#5. "Hey, I Worked Hard to Get What I Have!"
"I became a self-made millionaire by the age of 30 by working grueling hours, being relentless and risking my own money. My success was earned with blood, sweat and tears."
"I used the tears as hair gel."
"Why, oh why, does the media bolster President Obama's rhetoric by using his term: 'the rich'? Would it not be more appropriate to say 'the successful,' or 'those who work harder?"
What They Think They're Saying:
"I'm not Paris Hilton! I work 70-hour weeks to make this salary!"
What We Hear:
"The only reason I have a hundred times more money than you is because I work a hundred times as hard!"
This will be the entry that prompts many a reader to skip right to the comment section after only reading the entry header ("I'm tired of these hippies saying the rich just got lucky and don't work hard!"). So let's get this out off the way right now, and make them look like assholes for not reading far enough:
Most high-income earners do put in a ton of hours. Bill Gates seemed to never sleep (an employee once said that putting in 81 hours in four days still couldn't keep up with Gates' schedule). So yes, it's unfair that we tend to think that "being rich" means "lounging by the pool while an albino tiger massages our feet with his tongue." So, "Hey, I work hard for what I have!" is perfectly true. It's also insulting.
"You guys just need to work hard in a lucrative field."
It's insulting for the exact same reason "Hey, I love my country!" is insulting: It implies that the listener doesn't. Otherwise there'd be no reason to say it.
It implies a bizarre alternate reality where society rewards you purely based on how much effort you exert, rather than according to how well your specific talents fit in with the needs of the marketplace in the particular era and part of the world in which you were born. It implies that the great investment banker makes 10 times more than a great nurse only because the banker works 10 times as hard.
And he gets pooped on less than half as often.
And even stranger, it implies that money earned is a perfect indicator of a person's value to society -- if you're broke, it must mean you're a loser who contributes nothing to anyone's life. And that's downright bizarre when it comes from the same people who also go on and on about the importance of parenting and family values. Surely they've noticed that being a great stay-at-home parent makes you exactly zero dollars a year.
And volunteering to work at a shelter for battered women? Doesn't pay shit! Diving into a creek to save a toddler from drowning? It pays infinitely less than throwing a touchdown pass during the Super Bowl.
I mean, babies are important, but c'mon ...
So, mister rich person who clearly is not reading this, when we say you're "lucky," we're not saying you're lucky in the way that a lottery winner is lucky. We're saying that you're lucky if you were born in a time and place where the hard work you're good at (say, stock speculation) is valued over the hard work that other people are good at (say, landscaping, or poetry).
You can reply that if some other field paid more, you'd have just simply switched to it and been equally successful, due to your smarts and determination. You know, like how the smart and determined Michael Jordan was equally successful as a basketball player (six titles, $70 million a year) and baseball player (batted .202 in the minors) and team owner (his Charlotte Bobcats are currently 4-28).
Hmm ... wait a second. Man, it's almost like Michael's hard work and determination wouldn't have made him rich if he hadn't happened to have been born in the one place and one time in human history where a man could get rich throwing a rubber ball through a small metal hoop.
On the other hand, that sweater vest makes us think he has potential as the next face of Jell-O.
Now I'm starting to wonder if I would have ever heard of Shaquille O'Neal if he'd skipped basketball to go right into rap. If you think I'm just being mean to athletes, hell, let me use myself as an example. I failed at three different careers before I struck gold with list articles and dong horror. I suck at everything else -- take away the Internet and I'm a 37-year-old man doing data entry in a cubicle instead of promoting a brand new sequel about boner monsters. Or, if you don't believe me, let billionaire investor Warren Buffett tell you: "If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil ... I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well -- disproportionately well."
"And yet I do all my shopping at Goodwill."
So to sum it up: If you make good money, but have to work 80-hour weeks to get it, you're still lucky. Just swallow your pride and fucking acknowledge it.