What Wealth Really Means

When a sportsman hits the age of 30 journalists begin to ask about their plans for retirement. Tennis star Roger Federer has had interviews peppered with similar questions for nearly 10 years now.

Multiple Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton is now 34 years old. Hamilton has had an amazingly successful career in terms of track success and in amassing wealth, where it is estimated he is worth £500 million. Hamilton recently made a comment that “I’ve led a complex life” and this just didn’t sit right with me, not because I don’t believe him, but because he did not qualify his statement acknowledging his success.

I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is impossible to have any problems if you have plenty of money. Clearly this is not true, however, some contrition and humility on the part of Hamilton would have been appropriate.

When Hamilton eventually stops racing, he will do so as one of the most successful sportsmen of all time. His life involves unlimited adulation from fans, an entourage of assistants tending to his every need. In retirement, if you can call it that, he will be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, no matter what it costs.

He may have had a complex life, but it has surely been worth it. Would he rather have had a simpler life working in a factory earning minimum wage? Obviously not. I do not begrudge him or anyone else their success. He has an amazing talent, dedication, an amazing work ethic and he has only accrued the wealth that was placed in front of him. The only thing that I would hope that very wealthy people do in that fortunate position is show a little humility. Someone earning £500 million, perhaps even more, should acknowledge that others are not so lucky.

In my experience I have come across people in my working life who live in the fortunate position where they have enough money and whilst they have a job, they don’t need one. Even this moderate level of security changes your life. The moment you have disposable income you are lucky, many people live most or all of their lives month to month, with finances a constant worry.

The moment you no longer need to work, whether that be through a windfall of some sort, a lifetime of saving carefully or generous pension, work becomes a choice. Before I carry on let me stress that most people in this situation have worked very hard to get there and I don’t begrudge them for one second, I am merely stating what this wealth means for the individual.

It’s not about buying “stuff” because if you spend all the money you may as well not have had it. It’s about being stress-free when it comes to money, looking ahead knowing that you will be able to keep a roof over your head, food on the table, bills paid, entertainment covered, clothes on your back and free time to boot.

The other freedom is freedom from control. In my jobs most of my employers have treated me differently from staff who were in the fortunate financial position where they could choose whether to work or not. My employers were aware that the wealthier individual could take it or leave it, so when it came to work being divided between staff, I invariably got the raw end of the deal because it was known that I could not refuse to do it.

This is the inherent power of management over non-financially free staff, which is most of us. Over our head is always the veiled threat that one day our job could be taken away. Management also like to see workers ‘work’.

In every job that I have had so far, any time that I have shown that I really enjoyed what I was doing my job has been altered to include something that I clearly found a little more difficult. I learned the hard way not to look too happy. If I did I would get more work straight away, because God forbid if I had a smile on my face that meant I wasn’t working hard enough or being challenged enough.

Yes, we all have the power to quit and I’ve been told on more than one occasion ‘that if I didn’t like it there’s the door’. On one occasion I decided I didn’t like it and walked right through it. My parent’s reaction when I got home to tell them was not good, perhaps it would have been different if I was financially secure. My reaction would have been different too, I’d have been gone months before it reached that boiling point.

This is why I value my membership of a trade union. Not because I worked for the bad managers, on the whole my colleagues were nice, kind people, with only one or two exceptions. But human nature prevails and I was treated differently because they knew, that I knew, that they knew, that I was in a different position in life to my wealthier colleagues who could, should they choose, go home and stay there.

Consider the difference between a wealthy colleague being offered a job to when I get a job. When I am offered a job I am instantly grateful that they are going to effectively give me money. Why? Because I need money! It would be completely different if I was in the fortunate position of having enough money, I could effectively approach the interview like I am there to help the employer rather than the other way around.

So when people like Lewis Hamilton say things like he has a complex life, I would gently remind him, whilst offering huge congratulations to his success, that when he decides racing is no longer for him he could walk away safe in the knowledge that no Manager ever will hold any sort of control over what he does and when he does it. So perhaps the complexity he has, aside from personal problems that money cannot solve, is managing success, rather than managing difficulty.

If you ever reach the point where you only worry about what to do with your time rather than how to turn that time into money, you are as wealthy as you ever need to be. The power to choose is true wealth, not about what you can buy. This is what my politics is based on, let’s make the lives better for the those struggling, because the rest are doing OK. I’ve always been very happy providing I can cover my basic living costs.

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