How would wealth impact your life trajectory?

I frequently wonder how my career trajectory would have mapped out if I knew at a very young age that I’d be financially set no matter what I did. Would I have busted my ass to get a high paying job if I were already financially independent?  Would I have dedicated my life to philanthropy?

Who knows. I’ve met plenty of people in my life who clearly have had various degrees of family wealth. Like the guy I knew in college who was neither a genius nor a hard worker who still got into medical school. I didn’t realize that he came from serious means until his parents cut him a $2 million check when he got into medical school.  Sometimes you can’t actually tell whether someone’s lavish lifestyle is due to wealth or simply egregious extension of their credit lines.

I always figured that if I had the preordained luck to be born into wealth, I wouldn’t have tried so hard in school.  Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the answer may not be as simple.  If I were fortunate to have inherited a family fortune, would I really want to feed off the fat? Or would I have the ambition to build on that wealth to make a name for myself?  Should I just work just as hard and find my true passion? That is a much higher level decision to make than simply working hard to put a roof over your head.  There is a reason why some of the wealthiest people I know still chose a challenging career in medicine.

You can work and play to you true ambition if money is out of the equation.

I tend to view our life choices as a conglomeration among three needs: (1) fortune, (2) fame, and (3) happiness.  It’s challenging to have all three, but coming into the world with fortune will get you a head start on life.

You can’t have it all.

If money were not a problem (fortune), I probably would have ordered take-out a lot more often and saved myself hundreds of hours of cooking during medical school (happiness). Those hours could be been better spent studying, exercising, or even socializing.  Perhaps that would’ve enabled me to pursue a different specialty in medicine. Would I have chosen a less lucrative profession? Would I have chosen a lower paying but intellectually stimulating job (fame) in a higher cost of living city?

I think that the wealth factor definitely influences how one goes through life. I like to look at it in phases:

Money is awesome phase: This is presumably realized in childhood. Any toys, vacations, foods, or material goods can be had without consideration of cost. This is where bad habits can be ingrained.

Money is a tool phase: As you get older, you start to realize that you can purchase favors or amenities to get ahead in life. Private tutors. Exchanging cash for other people’s time.

Seeking purpose: Everyone experiences this. You try to figure out what you want out of life. Careers. Wealth influences your career choices too. This is where you try to figure out what you ought to be doing to become happy.

Money is a tool again phase: You go about your career with highs and lows. Wealth can be used to ease the daily grind.

It’s clear that wealth can certainly put in an advantageous position to be happy, but wealth can’t guarantee happiness. Had my financial situation been different in childhood, my life trajectory would have been different, but I think that my level of content with my life choices would likely be the same.

Have you pondered these scenarios before?

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  • Live Free MD

    If I was born into wealth, I think I would still have an intrinsic motivation to succeed, but I certainly wouldn’t be motivated by money. I might choose to be a professional blogger, athlete, river guide, personal trainer, or teacher. It might make money, it might not. But the money wouldn’t matter; only the passion. Just like when you reach financial independence!

    • Smart Money MD

      True. I wouldn’t mind becoming a master dipnetter, and be part of the tourism industry in a cool part of the country!