Budgeting, Making Money, Personal Finance, Work

Financial Success Shame?

On a message board that I routinely hang out on, there was recently a discussion of people’s finances and whether or not they could afford certain items. As with all discussions of this type, there were some people who stated that they would have huge trouble affording these things and other people said that they would be able to afford almost anything. As the discussion got more heated, two posters who had mentioned their financial success and ability to afford most things were called “lucky” and “fortunate” by other posters.

The first poster responded by hemming and hawing and saying that yes, they had been lucky and that yes, things had kind of always gone their way and that sure, they were better off that most, but only because they’d gotten some bonuses and profits from the sale of a business. The second poster came right out and said that they were not fortunate at all, but that they had worked their butts off in school and at work, sacrificed, never taken on debt, and had educated themselves about money and made it a priority to manage their funds well. Despite obstacles such as medical problems and layoffs, this person had done well because they worked at it.

The first poster seemed as though they were ashamed of their financial success. The second poster attributed it all to hard work. My question was, “What on Earth did the first poster have to be ashamed of?” Obviously the first poster was a hard worker. If most of their money came from the same of a business, they must have worked hard to build that business to the level where it could be sold for a great profit. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.

This attitude of shame is common. Many people who are successful financially seem ashamed of the fact. When other people mention their success, they back away from the subject, preferring to hide behind “luck.” In most cases, though, their success is the result of some serious hard work, not anything lucky like winning the lottery or stumbling over $10,000 cash in the parking lot. I think people are ashamed of their success because it’s not socially acceptable to be proud of it, especially these days. When so many people are struggling, admitting that you are not seems uncaring. We’re also taught never to brag. There is a difference, however in bragging (going around saying, “I have a $500,000 house, and a Mercedes and am going on a first-class world cruise) and simply attributing your success to your own hard work and effort. It’s not bragging to tell someone who asks or comments on your “good luck” to say, “Hey, I worked a lot of overtime for that money and then made it a priority to study investing so I could use it well.” When you work hard at something it’s a cause for pride, not shame.

Some people also think that not being ashamed of their success smacks of pride. And in some religions, pride is a sin. I’m no theologian, but I think the pride that is discouraged by religion is the sort of pride where you lord it over other people and say, “I’m better than you because I’m successful financially.” There’s nothing wrong or sinful about healthy self-esteem or taking pride in your hard work as long as you aren’t using it to prove your superiority. Simply saying (when someone mentions your luck), “It wasn’t luck, at all. I built a business and then sold it,” isn’t being prideful. It’s clarifying the subject of where your money came from.

Unless you’ve come by your money through illegal or illicit means, I think it’s fine to be proud of your efforts. You put in the time, did the work, got educated about money, and it’s paid off. That others have not chosen to do so and instead choose to believe in luck is not your fault. You have no reason to be ashamed of your accomplishments and every right to correct those who say you’re lucky. There’s no shame in hard work, effort, and education. There is shame, however, in constantly denigrating your accomplishments to fit some societal notion of propriety. You do yourself and others no favors by making it seem easier than it really is.

7 thoughts on “Financial Success Shame?

  1. Funny, I’ve seen something similar in a home design website. When asked how much square footage the followers have, those living in less than 650 sq ft respond with martyr pride whose those with more than 1000 sq ft acted embarrassed and ashamed. Some of the commentators said those 1000 sq ft + people should not be ashamed as they probably worked hard to acquire the home of their dreams.

  2. One other thing – I don’t believe that thinking you are fortunate to be in good financial condition means you have shame in what your situation is. I believe that I have worked hard to get to where I am in and will continue to work hard to stay there, but also believe I am fortunate to be in the situation I am in. I realize that many people did not have the means and support I had growing up that built a foundation giving me a higher probablity to succeed than those who were missing those built in support sytems.

  3. dfeucht makes an excellent point. The fact of the matter is that most people on these forums are from the US and other well developed, established countries. We are lucky to have been born here. Generally speaking someone born in the US to a middle class family has FAR more support and opportunities than literally billions of people on the planet. Simply by being born in the US (and other similar countries) puts us in the top few percent of the world in terms of wealth and opportunity.

    None of that is to say that we don’t work hard for our success or shouldn’t be proud of it. I know I have. But I also know that I am lucky to have been born into a time and a place in which opportunites are available.

  4. Absolutely, you can certainly credit or blame luck for the circumstances of where you were born and the quality of the family you were born into. It is easier to get ahead if you have fewer disadvantages to overcome. And if you have fewere hurdles than others (no major medical catastrophes, no major personal crises like being sexually assaulted, no history of chronic depression, etc) then you are lucky in your circumstances as well. It’s a way of putting your success in perspective and realizing that while you worked hard, educated yourself and made smart decisions, that there’s also a certain amount of luck involved in life. It doesn’t denigrate the fact that you’ve done things to insulate yourself against disasters (like the current economy) and to allow you to take advantage of opportunities that may come along. I think personal effort definitely plays a bigger role than luck, but luck is important too.

    However, most people when they’re talking about a financially successful or secure person being lucky aren’t referring to their background. It seems like there are many people out there who think financial success of any sort is a matter of luck – mostly because they blame their own lack of financial success on bad luck.

    It is easier to blame back luck for your misfortunes than it is to be self-critical and realize where you need to make changes. It’s easier when you compare yourself to someone who had similar advantages and disadvantages but they achieved greater success, to blame it on luck instead of poor decisions you made. It’s a way to ignore your own role in your life’s failures by blaming it all on bad luck.

  5. Sure, there are individuals in our western society who are unable to do a lot of things due to mental or physical disability – but these people are relatively few.

    ‘The harder I work the luckier I get’ was said by Samuel Goldwyn, but there were others before him who said similar. I know people who are wealthy, from very different walks of life. It isn’t necessary to have a college degree.

    I only discovered the benefits of thrift five years before retiring. If I had practiced that for the twenty years before retiring I would have had a million pounds in the bank. Luck?

  6. It is crazy that it is okay to have stuff but then to admit that the stuff is all paid for, and that you have no debt and have money in the bank it is a whole different story. Nobody really wants to admit how much debt they are in and so someone admitting to no debt scares the pants off of people who are buried in it and thinking everyone else is also.

  7. That’s odd, I’ve never met anyone who was ashamed of their financial success. That doesn’t mean they are prideful or braggarts but they are definitely not ashamed.

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