The Myth of the Silver Spoon
Let’s Talk Family Enterprise explores global ideas, concepts and models that help family enterprise advisors better serve their family clients brought to you by family enterprise Canada. All views Information and opinions expressed during this podcast are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of Family enterprise Canada.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The let’s talk family enterprise podcast. My name is Steve Legler. And it’s great to be your host once again. This month we’re looking at a subject that many family enterprises must contend with, the challenges faced by members of the rising generation. So many of these families that we deal with once the family has reached a certain measure of success. Our guest is Kristin Kessler, who I’ve known for a few years already through the purposeful planning Institute, where we’re both active and whose recent book I just finished reading and very much enjoyed. The book is called The Myth of the Silver Spoon, navigating family wealth and creating an impactful life published by Wiley. We’re going to talk about that today. Look at the angle of how we as advisors to such enterprising families can help our clients deal with their challenges in this area. We’ve got plenty of ground to cover. So let me welcome our guests and kick things off. Kristin Kessler, thanks for joining us today. Welcome to the let’s talk family enterprise podcast.
Thank you, Steve. I’m really excited to be here.
Before we get to the book, I know that a few years ago you completed a program at the University of Pennsylvania in positive psychology. And I have an inkling although it didn’t confirm this with you that this book is kind of an outgrowth of those studies. Can you take us back a bit and give us some background on how this came about?
Yeah, absolutely. I would love to because that program, the Master’s in applied positive psychology program at Penn is actually as much as I’m just a lifelong learner and I love being on a university campus that I could just, you know, cycle back and get another graduate degree every couple of years I probably would. But this particular program was very special. It fed more than just the intellectual curiosity in me. It had really been a bucket list program for some time. When I was in my early 20s. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry and with an emphasis in human peak performance, which I always loved to this idea of like, kind of what do people do when they’re really kind of at the top of their game? And how do they continue to attend to the physical, mental, emotional things that support them to just really be alive and thrive. And after that undergraduate degree I went on together combined graduate degree in Business and Public Health and did a lot of work in the field of behavior change and worksite wellness before I started my work with families, and always there was this thread for me of this question of human thriving like what, you know, what are the elements that really support us to to be awake and alive and use the best of our talent towards things that are meaningful to us? And that was right around the time that I I left my corporate job and I’m plunged into doing the the coaching work is where I started working with the rising generation who were not called that back then we called and I was just doing coaching work with next gen when I first started my my practice, and that was right around the same time that the University of Pennsylvania launched this master’s in applied Positive Psychology program. And so there was this confluence of events where you know, it was personally something that was very much had been a long term quest for me, but I didn’t have any place to hang my curiosity. There was no framework that I knew of there. Was I just found myself interested in ideas without having a place to go hang at all. And soon after they started this program, which was spearheaded by Dr. Marty Seligman, who many people know is as the father of positive psychology. And he’s you know, if anybody who’s interested in this kind of work, like you could probably have five or seven of his books on your shelf and love them all the way that I do. And so I started watching this program, and just thinking every time I would sort of get curious, I’d go back to the website and I would look at the curriculum, and I just felt like, like, I want to do that. But it was all in you. Yes. Yeah. Like it was like it really did feel like it was calling me like the kind of thing that I’ve never experienced. I mean, like I said, I love learning, and I’ve never quite experienced this kind of response to a curriculum where I would, I would go and I would look and see how they were evolving and changing the program as they got better and smarter with each passing year and my heart would start to speed up and I just would like I wanted to embed myself in every topic that they were talking about. It was logistically not the right time, you know, the program’s in Pennsylvania, it’s in Philly, and I was just starting a business and I didn’t know how like there was just a lot that it felt like it didn’t fit and then over over time, and like it kept creeping up as feeling important. And I remember because I started the program in 2017. So I was applying when I finally decided to apply was in late 2016. And I remember having dinner with my husband at that point we had a not quite four year old at home and to two older girls off at college that you know, we’re paying for colleges and had a four year old at home. And I remember just saying like Someday Someday I’m gonna go to that program and and he just said there’s not it’s not going to get easier like the logistics over time will just change why wouldn’t you just apply and see if you get in? And I did and I did get in. And it was so it’s a one year master’s, the hybrid program so you fly in every three weeks to go, be in person for four days in the classroom and then have virtual work in between and it was such an intensive year, I maintained my my client load and did and you know, it was flying back and forth. And it’s like one of those moments in time where it’s like, I want to never repeat the level of intensity book. But I also would never give it back. And so ultimately to there’s a long story to get to the the point of your question, which was I finally had a place once I was in this master’s program that I really understood the lineage of, you know where positive psychology came from, which really has roots back in the Greek philosophers and many other you know, other traditions in psychology, the humanists, there’s a lot of threads of humanistic work and positive psychology that they have some key philosophical differences. And so ultimately, I felt like I had come home in terms of this thing that was so alive in me that I was so curious about, but I didn’t know where to hang all this knowledge and where to go deeper and the research and this program gave me all of that, and ultimately, for me triggered the question of, what does the high end of human thriving look like for rising generation family members? When when we look at the rising Jen and family, enterprise and families of wealth, and we can say those people are they have really found their way they have their feet under them, they’re contributors in the world there they would self proclaim that they are happy and thriving like what are the character traits that those people have in common, versus the ones that we that we just see are tripping and stumbling and not quite able to find their their own legs under them? So that was the I did a qualitative and quantitative research study to try to get to the heart of that. Ultimately, the results from that I just kept sitting on thinking like, this is information I want to share with my people, but we had a writing nobody wanted to read my master’s thesis. So I had to figure out a way to make it more digestible which ultimately became the book.
