We Need To Talk: A Memoir About Wealth

We Need To Talk: A Memoir About Wealth

by Jennifer Risher

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Overview

When Jennifer Risher joined Microsoft in 1991, she met her husband, and with him became an extra-lucky beneficiary of the dot-com boom. By their early thirties, they had tens of millions of dollars. Today, there are millions of people like her. Jennifer’s thought-provoking, personal story includes the voices of others in her demographic and explores the hidden impact of wealth on identity, relationships, and sense of place in the world. At a time when income inequality is a huge problem, our country’s economic system is broken, and money is still a taboo subject even among those closest to us, this engaging, introspective memoir is essential reading: a catalyst for conversation that demystifies wealth and inspires us to connect.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939096463
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 133,678
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Risher was born in Seattle, Washington, grew up in Oregon, and graduated from Connecticut College. She joined Microsoft in 1991 where she worked as a recruiter and then as a product manager. She and her husband, David, have two daughters and live in San Francisco, where David is CEO of Worldreader, a nonprofit he cofounded with a mission to create a world where everyone is a reader. We Need to Talk is Jennifer’s first book.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction


In 1991, at twenty-five years old, I took a job at Microsoft and got lucky. The guy behind me in line at orientation started up a conversation, telling me his name was David. He’d been an intern at Microsoft the previous summer and had accepted a position as a product manager. He made small talk and asked about me, his dark almond-shaped eyes practically closing as he smiled. I had no idea he was my future husband, but I smiled too.

Years later, when David and I were married and expecting our first child, we made a pivotal decision. David had been offered a job at a small, unknown startup selling books on the internet. As Bill Gates tried to keep him at Microsoft, where we both had stock options, I encouraged him to follow his heart. He loved books and technology. Three months later, David had joined that small startup, called Amazon.com, and I got lucky again. We both did. The company went public, and suddenly, in our early thirties, we had tens of millions of dollars.

For years, I’d told myself money didn’t buy happiness, secretly believing it just might. I also thought I knew what it would be like to be rich, that a million dollars had the power to change everything. But our sudden new wealth didn’t make my life perfect. I was still me. I hadn’t escaped my worries, insecurities, or limitations, and was no more glamorous or confident. My childhood beliefs and habits remained, for better and worse.

Soon, I was discovering that my perception of the rich was inaccurate and incomplete. Wealth wasn’t just glitz, glamor, and perfection, or arrogance, corruption, and greed. Images of people toting designer handbags and toy poodles aboard private jets and lounging on mega-yachts smoking cigars and guzzling champagne were extremely narrow depictions of affluence. The characters in The Great Gatsby, the men in The Wolf of Wall Street, and the women in The Real Housewives were ridiculously misleading examples of the rich as well.

The wealthy are more diverse and ordinary than most people see or believe. Eight out of ten of us grew up middle-class or poor, only one in ten inherited money, and most aren’t living in Hollywood or working on Wall Street. We are hidden in plain sight, doing our grocery shopping, driving kids in carpool, and taking the subway to the office. We want to make a difference at our jobs and spend quality time with family and friends—and our numbers are growing. Even with the dot-com crash in 2001 and the housing crisis and recession of 2008, wealth at the top of the economic ladder has continued to explode. At the end of 2016, not counting primary residence, eleven million US households were worth $1 million, with over a million worth $5 million or more.

When I reached out to people whose circumstances were like my own and asked to interview them for this book, most told me they never discussed money but were interested in talking as long as they could remain anonymous.

In the pages that follow, you will meet Mary, who earns a high salary and has inherited wealth.

“I’ll always work. I’ll never have enough. I get a lot out of my job,” she said. Then, after a few minutes, she added, “I’m not sure my self-esteem is up to not having a job. My identity depends on my position and success.”

You will meet Laurie, who feels judged by her siblings because of the success of her husband’s business.

“Maybe it’s my issue, but I get stressed about birthday gifts,” she said. “My sisters seem to expect something big. I never know what to do. Their expectations make me feel as though a nice new shirt isn’t good enough.”

You’ll hear from Betsy, who worked in finance, taught her children the importance of staying within a budget, yet has been dismayed by how much they overspend, going out to eat and having food delivered.

“It’s a problem. I’m not sure what to do,” she said. “My husband and I try to set limits, but the limits are artificial—and our kids know it.”

When her oldest moved back home for a month, and ended up staying for six, Betsy wasn’t happy with the situation. She and her husband could afford to rent him an apartment but wanted him to learn to live within his own means.

“I’ve started charging him rent,” Betsy said. “It’s backfiring. He owes me money. But he knows the situation is contrived. What am I going to do? Kick him out?”

You’ll meet Nicole, a corporate real estate developer who has children in high school and college, but still pays for a full-time nanny.

“She’s been with us for twenty-one years,” Nicole said. “I don’t need her anymore, but I can’t bring myself to cut down her hours. She needs the job.”

You’ll meet others as well, but mostly you will get to know me. After growing up with middle-class values, saving my pennies, and being wary of the rich, I was embarrassed to join their ranks. My identity and place in the world were at stake. It took many years to get comfortable. Over the last decades, I’ve had a friend ask for $25,000, and another tell me she almost didn’t invite our family to join hers to see a Cirque du Soleil show, concerned we’d only want seats they couldn’t afford. I’ve worried about our children lacking motivation, discovered philanthropy isn’t as straightforward as just writing a check, and grappled with the meaning of “enough”—not life or death issues, but real when living with them day to day.

Now in my fifties, I am profoundly grateful for the abundance in my life. Money has afforded me incredible freedom and allowed for extravagance and generosity. Our family has lived abroad and traveled the world, shared with relatives and friends, and donated amounts large and small. But there is a huge and growing problem in our country. It doesn’t feel right that some people have more money than they can spend in a lifetime while nearly 40 million Americans are living in poverty. I should pay more taxes. Minimum wage should be higher. I’d like to see the government prioritize human well-being over financial gain and put a system in place that helps redistribute the wealth at the top to ensure food, education, healthcare, and housing for all.

I’m not an economist or a politician. I’m not some poor little rich girl either. Nor is my story a prescriptive account of how to do “rich” right. I don’t have all the answers. I began writing because wealth surprised me. I wanted to reveal money for what it is and what it’s not. I continued writing because everyone’s voice adds to our country’s conversation and hearing other people’s stories helps us understand our own. In the end, I hope this book becomes a catalyst for conversation. Talking about money and how it makes us feel could help demystify wealth. We have a lot to learn from one another. More importantly, by talking, we could break down divides and confirm we are all ninety-nine percent the same.

Table of Contents

Introduction 9

1 The Toss 15

2 Stuck in the Past 36

3 Houses 54

4 Truth Serum 66

5 Mentors 87

6 More than a Paycheck 103

7 Luxury 114

8 Gratitude 116

9 An Education 143

10 Within Our Means 153

11 Enough 167

12 Down-to-Earth 181

13 Giving 207

14 Emotions Attached 226

15 Imperfection 248

16 Home 256

What's Next? 266

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