by Dr Boyce Watkins
As you seek to climb the ladder toward fame, fortune and anything else you cherish, understand that the journey is not for the meek. Of course there is hard work, goal-setting and all the other obstacles that may lie in your path. But there is one challenge that people don’t often mention in their climb to the top: A lot of your former friends may suddenly hate you.
It’s not that having money makes you into a bad person. In fact, you will probably become more generous and supportive of those around you, since you’ll have the resources to do so. The problem is that the pressures start to grow with the income you earn, and some people just can’t take it.
Russ Alan Prince at Forbes Magazine describes this phenomenon in a recent article. He says that the self-made millionaire (i.e. you in a few years if you play your cards right) is going to have more enemies than the average person, for a variety of reasons. According to Prince, the main reason that you may pick up a few haters is because there will be so many demands on you that you won’t be able to handle them all.
Your inability to manage all of the requests thrust upon you is surely going to cause some people to walk away feeling “dissed,” as if you simply blew them off. You may also face added scrutiny in a managerial position or as a wealthy/famous/powerful person, with people either spreading rumors about you or watching your every move. The truth is that you may be tapped out or exhausted, keeping you from being able to help every person who comes along or deal with every piece of criticism that comes your way. According to Prince:
As self-made millionaires create personal fortunes, they’re very likely to have more and more people approach them with demands, requests, and proposals. The logic behind this is straightforward; the wealthy person has financial and professional resources these other people want to access and leverage.
As the demands, requests, and various proposals multiply, the self-made millionaire is not going to have the bandwidth to deal with them all. The triage process alone is sure to annoy or anger some of the people making requests. The result is that you make enemies. When a self-made millionaire discounts or disregards another’s requests, others commonly see this as proof of self-centeredness, callousness, arrogance, insensitivity, conceit, and haughtiness.
Of course there may be other reasons that a wealthy or successful person is villified, not the least of which is that most Americans just don’t like rich people, no matter how nice they try to be. Some of this disdain is deserved, due to awkward policies pushed forward by the Right Wing that keep the rich from paying a tax rate necessary to keep our government out of debt. Right now, the government doesn’t bring in enough money to pay its bills, which will lead to spiraling deficits that will ultimately cripple the nation.
Prince says that as a person who plans to build wealth, you should not only prepare to make a lot of enemies, but remember that many of these enemies are going to be your closest friends. Some of your new adversaries may also be colleagues with whom you work closely. Your success makes you a magnet for those seeking lucrative partnerships where they have something to gain. Their requests to work with you in various capacities may become so overwhelming that you make enemies by having to turn people down.
Keep in mind that you should be prepared to make enemies, and some of them may very well be close friends and professionals you’re currently working with. For example, as you conduct negotiations that pay off well, your time becomes an ever more precious asset. Simultaneously, your success acts as a magnet to other people who want to pitch you an idea or a company or, better yet, show you a way you can become more successful by teaming up with them. What tends to happen is that you end up pushing a lot of people away. These people will, in turn, attribute certain personal characteristics to you – and they’re not likely to be complimentary.
As a member of the African American community, the pressure may be ten-fold. Black Americans have higher rates of poverty than most other communities, so your financial success is going to make some people see you as a bail-out facility or personal ATM machine. My suggestion is that the less you flaunt what you have, the less-likely you are to be the economic target of every struggling relative within a 100-mile radius.
My advice? Don’t let the opinions of others shape your self-perception. Try your best to be a good person, but accept the idea that not everyone is going to feel that way about you. Also, as your career develops, try to have a team of people around you who can help filter some of these requests on your behalf, so you don’t find yourself consistently bombarded.
For example, if you are a public speaker, refer all speaking requests to your manager, no matter who makes the request. Often, close friends will expect you to do something for free, even though they’d gladly pay a stranger. You may want to also allow someone else to process all business proposals and requests for conversations to ensure that people aren’t going to waste your time. It’s not that you’re seeking to be arrogant, but if you take the time to speak with every person who “only wants five minutes of your time,” you won’t get anything done.
But trying to do everything for everyone is like trying to drink the entire ocean. No matter how much you do, someone else will be waiting outside the door asking for more. Also, some people are going to feel entitled to your time and/or money, even if you don’t have anything to give. Finally, some people won’t be happy no matter how much you do for them.
Keep these things in mind in your pathway to the top. You’ll be amazed at how differently people behave when they feel they can get something from you. At the same time, never allow these pressures to eliminate your capacity for kindness and empathy toward others, for your success can be a vessel to do good work for the world.
The pressures may be high, but you can certainly manage it. Now go out there and become successful.