I love working with families to help them realize their full potential. Early in my career I worked with very poor families – many of which were homeless – at a university-based community mental health center. Currently, I work with families of ultra-high net worth in my consulting practice. Odd as it may sound, there are similarities between the two.

Families from both of these groups have a similar 800-pound gorilla in their midst: economic circumstance. The state of being either very rich or very poor becomes like another member of the family – sometimes calm, neutral and barely visible, and at other times energetic, opinionated, even destructive. The economic situation is constantly on the minds of parents at either end of the spectrum as they attempt to guide children to accomplish more than what seems to be preordained by financial realities.

For wealthy families this means encouraging children to learn about the family’s wealth and finding ways for them to contribute to its long-term, sustainable stewardship, while inspiring the development of an independent and personal passion to pursue. For poor families this means supporting children to overcome powerful forces that threaten to severely limit life’s choices – and with the same goal of inspiring children to find their personal passion to pursue.
A child in either situation may decide to become an entrepreneur, physician, social activist, or artist, among many other possibilities. Or, he or she may float along allowing the currents of economic circumstance to choose the direction.

The key in both situations is fostering family connectedness and pride as well as motivating children to find their own way.

What is the lesson?
Enterprising Families: Consider using the contrast of economic extremes to instill a greater sense of appreciation in your children for what they have. My wife and I are currently planning a “volunteer vacation” for our family to either Morocco or Costa Rica. The world of “volun-tourism” offers trips to various parts of the world in need of support (environmental, political, health, women’s rights, etc.). Families can pick a project that fits the family’s values and have a hands-on experience making an impact.

Advisors to Enterprising Families:┬áBe sure to engage your senior-generation clients in discussions about their children and the challenges they face in developing a healthy passion in the next generation for making their mark on the world. Suggest your family clients look into “volun-tourism” as a way of creating lasting memories and instilling deeply held family values.