Well, that’s it right so people do like scholarly work that gets shared among other scholars. But then I’ve had a few guests here already that have taken that and said, No, no, I want this to be more, you know, available to people and so thank you for doing that. And so you you had been working with these kinds of clients, you went and follow your, your gut to go and get this more information. And then you come up with this myth of the silver spoon. So the first part of the book is confronting the myth. So what is the myth of the Silver Spoon from your angle? Yeah,
I’m imagining that many people listening to this podcast probably have the same have had heard the same thing that I heard over and over again, which is in working with, with families, family enterprise, and very often the significant prominence that comes with that both financial prominence and prominence in the community. I would hear from from younger family members that you know, I’ve been given every advantage I feel like such a jerk that I can’t I seem to keep tripping up I can’t get out of my own way. And and when we I would be in these in conversation with these family members, and you could really see that there. There is a stereotype. But these people are not they weren’t that stereotype, right? When and really people aren’t when you pull back the layers of humaneness and you just have the opportunity to see the vulnerabilities and the struggles of the person sitting in front of you rather than the stereotype of, you know, whatever stereotypes we have about about inheritors or next gens or, you know, trust fund babies like all these really diminishing ways of thinking about these family members. And when you put that aside and you say, like, what, what is at the heart here? I would hear time and time again, Mike, you know, no one wants to hear the problems of a rich kid. And yet, like I would hear comments requires that there’s that there’s really consistent themes and the kinds of ways that they were not able to see their own brilliance that they felt small in the shadow of a wealth creator that that that maybe there were too many possibilities, right without the need to have to go like just make something happen, go get a job to pay rent, that maybe there were too many possibilities to go back to graduate school to you know, work for the family business to, to work from the philanthropy. And, and these things were common and consistent. And, and ultimately, that to me felt like well, you know, that’s the that’s the myth that that just because from the outside, you’ve been given everything you need. And there’s not a single one of these rising Gen that I work with that don’t acknowledge that that don’t say, like, listen, I get it, like that’s what makes it even harder is I get that I have been given every advantage. So why can I not make this work? And, and so the myth is really this idea that, that being given those advantages, actually gives you what you need to to live a life of meaning and thriving and, and in fact, in many ways, and we can get certainly get into this more later, but in many ways, having the path paved for you makes it harder to build the character traits, strengths and skills that we know support human thriving,
right? That everybody you said nobody wants to hear the problems of the poor little rich kid, and every one would trade places with that person in a heartbeat. And that just raises the expectation level of you know, who am I and what can I become? You talked in the second section of the book about clearing the clutter. And you mentioned the word trip wires, can you can you just go give us a little bit of a background of what is this word clutter and what is the first step in working with these rising Gen family members of helping them sort of see things from a new perspective?
Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things I found as I was, you know, writing a book is wonderfully clarifying because it forced me to think about there’s many phrases or ways I would try to conceptualize concepts when working with clients that ultimately I found. When I would listen to myself talking, I would, I would say, oh, that actually is a helpful way to think about this so that it’s not necessarily internalized as, as you know, I’m bad but instead like now, like, look, I can see this clutter around me. And so in this case, I have this analogy in the book about clutter. And the idea is that there’s pretty consistent kinds of clutter I see rise in the sea in the lives of rising generation family members and, you know, clutter in general. It’s like, it’s like the stuff that is like we don’t put them in our front hallway. It’s the stuff that’s hidden away in the closet, right or the drawers or the backseat of your car. So it’s not up front. It’s the stuff that’s sort of like tucked deep inside. And it generally is an unorganized mess of stuff that we just don’t know how to organize, don’t know how to discard, we’re holding on to old, you know, old stuff. And when we think about clutter as an analogy, the same is true for the rising Gen and the typical kinds of clutter I see with them, which is that, in general, it’s like it’s internal stuff, right? It’s belief. It’s, you know, beliefs and mindsets and old things that they’re holding on to clutter is the kind of thing that gets in our way and our ability to move forward and it’s like it starts to create stagnation in the air, right, like there’s just not enough room for for us in there. And so one of the things that I see typically four kinds of clutter so the first kind of clutter that’s really common, is is what I’ve named money clutter and money. Clutter is like limiting beliefs about around money and wealth. It’s money stories that don’t really serve the rising generation, including things like you know, I’m, I’m the daughter or son of a wealth creator. And so what do I have to complain about? And that clutter can be extended out into the physical world. By rising Jannat building some of some really important basic personal finance skills, things like budgeting and, and understanding cash flow, and those things while they seem you know, from a practical sense, we could say who cares if if someone who is from a family that has more financial resources than they need, who cares if they can’t budget and it’s the the thing is that it’s not actually about the need to budget is it’s important. Budgeting is important because it gives someone a sense of empowerment. Like I know where money’s coming from, I know what I spend money on. I can’t tell you the number of Reisinger and I’ve worked with who ultimately end up getting very stuck in in situations where they’re being supported by their family, because they don’t actually know what it would take to get out of that situation. Right. They don’t know what they would need to earn, they don’t know what their burn rate is. And so that create that’s just this cycle that creates an internal clutter of being very stuck and money being the track. And then so then there’s a couple other kinds of clutter that I see really consistently most people would have guessed the money clutter. One. Some of the other ones that I see really consistently are identity clutter, and this is really big. With enterprising families, particularly when the family enterprise is a well known organization in the community or nationally, right like when you’re and when your name is associated with that.
Wherever you go. Everyone knows who you are exactly judges you based on their own ideas of what that means,
exactly like you’ve already had. You already have someone’s projection about what it means to be you before they met you. And and so identity clutter can be you know, false beliefs about who you are or who you need to be how you can show up in your home community. I’ve known so many rising Gen who choose to move far away, at least for a little bit which can be quite healthy, honestly. To get some space when they go to college. So they they have the ability to to get clarity about who they are separate from their family name.
Just to be anonymous somewhere else.
Yeah, exactly. So that identity clutter can be really tough and one’s 20s is a time of it’s hugely important time for identity for the building of identity capital, this sense that, like we that you you try work experiences and educational experiences and figure out who your who your real friends are and all those things that help you form an identity separate from that of your family of origin and, and the 20s they’re this incredibly important time but also can be a time when we’re, it’s hard to pull away from the mothership of the family and the family enterprise. So So those two things can be at odds and it’s really important for rising Gen to find a way to find their own voice and have that space to grow into who they are and then be choice well about me sort of the hero’s journey of returning back home, but different. There’s two other kinds of clutter that I see really consistently with rising Gen and one is this idea of relationship clutter. And this came came through in the research I did as well that the rising Gen who who consistently named that they were thriving that a number of things in common one of them was that really critical stages of their life, particularly teens and early 20s. They had a at least one person who they were they absolutely knew love to them for who they were and not what they had. Yeah, and one person outside their family a friend of a romantic partner someone that they really have this sense that like, I am my authentic self with them, and they don’t want or need anything else for me, but for me to be me. And it’s really it’s a tough thing that I think from the outside. A lot of people don’t recognize that because collectively we have we have kind of a cluttered relationship with money and wealth and power. And so as a society, we we project a lot onto those that habit and then the relationships that those rising Gen are trying to have are already weighted down by the heaviness of societal projection about what it means to be wealthy and, and the expectations right, the number of times I’ve I’ve talked to rising Gen Who were you know, 14 1516 and the kinds of things that are coming up for them are things like, well, you know, I have the Starbucks app on my phone and my and my parents credit card is linked to it. And my friends know that so when we go to Starbucks, everybody expects I’m going to buy drinks, but should I always be the one buying drinks, right? It’s like, yeah, that can be very confusing. Like are these people my people because they really love me or because like, you know, I’m the conduit to free coffee. So that’s the third type and ultimately that projecting into adulthood. It can be very, there can be a lot of tripwires and trying to find a partner and navigating power imbalances that come from financial imbalances. And those things are all very real and very, like it is absolutely possible to clear the that clutter and find rich, wonderful real relationships and it takes some extra skill and awareness.
Where do we as advisors to such families, where can we be become a resource to such families, where often I think I’m imagining that the parents are blissfully unaware that their offspring are going through some of these challenges. How can we come in there and sort of help them through some of these challenges?
