To my naïve, five-year-old, curly-haired head, “rich” was simply a term used to describe “those people” who drove fancy cars and wore fancy clothes at fancy parties. Rich people were those people in the movies that everyone was so undeniably attracted to—those people that everyone secretly wanted to be. With regard to the ways in which one became “rich,” or what being wealthy entailed, I was oblivious. But I, along with every other victim of consumerism and mass culture, clung to that flawed ambition of financial wealth. With any luck, I was the real-world equivalent of that character in the movies who inherits millions upon the death of an unknown and distant relative—or the one who stumbles over a treasure chest while walking the family dog. Possibilities weren’t enough. I had to know if “being rich” was in my future. If that treasure chest was out there for me, I was going to dig until I found it.
Instead of grabbing the shovel (the top shelf in the garage was a bit too tall to reach and my mom probably wouldn’t have appreciated my digging up the marigolds in search of real gold), I decided to ask my mom the question that had been threatening to escape the confinement of my better senses for some time. “Mom,” I approached her cautiously, a serious expression fixed in my wide blue eyes. “…Are we rich?”
It took her a while to respond, but I could tell that she thought my question was a bit funny. Still, she answered with every bit of sincerity with which I had asked. “It depends on what you mean,” she said. “I would say that we’re some of the richest people in the world.” Instantly, my ears perked up. “We’re rich with love and that’s more important than any amount of money we could have,” she finished. I’ll admit—it wasn’t the answer I had expected, nor was it the answer I had hoped for. My fantasies of luxury were undermined by that wicked little four-letter word: love. Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond to such an answer, so I didn’t. I sat, silent, pondering and trying to accept the new definition of wealth.
Gradually I allowed myself to embrace the new definition. Still, I questioned what in society perpetuates the gross obsession with money. Years later, I realized that, veiled in the mystique of the wealthy, is the notion of success. Wealth is insistently bound to the definition of success. What I learned from my mom’s words of wisdom was that I could change the definition of wealth. If I could do that, I could also change the definition of success. To me, success is defined by love and happiness. I will be successful if I follow my passions and help others to do the same. I don’t know where I want to go to college, or what I want to be when I grow up, or what my life will be like in ten years—but I believe that I will be successful. Hey, I’m already rich.
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