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August 2, 2010, at 8:29 am — Blogs / / / /

The equation for wealth

Wealth is what happens when luck meets opportunity. Or is that success? Or was it that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity? The infinite combinations and equations that make up these cross-concept building blocks ultimately all point to the same thing: in our society, wealth, or something like it, is attainable by anybody. Hard labor, combined with the right dose of perceptiveness, charisma and yes, luck, have proven to be enough to promote any citizen from one tax bracket to the next. This is, at least, the promise of America, a land where opportunities are here for the taking.

Having grown up with parents who immigrated to the States in their mid-20s, I am always acutely aware of this perception, and the consequent implications. The idea of social mobility is something that isn’t as encouraged in Taiwan — whatever “class” you are born into tends to be where you stay, even in the advancements of your career. And hence, the draw of a country like the U.S. where “anything is possible” is pretty hefty. If it is true that wealth springs from luck and opportunity, and luck itself is composed of preparation and opportunity, then, in the immigrant generation’s mind, hard work (preparation) is the only part they’ll need to contribute, now that the other controllable variable (opportunity) is present.

And hence the immigrant mentality stands: work hard, and you can succeed. And by success, I mean of course in monetary and materialistic terms. I’ve always looked to this model as part of the reason why children of immigrant parents tend to place a different emphasis on the value of wealth (read: money) than either their parents or their American counterparts. To second generation Americans (those born in the States, but whose parents immigrated from another country), there is a balance to be made.

Their immigrant parents insist that attaining wealth — working hard and forfeiting enjoyment in many cases — is the justifiable ends to a life of just getting by. Because the opportunities are here, it is unwise to throw them away — and for immigrants, all opportunities point toward monetary stability and development.

American society itself is filled with contradictions, but the overarching theme at present seems to be that money can’t buy you happiness, and it is therefore almost insulting to the Constitution to “sell out” and do things just for the money. (At the same time, of course, we observe the lives of the rich and famous and aspire to reach that level of social acceptance and wealth. Oh, the irony).

Somehow consolidating the two viewpoints into one coherent view on wealth is near-impossible, but it’s somewhere in the struggle that the third piece of the equation falls into place. Luck. Because even with a rigid mindset regarding the value and definition of wealth, we always find success (however we define it) at just the right time, don’t we? And if that can’t be attributed to luck, then what can?


1 comment to The equation for wealth

  • After I interviewed Glen Phillips yesterday, he hung out to chat for a little while. He reads a lot, and while we were talking about wealth and success he mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. He drew Bill Gates as an example from that book, noting that while, yes, he did obsessively practice his craft starting at a young age, he was only able to do that thanks to the good fortune of having access to some of the best computers available—something that quite possibly no other 14-year-old in the world had ever had.

    So, remarkable interest/passion + incredible talent + many hours of honing his craft + once-in-a-lifetime opportunity = one of the richest men in the world.

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