Totally. It’s such a great question. And I think I mean, that was one of the goals honestly for me and writing the book was to just or to shine a light on this and and name it as a normal like a normal experience of this subset of people. And I think as advisors, one of the things that we can do is have awareness that this is very real and very common. And for for the rising Gen in in a fluent and enterprising families to feel, you know, stuck with a lot of different clutter and unclear about how to contribute and have an impact of their own. And when we can bring that conversation to their parents and and say hey, these are some things you might want to be on the lookout for. Right? Like one of the things I talk to when parents come to me and they have younger kids and there’s we have a lot of opportunity to sort of lay a good foundation for these things, right? Yeah, you can get ahead of some of these things. And a lot of times it’s it’s stuff that once a parent hears it, they’re like, oh, right, we probably should be thoughtful about that but there but but it’s not top of mind things like when you’re setting up playdates even though your house might have sort of the most fun things to do and you have a nanny and so you have extra childcare there and it might be very easy for for your kids friends to always be at your house. Be thoughtful about also making sure that playdates get set up bid at their friend’s houses, right like that’s how you create a quality and relationships is like your friends toys are also fun. And and so really making sure that that there are there’s lots of ways that we can shine a light on some of those tripwires and and help our kids build the skills to navigate them gracefully. But it takes awareness and so as as advisors, we have a chance to to point this out and compassionate but also practical ways so that our our clients can start to think about parenting differently.
Right? Because because they like I use the word blissfully unaware, but I think that’s really they just don’t know and if they didn’t know they would conduct themselves differently or they would make some adjustments. And I think that we need to have the courage as advisors to point things out to our clients that they might not want to hear when they first hear them but ultimately they’d be thankful that we pointed some of these things out to them,
as I absolutely agree. And they’re you know, we can think about doing it in ways that they can recognize, like, it’s not that you’re a bad parent that you didn’t see this. It’s just like 80% of people who are wealth creators are new, first generation wealth creators. They’re doing something they didn’t see role modeled by their parents. And so of course, you wouldn’t know how to do this.
And then often they will take their ability to do things and sort of pave the Golden Road for their for their kids, so that they don’t have to go through the same things we had to go through but at the same time they’re not getting to exercise those muscles and become competent and confident people in their own right.
Absolutely. It’s the you know, it’s it’s really, really speaks to the inverted U that the behavioral economics inverted U where this idea that just because something there’s no such thing as an unmitigated good, right, like just because you have more and more and more money doesn’t mean parenting is easier and easier and easier. And in fact, we move from a place of when you have very little resource it can be very difficult to parent because you’re worried about food safety and physical safety. And good schools right and as you get more financial resource, it does get easier but only to a point. And then and then it starts to actually tip to being more difficult because of the things you just named see which is like we just because you have the ability to pave an easier path for your kids. You know, not having them do chores not having them be responsible for some of their the fees for their sports or the in some way have some skin in the game in their own life. We rob them of the chance to build really important skills so that a big take home message from my research and looking at the psychological literature around this is that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. So being really thoughtful about parenting based on values and the outcomes you want to create rather than just doing what you can because you have the financial resources to hit actually makes parenting harder. But I because you have to be really thoughtful, but I think it can also be an incredible opportunity to to have collective conversations in your family about like, well what do we value, take the money away? What do we stand for? And then how do we agree that we’re going to pursue that together?
The subtitle of your book is navigating family wealth and creating an impactful life. And the part about the impactful life and on the inside of the book, you actually talk about a uniquely impactful life. And that struck me that you added that word uniquely. Because I think often we tend to look at clients and say, Okay, what I did with the Smith family, maybe I’ll do the same things with the same thing with the Jones family. But really all of these cases, although they can learn from each other, we could learn from different cases. At the end of the day, each of the people, each of the offspring of these families are unique, and it’s so important to consider them as individuals and not just sort of look at the whole family.
Right. I totally agree. And I think that that one of the things that we can be one of the things I make this point in the book and I want to make it clear here too is that just because someone has been born into a situation where they have social capital and financial capital, it doesn’t mean that they have to go live a big, bold, uniquely impactful life, right like they don’t have to go and create a massive ripple impact because they have been born on third base like it is enough to cultivate well being in oneself and be a great parents and to be a good community member and to contribute in the ways that feel right and meaningful to you as an individual. And the second part of the or the third part of the book really creates an invitation for those who clear the clutter and get sort of a solid sense of self and recognize that they do have social networks that others don’t and they do have financial resources that others don’t, that if they can really light the spark with them them of what is unique and what they do bring to the table that could be meaningful. Then the last part of the book really talks about what is impact work and what are models out there for impact work and what’s impact giving and the models out there for that and and really just give some tasters of what’s possible if one decided to sort of like, operate on all cylinders of what they have at their disposal, which is pretty exciting. To me, it feels like a very exciting sort of question, of how we might use the resources we have in really meaningful ways.
