The Curse Of Endowment

To be endowed with resources is a curse, although it may not seem one. It’s often better to start with nothing.

Endowment

There are two types of endowment:

  • Resources: to be born into wealth, or connections. The classic “born with a silver spoon” situation
  • Talent: to be born with extraordinary ability. Child prodigies, or the highly athletic/intelligent

Having talent is a huge boost in life. It’s easier to achieve if you’ve been born intelligent, tall, good-looking, or strong.

Those without resources are often jealous of those born with them. But they needn’t be.

The Curse Of Endowment

To be born into resources is a curse. A person born with nothing has nothing but what they make for themselves. But a person born with a great deal of wealth also must carry a great burden.

Comfort

A life of wealth from day one is a life of comfort from day one. This might seem desirable to the lazy, but it isn’t – comfort kills.

By chance, I’ve been acquainted with dozens of people born into extraordinary wealth throughout my life. In general, they are less well-read, less driven, less ambitious, and less dependable than others. Unearned wealth means that they lack any hunger to attack life. Doing absolutely nothing, they have every need provided for. So why fight for more?

Being born into wealth is a trap. Happiness is an upward trend; how much higher can you rise, when you’re born at the peak? What incentive is there to seek advancement?

Incidentally, I’ve formed great friendships with those that escape that trap. This doesn’t hold for everyone, but it holds for most.

Responsibility

Wealth creates a burden.

If you own nothing, you have nothing to take care of. Wealth, on the other hand, must be guarded.

Let’s take two hypothetical people: one born with nothing, the other with $100 million. The one born with nothing can commit fully to risk-taking: he has nothing to lose – no fate can be too much worse than where he began. The one with the millions is forever burdened by the possibility of loss. The worst he can fuck up is to lose a hundred million dollars – no easy thing to process, psychologically.

A tribe with nothing can go out into the world and hunt, without fear. A tribe with a castle must mind the castle, and keep men at home while others go out to hunt.

Wealth creates massive opportunity costs, for every decision. Every decision becomes harder to make, and more mentally taxing. There’s a lot to lose.

Sure, this applies to the self-made man too. But would you rather be hamstrung from day one, or only once you’re successful? We all have a drive to do something with our lives, and it’s easier to take action when you’re unshackled.

Relationships

Wealth curses relationships, and makes people paranoid.

When you’re wealthy, you must always guard against parasites. Are those people really my friends, or are they only hanging around while the going is good? Does she really love me, or only love the things I can do for her? Paranoia creeps in; every smiling face might be hiding a monster.

If you’re broke, why are these people around you? You don’t have much to offer them, other than yourself. Some might be around you because you help them be comfortable with themselves and their choices. But nobody’s around you for your money. And as you build something from nothing, you can cast off those who don’t appreciate your rise. They can keep their frozen images.

The people I know born into wealth are intensely distrustful of outsiders. With good reason, too. But you lose something in life, living that way from day one. Or you don’t live that way, and get burned. Hard.

Accomplishment

Starting on third base makes scoring a run less meaningful. This applies both to yourself and to how others perceive you.

The sense of fulfillment and accomplishment from a victory comes from appreciating the work it took to achieve. Any win from nothing is better than a win from something. The closer you start to the finish line, the less there is to appreciate once you make it. Those not born into wealth will always have a greater sense of accomplishment, all things equal in the end.

That’s not just a personal feeling, it’s one society shares. We celebrate the rags-to-riches story, and are less impressed by those born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Rightly so, in most cases. But what if the man born into wealth achieves a great deal, through their own hustle? There will inevitably be people who diminish the accomplishment, due to where the journey started. Even if you ignore them, that personal doubt is hard to shake. “Could I have done this, if I started at square one? How much was my own work?” A subconscious voice will speak the words, even if they don’t make it to the surface.

Better To Start With Nothing

Wealth creates all sorts of traps, opportunity costs, and mental burdens. Even when achievement comes, it can be tainted.

This doesn’t apply just to humans – large corporations are often the least innovative. Countries with plentiful natural resources fall victim to the resource curse in almost every case.

It is better to start with nothing – assuming you end with something. No excuses; it all falls on you. So get to work.


This post is half-true, and half mind memetics to get me right with the fact I wasn’t born into wealth. But it’s got me far. Join thousands: subscribe for email updates and follow me on Twitter, where I also post daily.

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