A Wealth Inheritor’s Tragedy

May 2018 | By Charles Lowenhaupt

Matthew Mellon, scion of the Mellon and Drexel families, was the kind of aristocratic wealth inheritor and creator that embodies the truly rich.

He was privileged, good-looking and never had any reason to believe he would be without enough money. Indeed, he was said to have created a billion dollars of his own wealth in cryptocurrency.

Yet, several weeks ago, his life ended abruptly at 54. He died as he entered a Mexican drug rehabilitation facility after battling drug addiction. In 2016, he said he was taking 80 OxyContin pills a day at a cost of $100,000 a month.

How could a person with the potential to do so much good, and with so many resources at his disposal, lead a life that ended so tragically?

A failure to self-actualize
One possible explanation is that Mellon was caught.

Bi-polar, he was presumably caught medically between mania and depression. He was also caught between tradition and synthetic modernity. His family legacy was traditional banking and brokerage. His own wealth creation was synthetic currency. His family’s legacy was public service and gifts to community. His own life was full of synthetic drugs and opioids.

His plight is not dissimilar from many wealth inheritors who fail to fully self-actualize and create their own legacy

For many wealth inheritors, the task is much harder than it might appear. Wealth inheritors may find their lives crashing on the rocks of the past as they try to navigate their future. Rather than wealth freeing them to live life, many find that wealth and legacy enslave them. Too many lose focus and concentrate on creating more wealth or preserving what they have. They become ensnared in trying to meet history’s expectations.

Living in the shadows
So, rather than a man who has autonomy and is in charge of his life, we see Matthew Mellon struggling to find himself.

Like others of his pedigree and circumstance, it’s quite likely he lived in the shadows of others, and that bothered him greatly. First, it was his family’s legacy and then his wife’s. According to a published report in 2007, “When your wife makes $100 million during the course of your marriage, it’s quite a shocker. I felt like my masculinity had been stripped from me. I was no longer the big man in the relationship. . . .”

Perhaps it is no surprise that later in life, after the shoe company he founded was less successful than his wife’s shoe company, he engaged in cryptocurrency trading. He wound up making a fortune.

But what if he had gone the other way? What if he dedicated himself to using his wealth to build community? What if he wasn’t obsessed with proving himself through wealth accumulation and instead devoted himself to helping others? Might he have found a different kind of fulfillment?

Creating your own legacy
Life should not be enslaved in perceived legacy.

Indeed, it is up to each individual to define his or her own legacy to realize their full potential. Choosing an inauthentic lifestyle or legacy creates the very synthetic existence Mellon must have led. Significantly, neither opioids nor cryptocurrency rooted Mellon in the community his ancestors helped to build.

Mellon needed to deal with his bi-polar illness, yes. He needed to recognize his own limitations, but more importantly, he needed to understand who he was. He needed to figure out how to self-actualize – regardless of the legacy which would enslave him.

The challenge for the wealth inheritor is putting wealth in its place, so he or she can get on with life. Dealing with one’s legacy requires making it on one’s own. Figuring out who you are is more important than figuring out who your parents were or what they now want of you.