That’s really interesting that you mentioned the fact that it’s okay to just you know, have your well being and do your thing quietly. And at the same time someone else, a brother or sister of someone who decides to sort of lay low can take things up to the next level. And us I love the fact that you’re talking about the social capital, because the social capital is something that’s underrated. So often everyone thinks about the money but it’s who you know, and if you can sort of pivot that towards what good can we do based on the combination of the financial wealth and the social capital, and some young person who has a drive and a desire to do something, there is a chance to be impactful, but we should not be looking at our families and trying to say, well, we got to get 100% out of every one of these kids because it’s just not it’s just not possible, nor is it desirable.
No, no like we that’s one of the great things about personal agency is that we get to define what we want our lives to be and when we really claim that responsibility in a in a total and like, you know, radical way of like no, I am 100% responsible for my choices for my well being. Then some people will choose to just, you know, ignite something significant, and some people will choose to attend to a very important spark inside them, but it’s not going to it’s not going to look as sort of fire crackery as a family member, because we’re just all wired differently. And that is enough. It is enough to just wake up each day and know that you were living the right life for you. And like I said, I like being a really good parent. That’s hard work. And that’s important work and being an engaged community member is hard and important work. And that’s absolutely enough.
So much great stuff in this book. And unfortunately we’re getting to the end of our time and we got to bring this in for a landing. So as usual, Kristen, I want to ask you for a couple of final requests. As we wrap up. So I need a book recommendation, something that you’ve read that you’d like others to know about. And then we’ll do one last thing. It will be one piece of advice from one experienced advisor who works with families to others who are also working with family. So can we start with a book recommendation?
Yes. So one of the recent books I read that I just think is so worth reading. And it’s you know, I do a ton of reading inside our industry. This one is tangentially related in that it has to do with parenting but it’s one of the best parenting books if not the best parenting books I’ve ever read. called good inside by Dr. Becky Kennedy. And really gets at the heart of the same sort of philosophy that’s in my book, like you know what, everybody is good inside. If you believe in the Common Core that I am a good parent, and I have good kids who sometimes act badly, but when they act badly it’s a window into what’s going on for them it’s so empowering so that’s my that’s my book recommendation
interesting so good inside by Becky Kennedy. I love this part of these podcasts where I get book recommendations and get surprises. This is one I had not heard of, but I know I’m gonna go pick up and we’ll put a link in the show notes. So you can pick up that book as well as the myth of the silver spoon. Okay, thank you for that. And now the one piece of advice from an advisor to others who also advise families.
Yep. So here’s my little soapbox, or maybe it’s just an invitation and not a soapbox. And that is that as advisors, we really have so much more influence than I think we even know and to be skilled at inviting parents and family systems into conversations about thriving and being willing to recognize that families who have wealth have a lot of fears about the impact that wealth will have on their family. And historically I will say even I have done a lot of work validating those fears. Saying yep, that’s probably like your fear is true and real and a lot of families fail. And I think that we’re really recognizing now as we look at our history over the last 20 30 -40 years of our collective industries and family enterprise and all of its collective disciplines, that we haven’t done our clients a lot of favors by citing statistics about failing families. Now we know that those statistics aren’t even accurate. And so really we have an opportunity as advisors to acknowledge that fear is real and that the Navigating family dynamics is like you’ve got to roll up your sleeves. That’s hard work. And it doesn’t like families have immense capacity and when we focus our attention on where their strengths are and what they are already doing well, we help them deepen the trust in that capacity that they will have what they need to overcome difficult challenges. So it’s not about putting a smiley face on everything and saying like there’s no problems. It’s about really resourcing families, helping them feel resourced by directing their questions to how strong they are, and then helping them navigate from that place. And as advisors we have a huge influence in just the questions that we ask.
Awesome. So yes, we can all be a little more but take a positive psychology angle to the work we do with our families and help them see the good stuff but also without just putting the smiley face on it and helping them be a resource to them to work through some of these issues. Exactly. Kristin. Thanks again for joining us today. And sharing your expertise with our audience.
Thank you for having me, Steve. I’m honored I got to be on your podcast.
Okay, listeners. If you haven’t already subscribed, please do so make sure you never miss any of these monthly episodes. Thanks again for joining us. I’m Steve Legler. Until next time,
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