How You Juggle "Money + Success = Happiness:" The Way we Live Now

An excerpt from "How Much is Enough? Harness the Power of Your Money Story--And Change Your Life" by Pamela York Klainer

My observation of the way we live now, having been buffeted by these changes to a greater or lesser degree, could apply to Joan's company, or to the Eastern software solutions group, or to the Chicago office of the consulting firm. It could apply to my son's dot.com or to my daughter's travel company.

Quite possibly, elements of the description apply to you.

What I've been calling "professionally successful people" probably have a family income of $40,000 to $75,000 at the low end and six figures or more at the high end. We're savers as well as spenders, and might well have assets in the $250,000 to $300,000 range or more. "More" could mean much more, into the millions. We consider ourselves professionals, although "professional" can mean teacher, cop, and electrician as well as criminal defense lawyer, brain surgeon, or merger and acquisition specialist. We're likely to have a college education, and perhaps advanced degrees. We're on-line for a considerable chunk of time each day, and use technology for more than checking email. We have high aspirations and even higher expectations of ourselves. We care how others see us. We can be as young as early 20's or as old as late 60's. If we are one of those Renaissance individuals who has never stopped learning and growing, we could be even older.

Perhaps surprisingly, only a small segment of us are 20-something technology geeks who spend most of the day in front of a computer, have already blown $12 million in venture capital, and wonder why we're lonely and how we can meet people without shutting off the glowing screen.

We work hard to keep ourselves at the cutting edge, yet we know that as fast as we add new skill sets, the performance bar keeps going up. We speak in jargon, like "brain dump" and "value add." Whether or not we have a naturally risk-taking temperament, we act outwardly as if we crave speed, sudden change, opportunities to show initiative, and jumping before all the pieces are locked down so we can be sure to be among the first. We know that "doing something that will get you reasonably close" is valued over "waiting until you understand the problem in depth and really have the resources to move." On rare breaks during the workday, we drink expensive coffee. We might have come to work in a vehicle that has the power to trek across Africa and is priced accordingly, yet we wear business casual instead of Armani. We want to be stars, but not "suits." We want power and influence, yet don't want to be seen as selling out. We want our power to come from being more brilliant and creative than anyone else, not because of formal position or title. We want others to follow us willingly because we're the best, not because of our authority to demand compliance. We want our power to be visible and recognized. We want flash. Our benchmarks are Bill Gates on market dominance and Steve Jobs on creative design, not the patrician David Rockefeller or legendary 1940s New York power broker Robert Moses. Our benchmarks are Carly Fiorina on rapid career advancement and Andrea Jung on being a savvy CEO/mom, not early corporate leader Estee Lauder or Washington political hostess turned ambassador Pamela Harriman. Perhaps most of all, we like to keep moving. We fidget. We change jobs. We change cities. We change friends. We see happiness as elusive, as something always moving away from us that we have to pursue with great intensity and drive.

Who Really Lives Like That?
In 1999 I was a speaker at a Fast Company Real Time Gathering. At that time Fast Company, a hefty monthly magazine often running to 400 or more pages, was the bible of the new workplace: fast, edgy, and influential. Filled with stories about success in the new economy and packed with ads for pricey goods and services, Fast Company clearly positioned itself to attract readers from the culture of success. Before arriving at the conference, I expected the majority of attendees to be young, buffed, affluent, and in the workforce more as free agents than as employees concerned about loyalty and career paths. When I found was quite different. Most participants were men and women in their 30's, 40's, and 50's who worked for more "bricks than clicks" companies like Target and Ford, not the 20-something dot.commers I had expected. Some were athletic and buffed; more had the body shapes of the fairly sedentary. Most had families and obligations; they did care about things like loyalty and career paths. Those who revealed income figures during my presentation were more in the $40,000 to $100,000 range, not the stunning mid-six and low seven figures of the dot.com winners.

So who really lives in the culture of success as I have described it? We do.

Do You Live Like That?
The important thing for locating your place in the world of successful people is not how literally your life maps with my description. The important thing is how the image of that culture of success, whether literally true or not, has influenced your life, your workplace, the expectations that are placed on you.

Are you expected to move faster, with fewer resources and less mentoring, than was the case when you started your career?

Does your chosen profession - academic, clergyperson, general practitioner, social worker - carry less status than it used to because what you do isn't trendy and doesn't rate really big money? Is your organization quicker to jettison people who can no longer keep up with the pack, even if they've given twenty or more years of loyal and productive service? Have you ever been expected to do anything like travel for thirty hours to a global marketing meeting in Asia, then be on deck at 8 A.M. fully alert and ready for an all-day strategy session?

