Our Tricky Relationship with Money and Wealth | Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Growing up, we all heard different stories about the business tycoon, Steve Jobs. While some stories were true, some were mere rumours. But most of the stories were related to his wealth and success. Evidently, we also came across tales which were just the figments of imagination streaming from the beliefs of regular people about wealthy businessmen.

We probably didn’t hear much about his personal life, though. We never heard exactly what Steve Jobs is like as a person. We never knew about his irresponsible attitude towards money and wealth as well as towards his family.
When a person is that wealthy, we seldom care to know the real person is behind the curtains of success.

Well, his firstborn Lisa Brennan-Jobs is here to burst the bubble with her memoir Small Fry—a book that reveals her complex relationship with her parents. And, in effect, she reveals their individual relationship with money and wealth and how it affected her in the long run.

We are often so involved with ourselves—our own ideas, thoughts and decisions—that we fail to realise the impact of our actions on others. We might appear perfect from our perspective; but the moment we look through the eyes of another, all our flaws become starkly clear.

The same is true for Lisa’s parents—Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan. From their perspective, the way they handle life seems perfectly fine to them and even to the ones around. But the moment Lisa steps into the picture with her perspective, the scene changes.

Throughout the book, Lisa Brennan-Jobs provokes us to observe her parents through her eyes. And as we analyse their actions, we fathom how savagely their lifestyle has affected her journey though life.

Small Fry is not just a coming-of-age memoir but also a lesson on the tricky relationship we have with money and wealth. It’s about how a lifetime goes by in our quest for wealth and money, yet we fail to respect or even understand its value.

“I knew she wanted his approval and recognition; we both wanted it. He knew about business; he knew about money and the world; he was a success.”

The Wrath of Wealth

Both Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan have demonstrated what can only be described as an irresponsible and disrespectful attitude towards money and wealth at some points in their life. Their individual relationship with money were poles apart—Steve having more than he can possibly need and Chrisann struggling to make ends meet.

Yet, none showed the respect and responsibility that money deserves and hence had to face its wrath.

Jobs’ careless attitude towards money reflected in the way he threw money into the ocean, left the house with the entrance unlocked, owned a house with more rooms than needed or possessed things he never used. Perhaps it is this attitude that initiated the myth that whenever his Porsche suffered even a slight damage, he simply replaced it with a new one instead of repairing the car.

His carelessness also reflected in the way he casually decided not to pay for things in the last moment or walked out of the restaurants without paying the bill as if nothing happened. According to Lisa—“Everyone in his life has been treated to his whimsy about money, offering and rescinding payments for small and large things.”

True enough, Steve wasted money in buying things he did not need and turned extremely miser when it came to spending on necessary items. He refused to ride Lisa home in his car or fix the heater when she said she was cold. He bought a new dishwasher only after Lisa repaired the old one. He took them for shopping and then refused to buy anything for them! At one point of time, he even refused to pay for Lisa’s college.

It appeared as though acquiring and spending money depended on his mood, which had a weird way of changing in the blink of an eye.

Jobs’ whimsical attitude towards money made Lisa feel loved and unloved at the same time during the years that she spent at his house. Lisa always thought her father believed that ‘the best things were simple things’. But the richness of his New York apartment left her shocked.

The hypocrisy of the situation compelled Lisa to conclude that her father’s ‘ideals’ were just an excuse not to be generous with her.

“It was hard to understand why someone who had enough money would create a sense of scarcity, why he wouldn’t lavish us with it.”

As for Chrisann, she appeared to be a woman who liked to live off her partners. All her life she made a little effort to achieve financial independence. She found it easier to call her partner whenever she needed anything rather than striving to fend for it herself.

But perhaps, having a stable job that paid the bills would have been much easier than climbing up a drainpipe to enter into Jobs’ house just to poach his old couch!

But the strangest thing is, even though Chrisann isn’t good with earning money, she is quick with spending it. And hence, no matter what, they always ended up having just a little or not enough money at all.

“Money, when we had it, was like quick-burning, like kindling.”

Chrisann was no good at saving money, either!

Whenever Lisa saw an improvement in their living standard, she knew that her mother had found some new way of acquiring money from someone else. It often turned out to be a partner who had offered her some money and she had decided to spend it all.

More astonishing than this is that Chrisann never learnt from her mistakes. Even after struggling all her life with financial difficulties, she would spend extravagantly whenever she managed to earn a little extra.

The worst impact of their disrespectful attitude towards money was that they dragged Lisa down with them.

Steve and Chrisann’s reluctance for proper financial planning had a drastic effect on their daughter. For one thing, it provoked Lisa to pocket a hundred dollar bill from the stack of money in her father’s drawer. She had never seen so much cash and she couldn’t resist herself in the thrill of the discovery.

A few years back, when she was just twelve, her parents’ irresponsible attitude prompted Lisa into worrying whether they would pay for her college.

