Do you have the power to let power go?
I always wondered how I would sleep if I were a billionaire. I mean, it’s okay to do well for yourself. That’s something to be proud of. But how can you live with yourself knowing you have so much more than you could ever possibly enjoy, while so many have nothing?
These affluent people realized that money isn’t the answer, so they left it all behind. What would you do in their shoes?
UK multimillionaire Jon Pedley was the portrait of a narcissistic, self-destructive business tycoon. The telecommunications mogul had a history of alcoholism, theft, fraud, extravagance, and extramarital affairs.
All of that changed in 2002. After a bout of heavy drinking, Pedley got behind the wheel of his car. In a stupor, he fell asleep while he was driving, and crashed into a van. (Or, since this is the UK were talking about, I guess it would be a lorry? Im not sure.)
“I’ve lived an incredibly selfish existence,” Pedley said of himself. “I’ve been convicted of crime, slept rough, been an alcoholic, had affairs, and damaged people’s lives including my own. I’ve always put the pursuit of money in front of everything else.”
So he decided to give something back. Inspired by a friends work in Uganda, Pedley decided to sell his $2M farmhouse and two telecom companies in order to start his own charity for AIDS orphans.
Croatian music teacher Frano Selak has been dubbed the luckiest man in the world – for very good reason. Not only did he win the lottery, but he also escaped certain death no less than seven times.
In 1962, he survived a literal train wreck. He was travelling from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik when his train went off the rails and went hurtling into freezing cold water. 17 fellow travellers drowned, but Selak survived with hypothermia, shock, and a broken arm.
A year later, he was flying in an airplane for the first time when a nearby door flew open and sucked him out. 19 people died, but he survived by falling into a haystack.
Then he survived a car explosion by running away at the last second, like an action hero. Then a bus he was riding on went into a river, drowning four passengers. Then a malfunctioning gas pump started a fire in his cars engine while he was inside, shooting fire through the vents and burning most of his hair. Then he was hit by a bus. Then he drove his car off a 300 foot cliff, but managed to jump out at the last second.
After so much woe, the universe finally decided to deal Selak a lucky hand in 2005. (continued…)
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Selak won about $1M US in the lottery, enough to buy a home on a private island.
But just 5 years later, he decided to give up the high life for good. He sold his villa and gave almost all his remaining money away to family and friends because money cannot buy happiness.
With the modest amount left to him, he purchased a hip replacement surgery and built a shrine to the Virgin Mary.
All I need at my age is my Katarina [his fifth wife], he said. Money would not change anything.
On the subject of his miraculous survival stories, Salek was equally indifferent. “I never thought I was lucky to survive all my brushes with death. I thought I was unlucky to be in them in the first place.”
Being the child of a wealthy family is a pretty sweet gig. Perks generally include a top-notch, debt-free education, a car or two when you turn sixteen, five figures worth of walking around money, and the knowledge that no matter how much you screw things up, you will one day inherit a bailout package.
That is, unless you’re the child of Chinese hotel and real estate magnate Yu Panglin. Because that cat gave away his entire $1.2BN fortune to help provide cataract surgeries and education for the poor.
In 2010, Yu gave away $470M, saying, This will be my last donation. I have nothing more to give away.
Yu hopes his philanthropy will inspire China’s burgeoning billionaire class to give more. My fortune is just a drop in the bucket compared to them, but I hold different views from them: I will not leave my fortune to my children.
He reasons that leaving a vast fortune to his sons would actually do them a disservice: If they’re stronger than he is, they won’t need his help, and if they’re weaker than he is, they may be led astray, to their own detriment.
Yu came by his wealth honestly. He began his career as a rickshaw man and construction worker in the 60s, saved his money, and invested it wisely.
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In 1990, the fall of the Soviet Union opened up a whole new world of possibilities. No only could people start their own businesses and make their own fortunes, but they were also finally free to practice the Russian Orthodox religion without fear of persecution at the hands of the communists.
Yevgeny Pushenko, 34 at the time, was one of the young entrepreneurs who decided to dip his toes into the free market. He opened his own clothing factory in Vladivostok with a staff of 50. His first foray into capitalism was successful, and if he had committed to building his business, he might even have become one of Russia’s infamous billionaire oligarchs.
Instead, Pushenko experienced an epiphany, an inner voice urging him to get closer to God.
So he gathered his friends around a bottle of vodka, and told them that he was giving them his factory. He was giving up his growing business in order to make a pilgrimage on foot to Jerusalem and become a monk.
And so he did. It took him three years to cross the 9,300 miles between Vladivostok and the holy city, but he made it. He then retired to Greece to spend the rest of his days in a monastery.
You may recognize the name Sam Simon. He co-created The Simpsons along with Matt Groening, becoming fabulously wealthy in the process.
Simon left the show in 1993, but not before he negotiated a royalty agreement that paid him tens of millions of dollars a year.
When I was there I thought I was underpaid, Simon later said. I thought I wasn’t getting enough credit for it. Now, I think it’s completely the opposite. I get too much credit for it. And the money is ridiculous.
But he didn’t keep that crazy Simpsons money for himself.
In 2012, Simon was diagnosed with cancer and told he had three months to live. In response, he pledged to give away his entire $100M fortune before he died.
He gave some of it away through his foundation, which provides service dogs to veterans with PTSD, and supplemented that with donations to PETA, Save the Children, and others.
I get pleasure from it. I love it. I don’t feel like it is an obligation, Simon said.
Simon passed away on March 9, 2015.
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