Sustainable Wealth in Action
Meet Jane and Melinda, both fictional lawyers who both graduated from the same law school and are starting their careers at the same law firm. We’re going to follow them throughout their careers and see what happens. Jane will be focused on building her wealth sustainably and Melinda will be focused on building her wealth traditionally. For the sake of simplicity, Jane and Melinda will not be married nor will they have children.
Meet Jane -
Growing Wealth Sustainably
Meet Melinda -
Growing Wealth Traditionally
Both Start at Acme Law Firm Earning $200,000 per year
Career Years 1-7, ages 25 - 32
Jane has many friends and enjoys her after-hours activities to include going on vacation. She visits the doctor as needed and yearly for check-ups. She makes sure to eat healthy and works out regularly. Her weight is in a normal range.
Her lifestyle outside of work begins to affect her career and she is passed over for a promotion. She is allowed to keep her job.
This bothers her at first but when she looks around at the sacrifices that others are making to advance her career, she feels grateful instead to be able to continue working at her firm and keep her lifestyle intact.
Melinda yearns to make partner in her firm before she’s 30 and works close to 80 hour weeks in order to set that plan in motion. She ignores her family and friends due to her work obligations. She tells herself that once she makes partner, she’ll have time for all of that but right now she must focus on building her career.
The stress of the job begins to take a toll on her health. Due to all of the extra work she’s taken on, she eats fast food lunches at her desk, drinks heavily to help her wind down and sleep at night and never exercises. She loves to say just how healthy she is because she never needs to see a doctor.
Her work ethic pays off and she’s awarded two promotions within the first five years. She now makes $350,000.
Career Years 8-12, ages 33 - 37
Jane finally earns a promotion after deciding that she’s had enough travel for a while and takes on extra work to make that happen.
She makes $280,000.
She still spends tons of time with her friends and family and has taken up horseback riding on the weekends. This new hobby has prevented her from jumping in on some extra work projects but the horseback riding provides her with exercise, emotional connection and community. She decides it’s worth setting a slower pace at work to accommodate her personal life.
Melinda continues to toil away at her career and earns herself yet promotion. She’s one step away from becoming a partner at her firm.
One day, after drinking her third cup of coffee, she has a splitting headache. She’s been bothered by lower back pain for a while but can’t miss work to go to the doctor. She figures she needs to lay off the caffeine and powers through it.
Hours later, the room starts spinning and her heart is pounding. She is rushed to the ER and diagnosed with high blood pressure and panic attacks. She’s put on medication.
Her new salary is $500,000.
Career Years 13 - 27, ages 38 - 52
Jane achieves one more promotion after transferring to a new department within the firm and finds a section of law that she really loves. She chose to apply for this role based on countless hours of research, self-reflection and conversations with her mentors.
Her new salary is $350,000.
She enjoys working with her new co-workers and still makes time to get together with her friends and family. Her horseback riding has turned into a real talent and she’s won numerous competitions. She has started coaching younger riders in horsemanship which she thoroughly enjoys.
Using her self-awareness, wisdom and relationships, Jane speaks with her firm about reducing her hours so that she can focus more on horseback riding. Because Jane has worked so hard on building and maintaining these relationships, she puts together a proposal that is advantageous for the firm and meets her needs. She negotiates well and the firm decides to allow her to have more flexible hours. This gives her the opportunity to leave work early and head to the barn and wrap-up work before bed.
Despite the easygoing nature of her day-to-day, Jane unfortunately was thrown from her horse and broke her pelvis.
Because of all of the years she spent focused on her health, she felt confident advocating for her health needs and navigating the healthcare system. Her employer, already accustom to her flexible schedule, was accommodating of her accident allowing her to continue her employment. This incident becomes a minor set-back and within six months, she’s fully restored to health.
Melinda makes partner at her law firm and her salary increases dramatically ($500k+). She thought she would feel like she’s “made it” but being a partner at her firm ends up not fulfilling her in the ways she thought it would.
While she has a bit more time and flexibility now that she’s not so focused on climbing the ladder, she has very few relationships.
Her health has continued to deteriorate. She’s tired all the time, on several medications and overweight. Her doctor has warned her that she needs to begin changing her behaviors and adopt a healthier lifestyle but she doesn’t even know where to begin.
Unfortunately for Melinda, she continues to push on at her career and suffers a stroke. This requires her to retire much earlier than she anticipated.
Without her career, she has no idea who she is or what she wants. Thankfully, with rehabilitation her function has improved but she’s not able to work at the same caliber to which she’s accustomed.
Career Years 28+, ages 53 and beyond
Jane continues her modified schedule until she reaches early retirement age. Her role in the firm continued to evolve and she became a mentor and trainer for younger staff, leaning on the skills she developed training younger horseback riders.
This new role allows her to further scale back her hours and glide securely into retirement.
Upon retiring with her firm, Jane decides to focus on her horseback riding coaching which brings in a little bit of extra income in retirement. She doesn’t need this income but it allows her added security and contributes to her well-being as she loves being at the barn, interacting with all of the students. Horses are her passion and she’s filled with gratitude for the career she’s had which has supported her all of these years.
While Jane earned a lower salary throughout her years of employment, she was able to earn income for more years, thus putting her ahead of Melinda financially.
Jane is enjoying a comfortable retirement and should have enough money to donate to her charitable interests upon her death. She is thankful to be in a position to pass on such a legacy.
Melinda’s early retirement forced her to withdraw her savings early. Her chronic health conditions have also been costly and required time, money and energy to manage.
She’s tried to meet people and find friends but at her age, it’s been incredibly difficult. She still is unsure of what she wants and instead, focuses on the glory of the career she had, unable to move on.
Melinda’s attitude further isolates her from her family and the friends she had. In a last ditch effort, she sets her pride aside and volunteers on a local community board for a cause she supports. Even though this gives her a renewed sense of purpose, she looks back on her life and is filled with regret for the choices she made.
She wished she had been more open-minded and more aware of the long-term costs of her decisions.
Despite Melinda’s high income, her medical bills and early retirement have almost crippled her savings. Because she focused her career so heavily in law at her firm, she has limited prospects for earning income in retirement. Melinda hopes that her savings will last until she dies.
So What's the Point of This Story?
Both of these women’s lives are entirely fictitious and gross overgeneralizations but they present an example of how different a life can be when the focus is on sustainability vs. pure, raw wealth-building.
Jane started her career with a focus on all aspects of her life – her health, her relationships, her self-awareness, and staying connected to her community. She used the knowledge and experience she gained by staying connected to this diverse pool of resources to help her navigate life’s setbacks and serve as a foundation on which to continue to build her wealth. By staying focused on her life as a whole, she quickly noticed if parts started to drift out of alignment and had the tools and resources to bring them back into wholeness. Jane ended her life with financial means and security. Her wealth surpassed her life’s needs and she donated her remaining resources to an organization that provides equine-supported therapy.
Melinda dies ten years before Jane as the years of stress and chronic health problems reduce Melinda’s life expectancy.
Both of these women made money, however, Jane diversified her life experiences which created new opportunities for her to earn an income. This income diversification paved the way to much greater flexibility, freedom and ultimately the ability for her to leave a financial legacy. Her wealth not only sustained her but also will help sustain her community.
Whose Life Does Yours Most Resemble?
Jane or Melinda?
If you find yourself living a Melinda life and have a tugging feeling inside urging you to consider other options...
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