Stop Being Ashamed of Success

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One of my all-time favorite “money” movies is The Pursuit of Happyness.  There are many lessons to be learned from the film, but one of the themes I most appreciate missing from the film is animosity for successful people.

In fact, the movie’s main character, Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith), a down-on-his-luck medical device salesman uses the success he sees around him as motivation to improve his own lot in life.

In an early scene in the movie a successful stockbroker pulls up in a beautiful new Ferrari sports car.  Gardner asks the car’s owner two questions:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?

Here’s the scene from the movie…

I love this scene, because of the spirit in which both men interact. Gardner is not “jealous” of the Ferrari owner; I mean jealous in the sense that he doesn’t like the man or thinks he doesn’t deserve his car.

Rather, Gardner wants to achieve this same success.

The Ferrari driver is not ashamed of his success, but also appears to not be a rich jerk. He offers some suggestions to Gardner for how he may attain this same success, changing the trajectory of Gardner’s life.

Choosing Frugality Versus Forced Frugality

I drive an old truck. 99% of the time I am proud of my old truck and enjoy knowing it is not attached to a car payment.

However, I am human, and there remains that 1% of the time when I feel a little bit ashamed of it.

The truck is loud, and ugly, and obviously not from this century and that sometimes leads to a twinge of embarrassment for me of my passenger (usually one of my kids).

Some probably think to themselves, “Why does he drive that old truck? I know he can afford something better.”

Choosing frugality is different than forced frugality.

My mom didn’t have a choice but to be frugal. She was a single parent trying to raise a son on her own.

Mom still made the occasional bad move with money, but for the most part she was a master budget maker who cooked homemade meals even after a long day at work and never drove a flashy vehicle.

My wife and I have more choices than our parents did, but we choose to be frugal.

That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally want (and buy) nice things. Maybe not as nice as a new red Ferrari, but we’ve had our share of nice things over the years, including nicer vehicles than we drive now.

Don’t Be Afraid of Appearing Successful

The flip side of this argument is that there is nothing inherently wrong with being successful.

Successful people are so often demonized in our society, when in fact they should be emulated.

And I’m not referring to the trust-fund babies who have never worked a day in their life.

I’m talking about people who risked it all to build a business or lived frugally their whole lives socking money away for the future.  People who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to become successful.

People like my friend Adam, who came to this country from Poland with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes and $1,000 from working odd jobs back home.  He ate a steady diet of baked potatoes, worked at a gas station for five years learning English and putting himself through college debt free.

Adam now makes nearly six figures writing fraud detection software for a Fortune 500 company.

Do not be afraid of success, or showing others that you are successful.

Like the man in the red Ferrari, you never know whose life trajectory may be changed by your inspirational example.

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