bitterness or jealousy over not having financial wealth. It is only human nature. If you can get past this attitude, you will recognize that the book is long overdue for people on either side of the wealth line to understand the dynamics of what money does and does not do. It's an honest book.
It's also very well articulated and presents discussions on several levels, from a basic primer to the more sophisticated challenges wealth presents. The author, who has a national psychotherapy practice specializing in the needs of inheritors, sprinkles her personal experience with those of her clients. She sensitively covers the gamut of topics that inheritors must deal with, including the spiritual, which in this day of political correctness would be ignored by most writers. She recognizes the universal need of the heart for a personal God - when you walk with the God of the Bible, you find true life out of the dark side of wealth.
I doubt there is one among us who doesn't feel that if only we had a little more money, all of our problems would be solved. This book brings us down to reality. And while some of us may never see huge amounts of money, others may indeed inherit enough wealth to send us humbly to this book to learn how to manage without losing our soul. Whatever, however, the book opens our eyes to see the disadvantages of wealth and hey, maybe it's pointless to covet after all! Monied or not, everyone has the same need for love, compassion, and understanding. Money does not heal the inside hurts or brokenness.
The author wrote this book because she saw the need. None of us has to look far to see dysfunction, perversion, sadness. This book can help some get a life who are still struggling.
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on August 15, 2003
I couldn't put this book down while reading it on the airplane. It's frank and to the point, yet gentle and hopeful; it offers practical and common sense suggestions to inheritors of great wealth; and it's written by someone who herself was an inheritor of great wealth. Thayer Willis has the unique gift of blending her personal story with the stories of other "real people" who sit in her office on a daily basis and share with her their heartfelt fears, disillusionment, and hopelessness that often plagues them (inheritors). She offers some very practical and positive guidance to inheritors who deal with the issues of the "dark side of wealth". As a financial planner, I'd say this is a must read if you are working with high net worth families and their children. You will catch a glimpse of the myriad of issues that face wealthy families now, and that will be facing those families' future generations. Also, by being more aware of these issues, you can help bring inherent value to your clients by letting them know of the availability and the genuine hope that a good "wealth counselor" can bring...and Thayer Willis is one of the few leading the charge.
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on August 6, 2003
In over forty years of working with and counseling persons of unusual wealth (millionaires and beyond) Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth appears out of the blue at this most critical hour in world economic history.
There have been other outstanding books for the rich across the years such as Amy Domini's The Challenges of Wealth, Robert Wuthnow's God and Mammon in America, and The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe. But none that are as inspiring and practically helpful in my opinion.
This book written by a professionally trained psychotherapist who just happens to write very personally from her experience of being from a very wealthy family and a co-owner of a major Fortune 500 corporation stands to be a classic in the field, if there ever was one.
While written for persons of inherited wealth, this book provides great help and hope for all who are affluent.
Donald McClanen
Founder and former Director of Ministry of Money
Founder and Director of Harvest Time programs for the wealthy
(See Barron's September 18, 2000)
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on August 5, 2003
I've not seen another book like this on the market, but Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth is a good read and, I believe, should be required reading for all parents regardless of the ages of their children. Knowing what the author knows can keep a child focused on his/her future instead of aimlessly growing up knowing an inheritance is coming - no matter how large or small. This book could save your child's emotional life!
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As a Psychologist who deals with people having the issues and difficulties described so well by Ms. Willis, I am grateful and delighted that this book has come out. The case stories are engaging, and are excellent depictions of the surprisingly difficult world of inherited and sudden wealth. The material in this book is accurate, fascinating, and important. On top of that, it's a good read. I know of no better source.
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on July 25, 2003
Money really can't buy happiness, and Thayer Willis has the courage to confront this cultural myth head on. She is an inheritor... and in her book she speaks from her heart about the very real problems that inheritors face. She is also a professional counselor and in that capacity she speaks from her mind... offering some very practical solutions to these problems. I particularly like how she will tell a story and then give her "Professional Observations". This book is written from the perspective of someone who has actually been there (done that), and who knows that sometimes money can do more harm than good.
In my business I have the opportunity to work with wealthy families, and I can tell you that the problems Ms. Willis describes are very real, and very debilitating for many inheritors. I would highly recommend this book to professionals who work with wealthy families (in fact, I gave my original copy of this book to a financial planner)... to those who have created wealth (so that they can better understand how their wealth might impact their children)... and for those who have inherited wealth (you are not alone).
I would not recommend this book to anyone who believes the cultural myth, that the road to happiness is paved with winning Powerball tickets.
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on June 14, 2013
Note on me: I'm a financial planner, heir to a substantial fortune and a licensed Christian minister. So I've made a study of books like this for some time.

