8 Lessons I’ve Learned From the Top 1 Percent
Things are not always as perfect as they appear to be.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
It's easy to judge people who make more money than 99% of the population, even when you consider just their interest income. It's even easier to look at the ultra-rich and believe that they have no problems, and that they have it all figured out. Yet that is not the reality.
This is especially true when it comes to self-made members of the top one percent. As I encounter more investors and ultra-successful entrepreneurs, I've gained access to a more candid look at what money is, what it means to have it and how it may or may not affect the people who have much of it.
Here's a look at eight notable things I've learned from the ultra-rich. In most cases, I am referring to self-made members of the top one percent, and not those that inherit their wealth - although they often fall into these categories as well.
1. More money does not equal more happiness
Sure, money makes some problems and circumstances easier, but it doesn't seem to make anyone happier above a certain point. Data suggests that one's happiness does not go up beyond an annual salary of $105,000.
Some of the most miserable people I know are worth tens and hundreds of millions. They perpetuate toxicity, narcissism and a sense of lack that makes it difficult to spend any meaningful time with them or connect on a human level. In many cases, these individuals focus more on maintaining or growing their wealth than on expressing gratitude for what they have, or considering ways to give back.
This is not to say that all rich people are this way. I'm speaking only to the ones who are miserable despite their abundance.
2. They've made major sacrifices
Of the self-made millionaires I know, most (if not all) of them have made major sacrifices for that success. Whether it's putting themselves, or their families, at financial risk, or working tirelessly to focus on their business, many of these self-made millionaires made the sacrifices that others are not willing to make. Many times, these sacrifices turn into major regrets. See the next item.
3. They have regrets
The question I'm most curious regarding the sacrifices they've made is: "Was it worth it?" When it works out, it sure seems like it.
Yet when I candidly ask ultra-wealthy folks about their life, I often hear regret. As someone once told me, "No amount of money can make my kid three years old again." I've also heard regrets around letting relationships with family and friends fade away, damaging their long-term health and missing out on fun adventures in their twenties.
4. Money has no meaning. We give it meaning.
Like every other economic level of society, there are happy millionaires and unhappy millionaires. By spending time with both, I realize that money is inherently neutral. It does not have any inherent meaning.
We are the ones that determine if money is a measure of our success or simply a bi-product of fulfilling our purpose and passions. We decide if money makes us feel better than other people, or if money makes us feel grateful and inspired to empower others and give back. We decide if money is a tool for good, or if it's a source of self-worth.
5. Money can't stop the human experience
For as much as we want to believe it's true, no amount of money can prevent us from being human. Rich people still hurt. They have voices inside their heads that say they're not good enough. Their kids get sick. They get rejected by others. They share the same ultimate fate as everyone else who makes less money. There's always someone better, richer, funnier or more accomplished to fuel the torment of comparison. They suffer, feel sad and can't control things any more than the rest of us.
6. Many are still striving for validation
No amount of success, or money, is ever enough if you feel like you're not good enough. While the ideal is to create a sense of worthiness without needing external validation, money is often the easiest and most obvious tool for comparing ourselves to others.
The sad part is that when people achieve the massive financial success they crave, they realize it doesn't make them happy, and they fall into depression and detachment from their sense of self. I highlighted this during an interview with billionaire coach Kute Blackson.
Our need for validation will not be satiated until we accept a true definition of success that isn't based on external factors. In most cases, wealthy does not mean worthy.
7. They miss the grind
One common theme I hear from the ultra-rich is they actually miss the moments when times were tough and they were just starting out. If you ask them to recall the early years of their business or careers, you often see a smile and a sense of fondness for the times when they were broke or had to work 100 hours a week.
One of my favorite stories was a self-made millionaire telling me he actually misses the days when he and his wife slept on a mattress on the floor of their apartment. He told me that he misses the simplicity and possibility that he felt during that time.
This is a great reminder to enjoy the journey, and not to lose sight of the beauty in the journey while focusing solely on milestones or outcomes.
8. They don't often acknowledge their privilege
If you consider the list of the top American self-made billionaires, all thirteen are white men. While that percentage reduces as you include all millionaires in America, the ratios do not reflect the diversity seen across different demographics. According to the Washington Post, 15.2% of all white families are millionaires, while only 1.9% of all black families are millionaires.
Yet when I've asked white men about their success, I often hear "hard work", "sacrifice", "vision" and "risk". Rarely have I heard them acknowledge a sense of privilege that may have helped them on their journey.
By no means does this observation attempt to dismiss the value and impact of hard work, sacrifice, vision and risk. I understand how hard it is, as I've incurred significant risk, made sacrifices and worked 80 hours a week or more for the last five years for my business. Yet, in my experience, I believe that my many privileges have brought me more opportunity - starting from an early age.
Acknowledging privilege does not take away from the merits of our success, but rather, it gives us the opportunity to cultivate empathy, open up to the difficult discussions we're facing in business and in society, and empower others.
Success and abundance are beautiful things. We should not demonize them or judge others for creating what they want to experience. We should support everyone in their quest to experience the life they desire.
Yet as you define your desires, consider this perspective from the people who have already walked the path. Things aren't always what they seem, and this perspective should inform you to maintain a healthy perspective on why you want abundance and success. It also highlights the importance of cultivating self-worth that is focused internally, not externally.