Last month, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant contributed to a series by The Player’s Tribune titled “Letters To My Younger Self.” What he wrote echoes many of the same messages depicted in shows like Survivor’s Remorse, which he produces, and Ballers. His letter addresses the management of personal relationships after coming into a windfall – especially at a young age.
The issue he points out is the need to ensure that his generosity toward his loved ones is enabling in a positive way. He tells his 17-year-old self that his new wealth can either be a help to their ability to step into their purpose, or a hinderance. There is a tone of regret as he warns that “handouts” will stunt their growth and self-reliance. Clearly as he matured he realized that he had to transform this dynamic in his relationships with his family, and he admitted that there is some lingering tension as a result.
The basketball star’s most revealing admission is that his willingness to give things so freely was, in actuality, all about his own ego. If it were up to me to coin a phrase, I would call this New Money Syndrome, or at least one of the symptoms of it. And you don’t have to be wealthy or even grown up to exhibit this very human tendency: I’ve seen it in my nephew.
Even at 5 years old my nephew got a little allowance. He was very proud to have his own money. In his young life he had seen struggle among some of the adults/care-takers in his life, as well as a lifestyle not so encumbered with financial woes. I remember once when he was going to visit his other grandmother and aunt and uncles, he wanted to take all of his allowance with him. He was entirely unconvinced by warnings about losing it, spending it all, or having it stolen from him. I remember him holding on to his $10 defiantly and proudly. It seemed to me that it was important to him to show that he had his own money – whether to brag, for his own self-assurance or to be able to help if need be. As he got older and gained more siblings he felt a strong sense of responsibility to be a good role model to his younger brothers, including them in his journey to fulfill his goals and dreams and sharing with them whatever he had.
I can only imagine the weight of responsibility involved in becoming enormously wealthy as a teenager with those same impulses and intensions, while having your entire family look to you as a “money tree.” When he signed his first million-dollar contract he became an instant leader for his family, for potentially generations to come. At some point he began to understand that. It is important to note that Kobe is not suggesting his younger self cut people off, but to be mindful of the way in which he shares his prosperity. Moreover, he puts the blame on himself. I believe it takes good character to do that. He learned to use his wealth to help those around him shine, not be diminished by his shadow.