The Tragedy of the Driven Man

| January 19, 2024

If we do not know what is important, we will focus on the wrong things. Nothing reinforced this fact for me more than the realization that it is possible to attend the funerals of both fathers and children for the same reason.

As financial planners, we deal often with driven men who work themselves to death in the singular pursuit of wealth. They work hard and care about their families in the abstract, often justifying their single-minded focus by telling themselves that they are “doing it for the family.”  Sometimes they work two or three jobs, forgoing diet, exercise, and time spent with their wives and children. Junk food, coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes are the fuel that keeps them going. Then they kick the bucket at a young age. Their widows are among our best clients.

Even when we do not take time to establish and articulate thoughtful values, we still telegraph to our children what we believe is important. The chain of events goes something like this. The driven man fails to establish an effective estate plan to take care of his family. The evidence of his death does not help his children avoid his fate because they have been taught no other value system. The deceased patriarch is universally loved for his work ethic and his financial success. The money does take care of the material needs of the family, but rare is the child who has learned to distinguish the difference between means and ends. No amount of money will ever fill the void left by the driven man. To cope, some children will copy the only template for success bequeathed to them and pursue wealth at the expense of their families. Others will become dissolute and turn to drugs and alcohol. Thus, the possibility of attending the funerals of fathers and children, separated by about thirty years.

I have talked about the driven man because he has been the archetype so far. We are beginning to see driven women as well. Not enough time has passed for the funereal sequence to have happened yet. I hope that it never will, and we do everything that we can to ensure that it does not happen to our clients.

I can attest that I have never seen the tragedy of the driven man happen to anyone who has developed and maintained a comprehensive financial plan. This is probably because those who do planning realize that a good life has more than one goal. Financial plans help people prioritize and focus on the many factors necessary for success. Time with spouses and children is a goal. Travel and hobbies are goals. Maintaining our health and cognitive abilities are goals. Knowing what we shall do when we retire is a goal. Leaving a legacy of values to the succeeding generations is a goal.

We leave a legacy one way or another. Planning can make the difference of whether or not it will be the source of happiness and prosperity for generations.