In my first (most recent) blog post on the subject of how wealthy parents can raise their children “to become autonomous and responsible adults,” I gave a list of seven questions. One of these was “How much should I give to my children? … What is ‘too much’?”
There is no more eloquent response to this question than Jamie Johnson’s 2003 documentary Born Rich. Johnson, a fourth-generation heir to the Johnson & Johnson family, made this film at age 23 by interviewing several of his mega-wealthy peers, some of whom have household names for Americans, like Ivanka Trump.
I saw this film when it was released and felt a pervasive sense of pointlessness and sadness. These kids—very young and very rich— were, for the most part, intelligent and articulate, but it was difficult for me to make out what many of them were doing—or planning to do—with their lives. Said Johnson: “I’d seen so many people who were in my situation and who managed to have everything going for them, yet still live unproductive lives, and even in some cases tragic and miserable lives. I thought, I really don’t want that to happen to me.”
In the most poignant scene in the movie, Johnson interviews his own father, who was clearly uncomfortable. (It was, however, brave of him to agree to be in the film.) Johnson asked his father, “What can I do with my life?” His father’s response, after a long, awkward pause, was: “Well, you could become a collector, like me.”
The next moment showed a close-up of Jamie Johnson’s face: complete deflation, desolation. Could his father not imagine anything more his son could do? Evidently not.
This film is a perfect example of what not to do as parents. Few children of wealthy parents are anywhere near as wealthy as these rich kids, but the dynamic is more the less the same. The Inheritance Project is dedicated to helping wealthy parents choose a different outcome for their children.
To be continued …
Barbara Blouin, The Inheritance Project