Traversing further back into the past, when Lisa was just three years old, she found Chrisann asking Steve for money over the phone. Little Lisa considered it right to snatch the phone from her hand and demand money from her father.
It was an insolent attitude that Chrisann seemed to have passed on to her daughter—something that later provoked Lisa to ask Steve if he would hand over his car to her once he is ‘done with it’.

Chrisann’s terrible financial management skills paved the path to bankruptcy when Lisa was still in high school. She had gone on a shopping spree purchasing luxuries that were way out of her league. She found herself drowning in debts she couldn’t pay and had to handle the stress of creditors. Although Lisa didn’t know anything about the debts and the creditors at that moment; but watching one’s mother stressed out is never a desirable sight.

Worst of all, her mother’s reluctance to save money and her father’s oscillation between spending too much or squirrelling it away has a disastrous effect on Lisa. It made the idea of ‘saving money’ completely alien to her.

“I didn’t save the money because I didn’t understand what savings were for. Instead, I looked for things to buy and spent it all right away.”

She preferred instant gratification of her burning desires than saving money to buy something later. As for saving money for emergencies, Lisa chose to walk on Chrisann’s path—figure out ‘a way to wriggle out of it, to hustle and charm’.

But then, can we really blame Lisa for demonstrating such an attitude? Her parents’ irresponsible attitude towards money and wealth, messed with her financial management skills. It fended for Lisa’s inability to understand, appreciate and respect the value of money.

Passion vs Profession

“Small Fry” also explores the distinction between an artist by passion and a professional artist through the character of Chrisann and her artistic talent.

An artist by passion is someone who has a passion for the art he or she creates. But a professional artist knows how to market that art, earn money and create a profession out of it. Chrisann was immensely talented but lacked the skills to turn passion into profession.

Chrisann could have made a fortune out of her art by producing amazing artworks and selling them at the market. At one point in the story, a friend wondered why they were so poor even with Chrisann’s remarkable artistic talent.

The reason, as Lisa discovered later, was that her mother simply lacked the business skill. For instance, when Chrisann planned to have a garage sale–they had nice things to sell but the idea failed miserably. The reason was simple: no one knew about the sale!

Chrisann didn’t put up any sign to inform people until the last moment. Hence very few people even knew about it. And even fewer turned up at the sale.

Chrisann was never methodical about selling her art, either. In fact, she was quite reluctant towards the idea of making a business out of her talent as an artist. She lacked consistency, dedication and perseverance.

When one idea didn’t crack, she changed to the next, instead of striving to perfect that one. Whenever one project failed, she felt discouraged and then swiftly move on to the next one.

By the time Chrisann wanted to turn her art into business and be financially independent, it was too late. Too late to start a business. Too late to harbour the skills to run a business. And too late to learn business strategies and marketing techniques.

Over the years, Lisa watched Chrisann struggle with her work as an artist. Later, she realises how her mother failed to account that ‘it wasn’t just the quality of the product that turned ideas into money, but business savvy’.

Our Tricky Relationship with Money and Wealth

Our relationship with money and wealth is trickier than we realise.
There are several factors that determine that relationship. The bond even changes over time, attaching new aspects to it. And the relationship is definitely not the same for everyone.

But still, we probably grew up hearing many one-sided opinions about money. The most popular one being: Money can’t buy happiness. The statement is partially true; but its implication that “money is evil” is completely wrong.

There is nothing evil about money. It’s a necessity. Everything on earth requires money. Right from the basic survival needs to the means of pleasure, everything comes with a cost.

There is nothing wrong with being money-minded or ambitious, either; unless you lose your moral compass in its quest. And we cannot simply ignore the fact that money does buy things that make us happy.

Perhaps money can’t buy all sorts of happiness but lack of money is sure to bring only unhappiness, stress and frustrations. If not anything else, money can definitely afford us the means to run our life a little smoother, instead of living on the edge.

And the memoir Small Fry is a stark reminder of that.

Financial planning is something that relieves one of the monetary anxieties of an uncertain tomorrow. And sometimes that’s all one needs to be happy. If Steve and Chrisann had been a bit responsible with their finances, Lisa’s childhood could have been quite different.

Of course, everyone has their own individual relationship with wealth and money. The rich, the poor, the middle-class, the privileged—all have their different equations. But they don’t always understand the complexity of it.
There needs to be a constant evaluation, though.

Sometimes we may even need to step out of our perception of ourselves and look through the perspective of others. If we can just observe how our actions are affecting others, it’s already half the battle won.

Looking back now, Lisa’s family says that they don’t remember the time the way Lisa wrote about it. And it’s true; they really don’t. For, they never saw it as she did; they never saw themselves through her eyes. Perhaps if they had, the scene would have been different.

It’s not always possible to be our own judge. But we can always choose to step back and think how others see us. Then evaluate our actions and redeem ourselves of past mistakes.

And avoid the wrath of wealth, maybe!

But perhaps we won’t ever be able to completely understand our tricky relationship with money and wealth. However, we definitely can and should strive to handle it with greater responsibility and treat it with the respect that it deserves.

Once we learn to do that, we can truly make a difference to the generations yet to come.

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