Your Money: Class Structure Has Nothing To Do With It

© Natalia Bratslavsky - Fotolia.com - Class Structure Has Nothing To Do With ItIf you’d rather listen than read:

Audio Class Structure Has Nothing to Do With It

It was cold and damp the morning Amaury picked me up at the hotel.  I had just moved to a small French town in the Cognac region to take a new job.  My household goods hadn’t caught up with me yet so I was still living out of my one suitcase.  And winter wasn’t over yet.

He had been invited to go bird hunting on an estate about an hour away, and his wife hated hunting.  She agreed that he should take “the new American” in her place, while she enjoyed Sunday with her parents.

All I had with me were my soft grey-green designer boots.  Not a problem:  Amaury said we’d stop by his family’s weekend property where they had all sorts of hunting and fishing gear.  We’d surely find some rubber boots that would fit me there.

This was a big occasion to him:  to be invited to the estate of a count.  I don’t remember how he got the invitation, maybe a college buddy was a relative of the count … but it was a big deal.

Once we drove up the long drive after the gates, an impressive building loomed ahead.  In front were dozens of people … we were a bit late because of our detour.  Someone handed me a shotgun.

Hunting with the Count

Soon everyone was headed out into the fields in back, into open expanses that went on forever, into the soft hills.  I lost Amaury somewhere in the turmoil and found myself falling back to walk with an elegant older man who was moving slowly, his shotgun in one hand, a cane in the other.

He and I never hunted that day.  We heard lots of shots in the distance.  But we were deep in discussion of international politics and economics.  Wars.  The French.  Latin America (where I was from).  Somewhere along the way I realized he was the count.

He asked me about my family.  I said, being comfortably in the moment, “Well, I hear stories about my family moving to Brazil after the U.S. Civil War, something about gun running.  Who knows?  Maybe there were still revolutions to be supplied?”  He smiled.  “Well, those things happen.  I sort of got involved in that business when the French were in Lebanon.”

© Kondor83 - Fotolia.com - Class structureWe walked back when the hunting was over.  The women and children seemed to be headed in one direction, but the count said, “Come with me” and I ended up in the smoke-filled living room, perched next to the crackling fire with a cognac in hand, enjoying the company of the men.

After solving all the problems of the world, we were called into a room with a massive, long table. The women strained to participate in the adult conversation at our end as they fed the children fresh bread and jam at the other.  The men (and I) shared wonderful hams, sausages and cheeses accompanied by a fine port.

As we were leaving the chateau that afternoon, the count insisted Amaury bring me back the following Sunday so we could hunt again, this time on horseback.  “Of course,” we said.

The Role Class Structure Plays

In the car, Amaury asked how I had been accepted so quickly at that level of society.  He had been trying for years to establish a dialog with the count and had always felt a wall.

It gave me a chance to think through what had happened.  The remnants of a class structure do exist in places like France, separate from the regular economic divisions of rich and poor.

The chateau was run down, the leather furniture in tatters.  For all we knew, they could have been on the brink of bankruptcy, but that did not change the distance between fellow Frenchmen.  While France had certainly changed over the centuries, the rigid old class structure still existed.

I believe I escaped being “pigeon-holed” by the count and his entourage because I was an unknown factor, an outsider:  highly educated, well-spoken and socially comfortable anywhere.  Growing up, my family had been rich and broke.  But it didn’t change who we were.

Why We Are Fortunate

I realized then how fortunate we are in America.  Sure, elitism exists.  It does in every culture.  But it’s not a class structure.  That elitism is based on power, and anyone can obtain power in differing degrees if they have the brains, the will … and maybe a little luck.

As you build your financial future, call upon that mindset.  Somewhere in your makeup is an inherited belief that as Americans we can make of our lives what we will.  (And if you’re not American, borrow our belief.)

Some will have a harder time because of educational opportunity.  Or parental beliefs.  Or the environment we are raised in.

But look at the many people who have started with nothing, in horrible circumstances, and have made it to the top.  Theirs are rags-to-riches stories.  But they’re not facing cultural obstacles as their counterparts in other countries might.

Let me know in the Comments section below how you see your “real financial opportunities.”  What, if anything, do you think might be holding you back?  Whatever it is, figure out what you’re going to do about it.  You deserve to thrive, you know.

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Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.

  • Sharon

    How true this statement, “The chateau was run down, the leather furniture in tatters. For all we knew, they could have been on the brink of bankruptcy, but that did not change the distance between fellow Frenchmen.” We can look like we “have” it all together and still be falling apart whether rich or poor. Appearance isn’t everything. And then I’m reminded how there are no boundaries that disconnect souls. At the end of the day money is only money. It does not change that fact that we all bleed the same color, have heartbreak when life falls apart, or suffer the same physical ills. Perhaps we are blessed far more than we realize. To that I say God teach me to number my days and to know what really matters – connecting with people and loving them where they’re at no matter what. Thanks for this post.

