My favorite TV show theme song is The Apprentice’s “Money, Money, Money.” On rare occasions I have even been known to join my five-year old son, Davin, in jiving to it. Being the entrepreneur that I am, I enjoy watching the show to see the creativity and management decisions made by the contestants as they are given their various challenges.
A recent survey by Pew Research Center, reported by USA Today, suggests that many younger Americans watch shows like The Apprentice for a different reason. It feeds their dreams of becoming rich and famous. Now, I have no problem with someone desiring to be rich or famous. Youthful dreams are important. Still, having a dream that requires a lot of money, as many do, is completely different from having a dream that’s limited to having a lot of money.
The Pew survey found that 81% of those aged 18 to 25 have a number-one goal of being rich. The second most important life goal for 51% of the respondents was to become famous.
The interesting twist is that today’s youth don’t seem to want to become famous as entertainers, writers, actors, etc. Instead, they want to become famous for being themselves, as modeled by many of the winners of reality shows.
A 2005 survey done by Higher Education Research Institute reported similar results, with 75% of college freshmen saying it was “very important” or “essential” to be rich. In 1967, only 42% said being rich was essential.
It’s not surprising to note that, in 1967, 86% of college freshmen said it was “very important” or “essential” to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life.” In 2005, only 45% said the same.
The fact that eight out of ten young adults want nothing more in life than to be rich is troubling to me. I was under an illusion that the young people of today were actually more altruistic than when I was a teenager.
It is some comfort to realize that my own views on wealth and riches have changed over the years. Had I been one of those freshmen polled in 1967, I would been among those saying that being rich was essential.
Thirty years later, I see things differently. First, “rich” is relative and elusive. I’ve discovered that once a person earns more than $50,000 a year, rich is more a condition of the mind than the net worth statement.
Second, in my career I’ve worked with some very rich people and some very famous people. They have helped me see that being rich or famous offers its own unique challenges. I’ve truly come to value the previously unappreciated benefits of being upper middle class and unknown. One of those benefits is that I can be loved and accepted for who I am, rather than what I have or what I could potentially do for someone else. The rich and famous don’t have that luxury.
I wrote this on a plane, bound for a meeting in Florida. Sitting next to me was a 63-year-old retired CPA, a man well acquainted with money matters during his career. He told me what a privilege it was for him and his wife to live in the same town with their grandchildren. He summed it up by saying, “It doesn’t get any better in life than having good relationships with family and friends. That’s really what life is all about.”
If today’s 18-25 year olds are polled again when they are 63, I’m guessing at least 81% of them will agree. The older we get, the more we come to realize that it’s not about the money.