Welcome to the spillover from the culture of success.

The culture of success is certainly home base for Joan. Five years after she and I began to work together, she came to my office with her husband. They were, she said, at a turning point. Joan was exploring a big promotion, one that would involve increased travel and much greater intensity than even her current role. She and her husband were still living in two cities, although now they at least lived in the same state and could be together for the weekend with a mere one-hour plane ride.

Despite having racked up more professional credits and more financial security than when we first met, Joan still had a deep, unmet longing and a sense that the work she loved was also in some ways destructive to her spirit.

On a white board in my office, I wrote the following in large letters:

MONEY + SUCCESS = HAPPINESS

I then told Joan and her husband we were going to have what she irreverently but graphically calls "a come to Jesus moment." That means a moment in which we strip away every bit of spin, and get dead honest.

First, I asked them to tell me their net worth, to say out loud the most accurate number they could come up with without taking time to review their financial statements. With some self-consciousness, they did. Part of the difficulty we all have in dealing with money is that we don't use numbers - we use euphemisms, like "a big win" or "comfortable" or "pretty well off." Using the actual number makes a difference, because it makes our assets tangible. I then asked if the income from that number - assuming a diversified, carefully monitored portfolio - was enough for them to live on, even if neither worked another day.

They waffled. "Can't the money go away if the stock market really tanks?" "Shouldn't we really have more before we think about whether we could live on the income or not?" "How can we be so cocky as to think about not working, when neither of us grew up that way? Isn't that tempting fate?"

They sat for a long time, staring at the seven-figure number I had written on the board above the word "money." Finally, calmly, they said what was obvious. "It's enough."

Do you know the number that will allow you to continue your lifestyle throughout your projected life expectancy? If not, there are financial advisors or off-the-shelf software packages aplenty that can help you figure it out. In whatever form you prefer, take the time to do this analysis. It's immensely powerful to have an actual number in front of you.

I then asked Joan to focus on the word "success." I pointed out that, along with her partners, she had founded a company, run it according to her values, done great work for clients, sold the company and had its value affirmed in the marketplace, grown into a skilled executive in the larger corporate network, and been offered an even bigger, more complex position. I suggested to her that professional success doesn't get any better than that, and she agreed. Whatever else she might choose to do, she's already "there" in terms of success.

You can replicate this part of the process by writing down what you think "success" in your chosen field means - to you, not to your parents, your spouse, your boss, the cohort of colleagues with whom you compete most directly, or your most critical and demanding friend. Then, ask yourself honestly how on track you are toward achieving that success. It's not an age thing, or a "years in the business" thing. Some people achieve success at a startlingly early point.

Finally, I moved to the word "happiness." Joan and her husband both agreed that happiness remained elusive in their stress-filled and demanding lives.

And you? Without making things too complicated and reflective, are you basically happy? Do you long to be happier than you are?

Pointing again to the whole equation, I asked: "If you take the new job, which side of the equation will be enhanced: the money and success side, or the happiness side?" They both said, without prompting, "the money and success side." These are very bright people, and the light began to dawn. Joan spoke first. "I've already done that side, haven't I?"

I agreed. "You could focus on racking up more money and more success, but why? You already know how to do that. The interesting challenge now is to focus on what you don't know how to do so well, which is to find ways to let yourself be happy."

Certain moments in a long consulting relationship stand out from all other moments. Those are the times when something that has been shrouded in mystery suddenly becomes clear enough to touch. Such moments are palpable; you can literally feel them unfolding. They generally cannot be forced. They come when the person is ready to have them come. In Joan's case, this breakthrough took five grueling years. When it did come, Joan and her husband very rapidly made a series of crucial life decisions.

After some further conversation and within a matter of weeks, Joan and her husband agreed that they wanted to live in the same place, literally for the first time in their marriage. Since her work is the more portable, that meant consolidating two homes into one and relocating to the city where he is employed. She also decided to decline the job offer and instead, take a one-year unpaid sabbatical during which she would allow her spirit to roam. She and her husband planned to work with their financial advisor to arrange their assets so they would have a stream of income during the sabbatical, a replacement for the large salary she had been bringing in. After the year, she would return to work she loved.

NEXT: What's The Point?

Reprinted with Permission by Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group -- Copyright 2002