Plight of the Single-Digit Millionaire

The cover story of today’s (Sunday) New York Times is an article about millionaires in Silicon Valley who don’t feel rich. Overall, I think the piece does an excellent job of capturing the local culture and feelings about money.

However, I think it overlooks a few possibilities — other than keeping up with the Jones’ — in analyzing Silicon Valley’s single-digit, working-class millionaires. Do they keep working because:

  • They are simply chasing those above them, as the article generally suggests?
  • They truly enjoy what they’re doing and want to keep doing it?
  • They lack the creativity or boldness to step out of their workaday life and try something completely different?
  • They are locked-in to a workaday life due to other constraints (e.g., kids who they don’t want to raise in Bend)?
  • They are competitive, type-A people who view work as competiton and money as the score?

While I think the story does a great job at portraying the outcome (seemingly at the expense of those who volunteered to be interviewed), I think it does less well in assessing the reasons behind it.

Some favorite quotes follow. When speaking about the (very real) relative humility of many Silicon Valley millionaires:

“They recognize that if they happened to walk into a different office,” said Marilyn Holland, a Menlo Park psychologist who has been counseling the Valley’s elite for 25 years, “things would have turned out very differently.”

Then, when speaking on status in Silicon Valley, the founder of Match.com weighs in with:

“You’re nobody here at $10 million,” Mr. Kremen said earnestly over a glass of pinot noir at an upscale wine bar.

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