CEOs are just like you -- without the entitlement
A protester at Occupy Seattle / Photo courtesy of Flickr user jbhthescots
COMMENTARY It's said that the two best days of a boat owner's life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it. It's not so different for executives. They spend their lives dreaming of leading, of "making it," and when they do, it's the greatest day of their lives. Then reality sets in and they can't wait to call it quits, hopefully with a boatload of cash.
You won't find many who'll admit that, mind you. They'll say they're proud of their careers, love their jobs, all sorts of euphemisms and denials of the truth. Yeah, I know; it's true for some. And at the opposite end of the spectrum are those who can't stand all the stress, politics and corporate BS, and can't wait to cash out.
Most executives fall somewhere in between, meaning some combination of three factors: They get some gratification from their work and some days are better than others; their lifestyles are so interlinked with their compensation that giving it up isn't really an option; and the demands of the job build up and grate on their nerves over time until they reach a point where the aggravation outweighs the other two factors and they've finally had enough.
Sound familiar? That's right -- they're just like you. The only real difference, in my experience, is that executives have perhaps greater incentive and self-motivation to overachieve, and oftentimes end up running like mice on a wheel in a cage they built for themselves without realizing it.
Other than that, corporate executives are born, have childhood crushes, suffer teenage angst, fight with their parents, get into trouble, get married, have a career, get divorced, become ill, and die, just like everyone else. The similarities far outweigh the differences.
Now, if you think that's self-serving, cynical or a gross generalization, you might be right. I've certainly been guilty of all three at one time or another and sometimes simultaneously.
Regardless, I've got a point to make. True, some people are born into wealth and power. That said, I've known literally thousands of corporate executives over the decades, and those for whom it was a birthright, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand.
So when Occupy Wall Street protestors and politicians talk about the 1 percent, to the extent that they're referring to executives, the truth is that 99 percent of that 1 percent live their lives pretty much like everyone else. Other than being unusually driven and hard working, maybe there is one other difference. They've never been angry or jealous of those above them on the ladder. They never felt entitled to what they didn't deserve. If they did, they never would have achieved so much -- wheel, cage and all.
You see, the corporate world works by certain rules, right or wrong. If you don't like them, you can start your own business and make your own rules. It's a free country, and the majority of America's millionaires and billionaires got to where they are by one of those two ways: by following the rules or by making their own.
Which leads me to the main thing all 100 percent of us have in common. Probably the most important truth I've come to learn through the years is that our motivation and behavior defines each of us. Our actions are self-fulfilling prophecies. Those who feel entitled to more than they're worth, to a handout, may get that, but that's all they'll get.
And if that sort of behavior begins to define us as a society, then that's all we'll be worth. Success may at times be a gilded cage, but as long as we work to get there, at least we own the cage, which means we have the power to get out, if we want.
As one who started with nothing, followed the rules, climbed the corporate ladder, then stopped the wheel, stepped out of the cage, and made his own rules, I've been on all sides of the equation. I'm damn proud that whatever I did was by my own hand, not a handout. That's what defines me, that used to be what defined America, and that needs to be what defines us again. Occupy that.
Popular on MoneyWatch
- When it comes to vacations, the U.S. stinks 113 Comments
- Reverse cell phone lookup service is free and simple
- Amy's Baking Company could face legal 'nightmare'
- IMF chief named key witness in French payoff case
- Ellen DeGeneres buys Brad Pitt's Malibu home
- Snapple co-founder Leonard Marsh dies at 80
- Amy's Baking Company: Post-meltdown PR campaign
- TGI Fridays nailed for doctoring booze