There are many ways to define financial security. Last year I read a news story about an elderly businessman, well into his nineties, whose family members were soliciting donations to support him through his final years. This man was a well-respected artist and businessman who had received national recognition and many awards and honors throughout his long career. Yet at the end of his life, he was penniless.
I was discussing this with a friend, who asked me, ”How is it that somebody who was so successful for so long has no money?”
This question summed up a common money script—an unconscious belief about money—that I still struggle with myself. That money script is, “If somebody is smart enough to be successful and famous, they must be smart enough to manage money well.”
It’s a script that goes quite deep, because in reality, many famous and successful people struggled financially during their lives or even died penniless. A quick online search turns up a great many notable names, including artists, actors, athletes, politicians, and business owners. Just a few of them are: Vincent Van Gogh, President Ulysses S. Grant, Omar Sharif, Sammy Davis Jr., and Mark Twain. And this doesn’t even take into account the many other people, largely unknown, who were highly accomplished but ended up struggling financially.
The point of this is that there are many ways to define “success.” Vocational success is no guarantee of financial success. There’s a vast schism between technical excellence, fame, or mastery of a vocation, and turning that achievement into financial success and security. You can become the best at your craft, the best in your profession, the best at what you do, and still be broke.
Conversely, a lot of people who are not famous, who are not necessarily the leaders or the stars in their fields, have become financially successful. Some are wage earners, some are professionals, some are business owners. What they have in common is money skills. Some of them have even quietly become self-made multi-millionaires or billionaires. Or, to consider a more achievable level of financial success, many have become millionaires. According to Forbes, as of 2019 there were 18.6 million millionaires (those with a net worth of one million dollars or more) in the United States.
Many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have been in that category. Whether they are blue-collar business owners, quiet achievers, or unnoticed savers with ordinary jobs, most of these millionaires are completely unknown. Some of them may be your neighbors. Most of them do not consider themselves wealthy.
Actually, I would argue that a million dollars is not exactly wealthy. A million dollars today is enough to provide a reasonably secure and comfortable retirement. It’s far short of private jet and diamonds territory.
To summarize, the ability to achieve career excellence and recognition is really admirable, but it’s just one part of life success. Financial excellence is important, too. Money skills—which can be learned—really matter.
With those skills, anyone can end up providing well for themselves and their families and giving back to their community. Without them, even somebody famous can end up relying on government services and the generosity of others.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.