The Paradox of Choice: How Wealth and Opportunity Can Empower or Stifle Potential in Families

Wealth Integration™: Making Wealth and Opportunity Work for Enterprising Families

By Sarah Parker Schlesinger and Doug Baumoel

The book The Paradox of Choice, written by Barry Schwartz and first published in 2004, posits that people, in general, suffer a loss of happiness because we have too much choice in everything we buy, do, and experience. We’re obsessed with choice—that’s why we have scores of different pasta sauces on supermarket shelves. One would think that having choices would enable us to maximize our happiness by finding the one option that optimally fulfills our needs and desires. Unfortunately, when faced with excessive choice, we find that we’re more likely to be indecisive or end up longing for the things we didn’t choose.

Further research has shown that too little choice is also problematic. Feeling forced into choosing from an insufficient selection of options can leave one feeling unfulfilled and cheated out of better options. The fact is that for each decision, there is an optimal set of choices that give the chooser a sense of control, which allows them to connect their identity to that choice.

Generational Wealth Presents A Paradox of Choice

Children growing up with generational opportunity face a similar paradox. After all, doesn’t opportunity impact the choices available to family members? We tend to think that opportunity serves only to increase choice. When we think more broadly, however, it’s not hard to see how increased opportunity can also limit choice.

Growing up in a family business, with access to significant wealth, or in a family with a recognizable family name, can provide increased choices. A family business might provide the teenager the choice to not pack groceries as his or her first job. Access to family wealth might provide the choice to not work at all in order to pursue other interests. Having a recognizable name or association with a famous family may open doors unavailable to others. These can be great advantages, but the downside of each of these opportunities is well known — entitlement, over-consumption, and taking the easy route — and all products of excessive choice.

But, while some may experience increased choice, others may experience the opposite. A young person might feel pressured or obligated to devote their professional lives to the family enterprise, limiting their perception of choice. Along with family wealth or celebrity, there might be a host of rules and expectations that limit individual choice.

So, the paradox: We all want to provide opportunity for our children because our intention is to empower them to lead happier, more fulfilled lives. Yet, the opportunity we’re able to provide as parents and grandparents may have the opposite effect—providing either too many options or the perception of limited options.

One’s Identity and Purpose Must Drive How Wealth is Used (Not the Reverse)

The challenge of successfully integrating wealth and opportunity into the lives and relationships of family members can be addressed by being purposeful and educated in what we call Wealth Integration™—a process for discovering how wealth and opportunity fits the individual, not how the individual fits into the wealth or the opportunity.

Wealth Integration™ focuses on three core attributes of every individual: identity, purpose, and community. Helping individuals integrate wealth and opportunity successfully into each of these attributes changes the conversation from a focus on the wealth, to a focus on the individual —viewing wealth and opportunity as neither universally good nor bad, just resources that impact choice.

If there’s one thing all parents want, it’s for their children to make good choices. Wealth and opportunity often complicate those choices. Being purposeful about integrating wealth into the lives of family members and family relationships provides a valuable solution to the Paradox of Choice.

Considering wealth and opportunity from the perspective of choice requires awareness, education, and development of certain skills to ensure that those choices integrate successfully into the identity, purpose, and community of each family member. Continuity Family Business Consulting’s Wealth Integration™ process assures that important questions are considered by families, both individually and collectively, and that families are aligned in how they choose to deploy and share the unique opportunities available to them.

Empowering Inheritors to Lead More Productive, Fulfilled Lives

Families for whom wealth and opportunity have not had the positive impact they desire, Continuity Family Business Consulting can help hit the ‘reset’ button to re-engage with themselves and their resources more productively.

Sarah Parker Schlesinger leads Continuity’s Wealth Integration™ practice. Sarah works with families in a thoughtful and structured manner to ensure that future generations understand the foundational values of the family’s wealth and productively integrate that wealth with their personal goals and passions.

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