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Writer-s-Bloc

A new measure of success

From success to significance: Why giving back is the new measuring stick of success

By Jody Pihl 

A growing number of successful individuals feel that giving back to society is an important part of their lives and their legacies.

According to a U.S. study, more than half of America’s “one per cent” deemed giving back an "essential" component to a life well lived. 

This suggests that the wealthy are not only driven by a desire to succeed, but also recognizing that what makes their lives most fulfilling is not wealth, but what purpose and positive social impact they can do with it. 

There is a growing acceptance that a bigger home, more money in the bank or a more expensive car is not correlated with more happiness. 

There is a growing recognition that giving back benefits the donor (and his family) in unexpected ways, by offering authentic and meaningful payoffs that traditional displays of wealth can’t offer.

Philanthropy and the impact that follows also afford successful retirees starting the next phase of life new and deeply meaningful purpose. This shift from building wealth to “changing the world” has been coined, “moving from success to significance."

This offer donors a new challenge, renewed purpose and the opportunity to make use of their valuable skills and connections. However, perhaps most profound is the unique opportunity it affords to leave an ongoing legacy long after they are gone. 

Many of us have heard about the “death bed test” – where you imagine facing the end of your life in a hospital bed, reviewing your life and reflecting on the big questions. 

The idea is that in that moment you ask yourself what you are really glad you did during your life and what you regret not doing — including your relationships, how you spent your time and how you contributed to the world. 

This idea is to use the answers to these questions as a guide and filter for decision making today, when faced with a choice in your life.

This popular test is used all the time by many people. But few people are aware of the new “beach chair test."  The idea is this: consider a retired executive sitting on the beach at a resort, striking up a conversation with a similarly positioned guest in the chair beside her. 

What isn’t apparent is that both are a little restless and directionless, having slowed down their pace of life and lacking the influence, relevance and purpose they held in the past. 

They both amassed significant wealth, but they are now questioning whether they will really leave a lasting impact on the world. They are wise enough to know that buying more stuff won’t contribute to their legacy or bring them any more happiness. 

They are tired of talking about their past accomplishments as their past contributions fade in significance as business and industries grow and change under new leadership.

What if this woman were able to share something new with her neighbour: her passion for the environment and our oceans and the success she has had raising funds to fight the battle against plastics.  

Better yet, what if the second woman then responded by sharing her passion for helping developing countries educate their young girls and details about her family foundation that allows her, her kids and grandkids to work together now, and after she is gone, to continue to drive change.

This scenario presents the opportunity for these women to use their lifetime of skills to create change they are passionate about, to leave a legacy of positive impact, and creating joy and purpose for themselves.

This is what it means to move from success to significance.

In my practice as an estate lawyer, I see additional benefits of philanthropy, including confronting client concerns about the next generation inheriting significant wealth and fears that this will feed a sense of entitlement in their children and grandchildren. 

Many of my clients share some type of concern about instilling in their families gratitude for their family’s opportunities and good fortune and the importance of giving back to those less privileged.

Family based philanthropy, where the family works together in their efforts to give back, not only curbs this sense of entitlement, but offers families an opportunity to build a positive and healthy family culture of gratitude and social responsibility.

I can speak from experience about the meaningful opportunities that come with philanthropy centred family travel. My family’s experience travelling to Kenya to meet the students, families and communities impacted by our donations was life changing for all of us. 

For most families, this type of experience plants the seeds of a life time of contribution by next generations to help build a better world and also promises families the building of strong family connections and healthier and happier families.

I’m no longer surprised when I hear clients almost sheepishly confide that their family may have benefited more from their philanthropy than the charities they support. 

If you are inclined to make a charitable donation in your estate plan, it is always smart to discuss your intentions with your trusted advisers. 

Ask your financial adviser to assist you to include charitable giving as part of your financial plan. Then work with your estate lawyer to ensure your wishes are fully thought-out and appropriately documented.

Jody Pihl is senior counsel at Pihl Law Corporation and offers clients a full range of legal services in the area of wills and estates. Her relaxed and considerate approach helps her understand each client’s unique circumstance and specific planning needs and helps families navigate the complexities of the probate process. For more information, contact Jody at 250-762-5434, [email protected], or find her online at www.pihl.ca.

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