When I see green, I think of plants and natural life, but when money discussions come up, all I seem to be surrounded by are people either out for blood using their lawyers as hired guns, or wanting to die by ingesting all sorts of crap into their system that obviously isn’t doing a good enough job of numbing their pain, but will surely kill them one of these days.  Suffice to say, these last 15 years, I have seen a very dark part of our society, and in my humble opinion the true color of money should be red to symbolize the fiery hell it is creating here on Earth.

For 25 years, I have been observing the rich and famous, ever since they granted me access to their world when I was shipped off to an elite boarding school through a scholarship program for gifted but underprivileged NYC youth.  This is why I don’t have the typical immigrant mentality, which focuses on survival.  I grew up with old-money values: (1) don’t flaunt your wealth, (2) pursue something you are passionate about, and (3) give something back to society.  The problem is that these old-money values are increasingly rare to find in a technologically advanced world obsessed with instant gratification.

The tragedies that hit our headlines every day, the most recent one being Corey Monteith’s overdose, may puzzle many, but not me.  How brilliant people like Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse, who should feel on top of the world, can come crashing down and wind up dead well before their time should be up is not a mystery at all- having money and fame is both a blessing and a curse.  Being able to hold competing emotions is difficult, and withstanding the daily scrutiny of the pulic eye requires nerves of steel and great discipline– a trait noveau riche often lack.

It seems that fortune without the fame is the best case scenario, and fame without fortune we can all agree just sucks.  These days, however, most top dogs don’t have the luxury of great fortune while preserving their anonimity,  so these rich and famous types are constantly plagued by one incredibly fundamental and perplexing question: are people spending time with them because they genuinely enjoy their company or because they like the fringe benefits that come with hanging with that person?  It is so hard to understand someone’s real motives for doing anything, and meanwhile it is so easy to be cynical these days…

In addition to wondering every day whether people just like you for who you are, many also worry about meeting expectations.  Most of us don’t like disappointing people, but if you are a super star, you are wired to want to exceed expectations– and how do you keep doing that all the time?  What happens if you don’t meet up to the hype? The higher up you climb, the harder the fall is a very real fear that plagues many on the rise, and sadly, if they did not come from a family of means, those around them won’t be able to understand their plight leaving them with immense feelings of disconnect.

Now, even if you come from money, there are still tremendous pressures for you to further the family fortune.  Why?  Because (1) you come from “good genes” and (2) you have been afforded every opportunity possible to promote success.  The problem is coming from a “good family” doesn’t guarantee the genius gene, and with expectations set so high, many will rebel against all the pressure to perform as well if not better than their ancestors. “What does it all matter?” is a common question among the offspring of the well-off.  Of course, they have the luxury of a huge safety net, regardless of poor grades, addiction issues, or just a total lack of ambition.  They delve into recreational drug use and random hook ups at an early age just to dull the pain and pass the time.  If this goes unchecked, these habits will cause major problems throughout their lives.

To engage in a life of hedonism or remain the perpetual student contemplating lofty ideals has always been a privilege of the aristocratic class.  Meanwhile, those of us who come from nothing have always had to work hard, often with little recognition or true monetary reward.  Ironically,it can almost better to be born poor– because when you come from nothing, there are very few expectations imposed on you at an early age.  As long as you don’t wind up in jail, doing drugs, on or welfare, you are considered a success story.   More importantly, perhaps it is precisely the belief that we have nothing to lose, that prevents us from worrying about failure.

It is probably true that because I did not grow up with money, I place little value on it– but I don’t see that as a negative.  Instead, I learned to value wealth in terms of education, experiences, and those connections you have in your life.  Not everyone shares this view, and I know a lot of my friends are baffled by the fact that many of my endeavors are not for profit.  But if you could see what I’ve seen now that I’ve stepped off the treadmill and taken a good look at those around me who are still in the rat race, maybe you would understand– money does not buy everything.

Money puts a huge strain on family ties, and it corrupts people that become obsessed with it.  Throughout the ages it has caused so much resentment between the haves and have-nots, and while I get it, I don’t think those in the latter category truly understand how life is not a panacea for those with means– they have a completely different set of issues, but no easier to bear than those in the have-not category.  They suffer heart-ache just like everyone else, and this I know for a fact because it has been my job over all these years to unravel their bad break-ups.

Those that fall into money are often shocked to learn that money does not solve all problems, and in fact, often it can compound them.  It will never buy you love, but it can buy you a ticket straight to hell if you let it kill your soul.  The plain truth is this: a rich bank account does not necessarily equal a rich life. Believe me, I have met many throughout the past few decades with significant “net worth” and yet a totally depraved human existence.

So in the end, I hope you will all pursue your dreams, and that you obtain the fortunes you want– however you choose to define that– but always remember you get to define wealth within your life.  Don’t worry about what others have– you have no idea what it is that they are lacking.  Just focus on your own mission and goals, and don’t ever lose sight of the true color of money.

By Regina A. DeMeo