I Am The 1% (And You Are, Too)

05/25/2017 10:51 am ET Updated May 26, 2017
Photography and design by David Wiacek

I still remember the Occupy Wall Street slogans and chants in lower Manhattan a few years ago: “SHAME ON THE 1%! SHAME ON THE 1%!”*

At the time, I was in my mid 20’s, working in New York City but squarely in the lower-middle-class. While I am, and long have been, a champion of income equality, I didn’t feel quite right about blaming the 1% for all of society’s troubles. Years later, I think I know why.

According to research I came across recently, the worldwide 1% is not such an exclusive club after all: anyone who earns an income of $32K+ annually automatically belongs to it. Yes, you read that correctly: earning $32,000 per year is all it takes to be in the world’s 1%. Given that billions of people across our planet (including the U.S.) survive on less than $2 a day, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. But, then again, in a society where we are bombarded with the excessive and irreverent wealth of our idols (let’s not blame Kim Kardashian, and instead study the countless millions who want to be just like her), it’s easy to forget how lucky we are… in the great scheme of things.

Chances are that most of you reading this article are indeed sitting pretty in the global 1%, at least when it comes to income. You may not feel wealthy because, for example, you have amassed crushing debt, but that’s another story for another day. Perhaps not every day, but on a regular basis, I find myself expressing gratitude for the incredible wealth, access to resources and beautiful freedoms I enjoy here in the U.S., even if some of these liberties are being toyed with by the current administration. While, at the surface, I’m an adult white male, I belong to more than one minority group and have often felt like the immigrant David (my namesake) to the American Goliath.

I became a U.S. citizen several years ago and genuinely love this country. I have contributed to my local community in many ways (teaching, volunteering, coaching, cleaning, supporting, mentoring), have never broken any (major) laws, and am truly confused when people who don’t contribute meaningfully to our society, or who benefit excessively from the hard work of others, wish to prevent other people from enjoying this beautiful land. There is more than enough wealth to go around, but not if some people try to hoard it or waste it carelessly. Let’s all remember that (a) this land was not ours for 99% of all time, (b) we’ll all die one day and, in the last 1% of our last day on earth, we’ll lie on our death beds regretting any semblance of pettiness and selfishness, and (c) generosity and collaboration are sexy! Yeah, sorry, I realize I’m proselytizing here.

I did much of my growing up on a farm in rural Poland, in the midst of the Solidarity movement and the fall of Communism in that part of the world (North Korea never got the memo). And as a Polish farm boy I didn’t have many possessions, but I had a wonderful childhood surrounded by people who loved me and immersed in the great beauty of nature. I recall summer afternoons playing in the dirt, frolicking through meadows (yes, it’s a real thing), and getting semi-lost in the forest while foraging for mushrooms (the non-hallucinogenic variety). Pure joy. Even after I moved from my village of 1,500 people to a city (NYC) where a single building can house more occupants, I have retained that sense of gratitude and wonder. A quarter of a century – 25 formative years ― in and around New York City have not jaded me yet!

Nothing better describes how lucky I and virtually 100% of folks who are reading this truly are: this morning I woke up, walked into the bathroom, and with the gentle flick of my finger I instantly had clean water. And the same for a bright light. And in the kitchen, a refrigerator that offered a perfectly chilled glass of almond milk. And in the living room, a fully-charged laptop ready to connect me with friends, family, clients and strangers across the globe. How lucky? So very! Even Cleopatra didn’t have access to such luxuries.

These are blessings I do not – cannot – take for granted. You know, I have high-end tastes just like the next guy, and it’s easy to get lost in the advertisements telling me I need a new wardrobe or a brand-new Tesla (I’ll get a used one in a few years, thank you very much). I’m just so glad that I have had the kind of bi-continental, bi-cultural upbringing that has allowed me to retain a strong sense of self, independent of how much money I accumulate or how many objects I can hoard in my home. I’m the guy who would rather spend $500 on a flight to Iceland than the same amount on the newest gadget. One memory will last a lifetime, and the other thing will become obsolete (or break) in 12-24 months.

These days, as a career coach, I meet many clients who speak of spiritual death, or emotional burnout, or exhaustion and disorientation in the concrete jungle. It’s a feeling I can absolutely relate to because I was once there, and because of that experience I am a much more effective coach and resume writer. While I focus on personal branding and job search strategies (networking, interviewing, salary negotiation, etc.), I often end up covering some financial and personal topics, since these invariably impact my clients’ professional lives. Too often, reckless personal spending is the thing that has kept many of my clients chained to jobs they’ve hated for years. It’s a form of self-imprisonment, no? Bob Marley said: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” #Truth.

Now, this is a bit of a stretch, but since we’re on the topic of the 1%, and because I’m a career coach/business strategist and I like to give my clients something actionable to strive for (rather than just think about things endlessly), I’d like to close things out by sharing one of my favorite concepts of the 1%, particularly as it relates to the Kaizen approach to continuous improvement, which can be applied to business, or financial and health self-improvement — any aspect of life, really. When I work with my career coaching clients, rather than giving them a long list of assignments or goals, I start with one. Just one. What is one thing you will do extra (or differently) this week to move your job search along? What is one thing you can do, just 1 hour a week (which is even less than 1% of our available time weekly), to help refocus or re-energize your professional trajectory? And when you frame it in the smallest terms, people are less intimidated, and they start to change their lives for the better.

Benjamin Franklin said: “Little strokes fell great oaks.” It really doesn’t take much to change the tides for our professional or personal lives. Just one action can be the start of a great new adventure. The concept of the 1% can be more powerful than you think.

Now that you know you are in the top 1% of income earners in the world, what will you do with your newfound wealth? Invest in yourself. Share it with others. Volunteer. Donate. Learn. Teach. Travel. Whatever you do, please don’t waste it.

* I realize that the Occupy Wall Street movement was primarily blaming the U.S. 1%, not the global 1%, but even so, it spurred this article and it’s an opportunity to acknowledge our good fortune. More than that, it’s a powerful reminder to share that good fortune with the world, not hoard it for ourselves. We’ll all be better for it in the end.

David (Dawid) Wiacek is an accomplished career coach, resume writer and brand strategist. He crushes his clients’ fears and brings joy back into their professional lives. In short, he helps people all across the country find more fulfilling, better-paying careers; and he helps small- to mid-size businesses re-invigorate their branding and marketing strategy, online and off. Curious to learn more? Check out: davidthefixer.com

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