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Published:November 10th, 2006 12:07 EST
I'm Wealth.  Where's Brilliance?

I'm Wealth. Where's Brilliance?

By Simon Bailey (Mentor/Columnist)

I recently attended a fundraising event for a hospital for which I`m a Board member. The event was held at a 20,000-square-foot home located in an ultra-upscale (and I do mean ultra-upscale) community in Windermere, Florida. As I drove up, a valet approached to park my car. The parking area nearby looked like a luxury car lot. There were Bentleys, Mercedes Benzes, Maseratis and a host of other exotic cars. And then there was me, pulling up in the family mobile. I debated " do I self-park and save the few bucks, or go ahead and valet park? Well, he said the magical words " It`s free. "  

As I made my way into the house, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. I wandered through each room, admiring the exquisite furnishings, the exacting attention to detail, the hand-carved wood embellishments, and in the library, one of the most beautiful fireplaces I`ve ever seen. After I cleared the lump from my throat, I finally said to the owner of the home, How long did it take you to build it? " Two years. Then I asked him (like most people would in that situation), What do you do? " His demeanor shifted slightly, and he said without blinking an eye, I worked in manufacturing and retired, and I`ve been exploring other options. " This guy didn`t look a day over 55. He went on to tell me that he and his wife had traveled the world and designed each room of the house after a famous place they`d visited.  

It didn`t take long for me to notice that, for most of the evening, I was the only person of color at this gathering. Despite the fact that my name tag indicated I`m a board member, several people asked if I worked at the hospital. I suddenly felt a lot like Sidney Poitier in Guess Who`s Coming to Dinner

As the evening progressed, there was a silent auction and some serious networking. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the incredible wealth all around me. The conversations were especially interesting. I spoke to one gentleman and discovered we had in common some business associates. In good networking fashion, I took out my business card and handed it to him. Of course, I then asked him if he had a business card. Well, I soon realized this was an open mouth, insert foot " moment. Apparently, wealthy people don`t carry business cards. If you have to ask them for a card, it`s obvious you don`t know who they are. He was polite and thanked me for my card, but his attitude changed, and within a few short minutes, he`d excused himself from our conversation.  

Some time later, I saw a casual friend. We were having a great conversation until another one of his friends walked up, and they began talking about heliskiing (helicopter skiing). Okay, I`ll admit it " I didn`t know what heliskiing was. Once it became obvious that I`d never been heliskiing in some of the finer winter resorts, the conversation became more exclusionary "and I was the one excluded!  

A bit later in the evening, one of the couples in a group conversation stated that their children were away at boarding school. A part of me wanted to ease into the conversation by pointing out that there are several good private schools in the local area, but it dawned on me that it`s better to be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.  

After two and a half hours of trying to fit in and build rapport with people, it just wasn`t happening. I wanted to reach out and authentically connect with someone and have an in-depth conversation of substance, but I couldn`t because I was on the outside looking in. I felt out of my league, overwhelmed because I was rubbing shoulders with this Grey Poupon audience. This was rare air and a long way from my roots in Buffalo, New York. I wasn`t a part of this money-and-status click. And if you`re not in the click, you`re just not in. Feeling like a misfit, I chose to leave early.  

Well friends, you know me well enough by now to know that I`ve done a whole lot of thinking and a whole lot of talking in my head about that experience. Much of my internal struggle has been about why I felt so out of place, so left out and shut out. It wasn`t just because I was the only person of color there. That`s not uncommon, and I`m used to it by now. However, financially, I wasn`t on the same level with this crowd of business titans, social icons, old-money " families and new-money " entrepreneurs. I felt truly like a minority "a wealth minority.  

I`ve also had to consider the possibility that I felt left out because my ego wasn`t being stroked. Here I was in my own hometown, my own backyard, and I wasn`t noticed. " It`s routine for me to speak in front of literally thousands of people at a time, and I`ve become comfortable being the center of attention. My experiences at this event humbled me. Perhaps these people didn`t intend any disrespect at all. Maybe my ego played into how I felt, and therefore, how I was treated.  

After a lot of processing, " I made the following observations in my journal about this experience:

  1. Don`t eat the food. It`s just for show. If you do eat, do so sparingly because an event like this is just a big schmooze fest.
  2. When you`re up where the air is rare, listen and observe. Make a mental note of what to do and what not to do. It might just keep you from sticking your foot in your mouth.
  3. Treat all people with kindness and respect because it`s the right thing to do. How you treat others " especially those who may not run in your social or financial circles " speaks volumes about you as an individual.
  4. Welcome those who may come to you for wisdom and advice, no matter their current position in life.
  5. Wealthy people are philanthropic and make philanthropy a key strategy in the distribution of their financial resources. That is precisely why the richer often get richer " they give away what they intend to attract.
  6. Operate with an others first " mindset. Find out what you can do for others first, instead of what they can do for you. Then, connect with others not for what you can get from them, but for what you can learn and become.
  7. Always be cognizant of how you present yourself. What message are you sending to others? If you project that you feel inferior, others will pick up on that.

Needless to say, this was an eye-opening experience for me. Now, let me ask you "have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt out of place or like you were in over your head? I know you have. And do you know what? Both you and I will find ourselves in those same situations again. There will undoubtedly be times in life when you sense that people feel they`re better than you. 

The next time around, I`m going to be my authentic self. I`m going to be true to Simon. And I will continue to reach out to others. If I`m rejected, it`s their loss. I invite you to do the same. Be true to yourself. Maintain a genuine, consistent demeanor, attitude and disposition. Don`t be influenced by how others may perceive you. Someone else`s opinion of you does not determine your reality. 

It`s been said hundreds, if not thousands, of times before: many wealthy people are ordinary people who decided to do something extraordinary and stuck with it over time. And I agree with that. But here`s the point: It`s not about them. It`s about me and it`s about you. 

It`s not who you are that holds you back, it`s who you think you`re not. Until you recognize your own brilliance, you will wander around aimlessly, admiring everyone else " where they live, what they do, what they drive, how beautiful they are. Until you acknowledge what God has put in you, you will be totally enamored with them instead of with the God who made you in His image and after His likeness. 

Simon Says "Brilliance can`t be bought. You already possess it!

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