“My brother is killing me,” the conversation began.
Cheryl has worked hard over the years to build a successful business career. “Don’t get me wrong, I love him, but he feels a constant need to run me down, especially at family gatherings, and attack my success in life.” Hey, I bet many of us have heard this story before right? Just to get you started in the right frame of mind, let me get a little background on the table.
• Cheryl went to college and worked part time jobs to help pay her bills and cobble together money for a graduate degree.
• “Bob” went to college as well. While he didn’t go for that whole “uptight business” thing, he did secure a job.
• Based on her grades and recommendation, Cheryl got into a great MBA program and earned a dual degree while still working part time to pay bills.
• Since that time, Bob has moved between a couple places on both coasts living what he would describe as “Bohemian” lifestyle. Bob explained he didn’t want to be tied down and that there is too much to see out there. He has some great stories and photos of parties and travel. Eventually, he landed a public sector job. Not the highest paying in the world, but with good benefits, and in general, enjoyed life.
Cheryl worked long hours, and moved to several different cities across the country. She has turned around departments and divisions more than once. She has sacrificed family time to build her career, and while she took a bit of a beating in one of the housing downturns when she had to move for her job, by all accounts, she has done very well financially.
The issues come in, as Cheryl explains, when her brother starts with the discussions regarding taxes, tax loopholes and income disparity. Not sure what card he could possibly play with his sister on income disparity, I had to ask for further explanation. “With Bob it isn’t about gender or race when it comes to income disparity, at least not when I am around,” Cheryl explained, “it is all about how those that are already wealthy aren’t doing their share.” So what exactly is the issue, I wondered aloud?
Cheryl explains it like this – while Bob was out at late night parties and living this mobile lifestyle, sometimes even just leaving a job or an area without notice and never coming back, Cheryl was buckling down and doing what she thought she needed to do to make her dreams come to fruition. A family, maybe a nice house and car, money to put kids through school, money to go on nice vacations or even better, what if one day she could be one of those folks with a ‘vacation home’ somewhere. That was what success looked like to her. And she asked everyone who would stop and give her a minute of their time what she would have to do to make something like that come true. “You know, honestly there were times I was a little bit jealous of Bob. Times when it was stressful or tough; when I thought that it would be nice to just go a blow off some steam and party in the Keys, Cancun, or go to Tahiti and the consequences be damned,” she exclaimed.
So here’s the thing, Cheryl explains to me. Bob made choices in life, and he chose the life he wanted to lead. He finally bought a house, but it is in a depressed neighborhood and his car is barely operable. Not one of Bob’s life choices would be one that would point you to a higher income or financially independent lifestyle. But he begrudges everyone else that did. Those are decisions we made – I don’t begrudge him the late night parties and living in what I would consider vacation locales. That was what he wanted. But I don’t think it is fair that after I took the risks and I did things differently to ask that I gave some to him because he made another decision. Frankly, it sounds a little like the parable of the grasshopper and the ants.
“Bob’s actions make me feel like I should in some way be embarrassed that I have been able to achieve many of my dreams, and yes, I have a nice house and a nice car – and I can assure you no one handed them to me. I worked for them. And I shouldn’t have to feel that way – no one should have to feel that they should apologize for their success, and as an American I can’t imagine for the life of me why we would want a President or a Presidential Candidate to apologize for a successful private sector career, or building a successful business. In fact, I would think they would have to explain or apologize a little if they did not!”
Have you ever had this conversation around the Thanksgiving table or the picnic table? What do you think and how did it “resolve” itself?