Note on the author: She is a fellow heir to a substantial fortune, and now a counselor for wealth issues and previously eating disorders.

My summary of this book: Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth is book primarily written to the inheritor of substantial wealth. She has helpful tips, insights and the main benefit is the sense of identifying some of the same feelings in others. There are some really good points in here, but many of the answers tend to be trite or simplistic but there is still very good content in chunks.

Strengths of this book are:
1. The case study format. The book is riddled with very helpful snap shots into the lives of different struggles of a inheritor or the affluent in general. Thayer tells stories that are very helpful as an inheritor to put words to the struggles. As a financial planner they provide insight into clients and cases.
2. Chapter 5 is a really good chapter on the dilemma of training children on handling wealth. She gives practical steps from allowances, to conversation ages, and on page 102 the idea of a personal financial trainer. Good stuff!
3. The scales of the America view of money need to tip toward understanding the strong negatives of affluence. She dives into some of the serious ones from a physiological perspective. So her strengths here are looking at isolation, loneliness, living in the shadow of the family founder, relationship struggles, a false sense of pride in others accomplishments, entitlement with children, etc.
4. This book is great for financial advisors who have not come from wealth to understand the mindset of the wealthy. But better book for that in my opinion are the first four chapters of the Golden Ghetto by Jessie O'Neill. But this book is good for those points too.
5. She points out consistently that there is more to life than accumulating cash. Page 40 she claims, "True happiness comes only from a profound sense of purpose and from nurturing relationships with other, particularly with God."
6. Her point that "Do you like me for me, or my wealth?" really plays at a trust issue in relationships. This point is made around page 59 and is again worth the read for this concept alone.

Weaknesses of the book:
1. In general, Thayer's applications are can tend to be trite or simplistic. For example, most of her professional observations which follow the case studies are obvious to the reader by how she told the story.
2. Trying to address the inheritor of substantial wealth she relies too much on them not having a job or worth outside of money. In the first four pages of the first chapter, which is important ink space of any book, she spends too much time of describing the downsides of being at a social function and not being able to answer the question, what do you do? This can be a very real dilemma but her answers are not too helpful and it's not the strongest place to start.
3. Her faith in trying to be inclusive dumbs down the hard issues out of a helpful range. She is a Christian but as said on page 166, claims to be inclusive. For me, at times, her "spiritual advice" is trying to be inclusive was too open-minded to address any of the real needs Christians or other worldviews would face. Her definition of god for instance is anything from the God of the Bible, or "[your] God is simple who or what you value the most in your life...your family, spouse, or your wealth (page 178)."
In don't want to be too harsh since most of it is very good but the downsides need to be pointed out.

The book is worth it for chapter 5 alone. Check it out.
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on October 1, 2003
Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth is an extremely valuable book for all the right reasons, because its focus is not on accumulating and multiplying material riches but on fostering the emotional and spiritual values so vital to coping with the destructive allurements, issues and challenges that confront many inheritors of material wealth today. It is a text on developing character and morality -- on protecting one's soul against the pervasive ravages of human greed.
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on July 28, 2003
I am a financial planner who is always on the lookout for books I believe to be of value to my clients or potential clients. Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth offers a perspective I have not seen before. One that points out that we Americans put an undue amount of value on material wealth to the detriment of life's much more meaningful and long lasting values. The book is addressed to inheritors of great wealth and describes how excess wealth can actually become a curse to the family. To me, the broader market for the book should be to those people who are striving to develop the wealth at a very high price to their families and ultimately to themselves. If those people were to determine solid personal values and set their priorities accordingly, the next generation would be less likely to face the issues described in the book.
I have given away about two dozen copies of this book and have received rave reviews in return. I would like to see Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth as required reading for MBA students to point out the risks to those who don't wisely consider their own life priorities.
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