When Stories about CEO’s “Chucking it All” Become Cause for Upchucking

Hold on to your hats! This is going to be another corker!

If I read one more article about a CEO or some other high-powered executive “chucking it all” and devoting the rest of his/her life to their families or some altruistic pursuit, I think I’m going to vomit. I just finished reading one of these tearjerkers that was linked to, of all things, a website where workers can vent about their jobs and bosses. Can you believe that? According to the author, we should all have pity and admiration for this young dynamo. He neglected his wife and children for seven years while slaving away in the high six figure corporate ether. He now wants to make it up to them by buying a ranch or a farm or an island or something and live the simple life. Uh huh. The moral of the story is that we should all be considering how hard we all work and what we’re missing out on in life. Is our paycheck really worth our soul? Can’t we emulate this fine individual? How inspiring! What hogwash!

Doesn’t everyone have the financial wherewithal to say goodbye to the workaday world and devote their time to family and/or the arts? Can’t we all sell one of our homes (perhaps just the summer cottage on Cape Cod) to purchase the ranch or island and then pay our living expenses from the dividends and interest earned on our portfolios? Maybe trade in the Bugati and the Bentley to purchase a luxury motor home and tour the country for a year or two with the Memsaab and the kiddies? And if, God forbid, we should run low on funds – why we can just give old Biff a call over at XYZ Corp. He’s an old frat chum. Surely he has a vice presidency or consulting gig just waiting for us.

No! We have mortgages and bills to pay. We need to put food on the table; get our kids’ teeth straightened and hope to God that we can save enough money to retire on without having to eat dog food. We have to live in the fear of our jobs being outsourced, co-sourced, right sized, downsized, etc. When was the last time you read about “executive” positions being off-shored? Even when it is reported that some high powered corporate types get canned, the terms of their golden parachutes are always conveniently “undisclosed.” Our severance packages are always disclosed – two weeks pay and accrued vacation. Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to cancel that trip to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji.

Where do these writers come up with these stories? Why do they insist on nominating these characters for sainthood? What is the fascination when the wealthy and powerful seem to do something “ordinary”? (As if buying a ranch or an island and not working for the rest of one’s life is ordinary.) I’m sure not inspired – or even impressed. Listen, I do not begrudge anyone having the wealth to unshackle themselves from the gristmill and pursue happiness. God bless them. But don’t throw these characters up to me as role models. In the words of Hyman Roth, a character in the film Godfather II, who was lecturing Michael Corleone on the perils of being a mobster, “This is the life we chose.” It’s the life that THEY chose (or lucked or connected into). It just so happens that THEY have a lot more options for survival than WE do. And don’t try to sell me some apologetic pablum that lifestyles and needs are all relative. A 3,000-acre working ranch in Wyoming is NOT equivalent to my 300 square foot back yard. The ability to spend endless carefree time with one’s family is not equivalent to my having to beg for a few hours off to attend a parent teacher conference and then be made to feel guilty about it. The loss of “face” experienced by a fired but well-heeled executive is not equivalent to losing my house or health care benefits if I get the axe.

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Most of us commoners fall in the Safety and Security category. We can’t afford Self-actualization yet – let alone an island.

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