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Down to Earth

Ellyn Schoen sees obscene displays of wealth every day as founder of Baby J Catering, a New York City catering company that serves wealthy clients in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Greenwich, Connecticut.
December 1, 2007
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/186530

In Manhattan, she sees corporate jets and personal drivers as two coveted status symbols, and she detects an intense social-climbing phenomenon underway among the city's twenty- and thirtysomethings. It's a topic Schoen, 45, discusses regularly with friends and colleagues. "Now it's like everybody has money. Where does it come from? And they're [getting] younger and younger," she says.

In places from Silicon Valley to New York City, the race is on to acquire even better material symbols of success, whether it's a home in an exclusive ZIP code, a Cessna or a private school education for the kids. "It's an addiction to conspicuous consumption. You see, you want," says Debra Condren, founder and president of Manhattan Business Coaching and author of Ambitchous.

Successful entrepreneurs can be especially vulnerable to the who-has-what mentality. "They often use competition as a motivator and a yardstick," says Jonathan Kramer, founder of executive coaching firm Business Psychology Consulting. He knows entrepreneurs who keep a score card to compare themselves to other entrepreneurs. While this method may motivate, the downside is that "there's often a feeling of never [being] good enough," Kramer says. Less disposable income due to the high cost of living can only exacerbate feelings of failure and contribute to a skewed sense of financial reality.

Schoen, who expects sales of about $1.3 million this year, keeps everything in perspective by setting a good example for her two children. "It sounds corny, but [my priority] really is family," she says. "I can have all the money in the world, but if my kids are unhappy, it really doesn't mean anything."

In fact, thinking about the message you're sending to your kids "can be a wake-up call," Condren says. "Do you really want your kids to absorb those kinds of superficial values?"

Reconnecting with old friends whose principles you admire, volunteering and being philanthropic are also good ways to stay grounded. So can finding a highly successful businessperson, such as Warren Buffett, to model your life after. "He couldn't care less about material things, although he's a multibillionaire," Kramer says.

You can't stop other entrepreneurs from flaunting their wealth, but you can control your reaction. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." Says Condren, "There's nothing wrong with money. It's how you view it."