    • Great phrase: “there are no boundaries that disconnect souls.” Unfortunately there are still some remnants of the divisiveness of earlier times in some cultures, Marvia. The good news is that so many of those old barriers are coming down further and further …

  • Diane Massad

    Your post today, reflective. Thank-you for retrieving the memories and organizing your observations…leading ‘us’ to some conclusions and ‘nuggets’. In the sorting out of situations and aligning actions with values, contemporary lives find many snags and distractors, such as, regulatory stone-walling, archaic ‘ways to do business’, stagnated capitalization routes. Yes, these may be excuses. And, yes, one must seek ‘work-arounds’. Your ease in functioning in a highly evolved social setting, admirable, and indicative of your own lifelong note-taking and relevant application of knowledge accrued.

    I surmise, one might be on the road to success, when one selectively associates with others, who would be sensitive or aware of abilities and talents. Sensing and identification of competencies is a ‘skill’ that has fallen in prominence [despite the abundance of the metrics.

    • The one skill I think makes analysis easier, Diane, is that of taking a macro view to see how all the pieces interact … while also taking a micro view of the intricacies of each piece …

      • kidskills

        Big lens…small lens: yes, that duality is essential. While the lily pads wobble, one must recruit will and wits to remain erect, functional and facile. Love the dialogue opportunities at your site and the comments tool: Disqus. Best!

  • Susan Schiller

    Sharon, your story delights my heart and fills me with joy… the picture of you hanging out with the men, hunting and then “solving all the world’s problems” … you’ve brought me along with you as you discovered you were deep in conversation with the count, himself. The tapestry of your life is rich with surprise discoveries and how you bring the truth to us, like an invitation to “come up higher” and see things from a broader perspective. It is really what true wealth is about… I am wealthy in knowing you, for I love who you have become and who you are!

    • As I wrote that, Sue, I knew it would tweak the storyteller in you! And what a wonderful tool storytelling is for communicating an otherwise not-so-familiar concept. After all, how many of us in America ever think of an actual social class structure … that you’re born into and cannot escape? Yet some people … in some countries … still live it every day.

      • Susan Schiller

        I can just see your book cover, Sharon, a picture of you hanging out the helicopter shooting photos in a jungle in South America…. and in between the covers, gemstones upon gemstones of treasures unearthed in your globe-trotting as you explore the deeper mysteries of Planet Earth.

        I’m continually amazed and inspired by your adventures, but it’s the gemstones of hard-core reality – Truth encounters – that stop me in my tracks. Your faith and enthusiasm recharge me every time, and in the small ways that I’m able to, I strive to walk in your footsteps.

        I do so much enjoy my purple leather pocketbook with all the safety features you recommended. I’m slowly building up to $300 in the center pocket (just $50 shy, as of today). And a minimum $1000 reserve in savings is growing. I’m debt-free and managing to live well on less than ever, these days.

        My next step, of course, is to build the quilt! My heart throbs with excitement as I write this, because little-by-little I am discovering I can do this – me – by myself, with God’s help.

        Thank you for setting the pace, and for being a role model to me and millions more. <3

        • ” … little-by-little I am discovering I can do this – me – by myself, with God’s help.” Yes, you can, my friend. And you will!

  • Barbara Becker

    Hi Sharon, I loved your story. It reminds me of my travels with my ex-husband. My real financial opportunities for me, are about being comfortable. I have a deep faith and trust in God/Creator Source and the Universe will always provide. They always have for everyone. I am abundant in finances, joy, happiness, health, peace, love, and gratitude. After going through a bankruptcy and it’s audit, I am much stronger and assist others going through one now. I have watched them turn around into happiness and step back into their power. Money does not define who a person is. This is the myth that people get caught up in. Live your passion, do what you love, the money will flow in.

    • Barbara, you’ve clearly captured the ‘wealth’ that comes from understanding what’s truly important … something so many learn when going through bankruptcy. Thank you for sharing that with others … it’s such an important message!

  • Alexandra McAllister

    I enjoyed your story, Sharon. Lovely! I see my “real financial opportunities” as being healthy, comfortable and able to help others…of course, being happy as well. I like to keep things simple. I no longer need all the material stuff…I prefer the basics. 🙂

    • If we can get the basics right as you have, Alexandra, we’re free to add to them whatever makes sense at the time. The big problem is that so many never figure out what the “real” basics are!

  • Jessica Stone

    I love this article! I love what our country offers and how you can make the best of it – all it takes is the mindset, willpower, and ACTION behind it… things that have really been at work in my life lately. Even though I’m on this journey, it has just started and I know I have a LONG (maybe never-ending) way to go. It’s all about fueling our thoughts with positive, helpful, knowledge and skill-building information and realizing we are who we are – no matter how much money we have or what we own. Great article!

    • Jessica, the journey may feel “maybe never-ending,” because you’re in the early stages of it. But if you’re always adding a little bit more than you’re subtracting–from your life, finances, or whatever–you’ll find yourself in momentum sooner than you think. And that momentum, where some things actually happen without you having to “push the rock,” is what you’re seeking …

  • jennyshain

    This is something I do admire about America! A beautiful history of people taking what they have, sometimes nothing but sheer determination, & making a beautiful life. I love renewing my mind & imagining the awesome possibilities that are to come! Thanks Sharon!

    • Stay in that place, Jenny, of “renewing my mind & imagining the awesome possibilities that are to come.” That’s where the magic happens!

  • Great story, Sharon. You are so right. America is definitely a land of opportunity where we are limited only by ourselves. With hard/smart work, and lots of determination our dreams are achievable.

  • We are so luch in this country! We can build our dreams and get to what ever level we would like!

    • And something tells me I’m watching that with you right now, Liz … 😉

  • What a wonderful story Sharon. It’s so easy to focus on how difficult things are financially as in the UK this fills our news programmes every day.But it is up to us as individuals to find those opportunities and take action.

    • As you say, Carolyn, it’s a matter of not allowing ourselves to get totally caught up in the draining energy of mass communication–regardless how loud that message might be–and finding how our individual brilliance can move us forward!

  • Leslie Ferris

    I loved this! It is a creative way to get your point across. We found the same thing when we lived in England. No one there could ‘put’ us in any sort of class structure because they couldn’t figure out where we would fit, so in the end we able to hang with any one. So very freeing, and fun!! And you are right, we are relatively free of that in this country, which certainly has it’s advantages! I really enjoyed reading this!

    • Ah, Leslie, you get it! That’s actually what most attracts me to the “expat life” I’ve lived since childhood … the fact that we are a bit different from everyone and cannot be cubbyholed …

  • Pat Moon

    What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing it with us. I witnessed this accepting experience so much with my parents. Everyone loved and admired them, it did not matter how rich, famous, poor, or destitute. I am so thankful that class or culture does not separate me from who I am or can be.

    • Pat, I knew a young woman when I was in Philadelphia getting my MBA at Wharton. She came from a wealthy family in India and lived within the rigid caste system. It was a real eye-opener!

  • I agree that most do not realize how lucky we have it here in the US. I think as a culture we tend to take things for granted. We must OPEN our eyes and see what is truly out there.

    • We hear lots of complaining–and there are things to complain about–but we don’t hear the appreciation for the wonderful things that come with being an American! Many of those are indeed taken for granted.

  • I really enjoyed your article, it does make really appreciate what we have here! Thank you for sharing!

  • Thanks for sharing such a wonderful thought provoking story Sharon! It’s sad but true that sometimes what puts us off of going for a connection or opportunity is the idea that the person or thing is outside of our standing in life!

    • We sure can create our own barriers, can’t we, Moira? Good news is that means we can remove them just as easily!

      • That’s the great part about stumbling blocks… once we become aware of them – we CAN remove them 🙂

  • Yetunde Daramola

    Thanks for sharing. I agree that we as human beings sometimes create our own barriers. Being a black person living in England, there are even more barriers. But I so much believe in “being myself” and not being n competition with anyone. MY virtues come across and I am able to relate to anyone on any level,

    • I can almost imagine the barriers, Yetunde. But you are right, it’s up to you whether or not you allow them to stop your progress … so glad to hear you don’t! Brava!

  • Lorii Abela

    This is one of the reasons why a lot of people want to make it in America. The only thing to do is to have an open mind and work positively. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience.

    • You’re most welcome, Lorii! Despite its temporary problems, it’s still a pretty amazing country! 😉

  • What a cool experience! I’ve seen both sides in my life from my parents. My father was a “money doesn’t buy happiness” person and my mother was a “what will the neighbours think” person when it came to money. I think I fall more on my father’s side, because having had serious illness, for me money issues take a back seat to health and happiness. I’d like to be comfortable and have enough to give some of it away and that will add to my happiness.

    • Something like a serious illness or major life reversal can easily become the pivot point where we change our priorities, Lena … raising up health and happiness above “money for money’s sake” on the priority list!

  • Robin

    What a great experience, Sharon. I also agree that as Americans, many of us don’t realize how fortunate we are. At times, some may tend to focus on what others have and not on our own blessings. Thank you for sharing this delightful story.

    • Getting out of the U.S., and trying to envision living your life elsewhere, can be a real eye-opener. I’ve lived abroad most of my life and, granted, there are some wonderful advantages in other countries as well. But in many countries there are hindrances we never even think of, and therefore are never grateful for here!

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience on this Sharon. I have learned these lessons over and over in my life and I am grateful!

    • I’m sure you have, Anita. While there are pros and cons for all sorts of situations, there are some basic truths we should be grateful for … about which many people are simply unaware. Our freedom to determine where we fit in is one!

  • Oh my gosh – I loved your story – a great read!!! I think another wonderful thing we all have to keep in mind about how fortunate we are to be Americans is that we can disagree with our government; we can hold very controversial positions; we can march and write and rail to our hearts content, and it’s still all part of being American. We cannot be killed or shot at or rounded up for daring to be bold.