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Guest Blog by Steve Legler - Enough for Rockefeller, Not for St Augustine

How Much is Enough for You?

Many family business leaders eventually confront the reality that simply doing more of the same to get more and more wealth is not the best use of their efforts.  When this happens, what should they do next instead?  It's different for everyone, but shifting their focus to the questions relating to the proper transition of all their family wealth to the next generation is often a good way to move forward and begin to look at what's truly important to leave a lasting legacy.- Steve Legler

I was reading a book about Coaching Questions* and I spotted a couple of complementary nuggets that I had a bit of trouble fitting together in my brain.

John D. Rockefeller

The first interesting notion came from a man whose name is likely familiar to most readers, John D. Rockefeller, and his response to the oft-heard question “How Much Is Enough?”

He reportedly replied “Just a little bit more”. What remains unclear is the tone with which it was delivered.

The context from my coaching book leads one to believe that he truly understood that this reply, from one of the world’s wealthiest people at the time, was said more or less in jest. 

A man in his position, it is thought, clearly already had “enough”.

The quote is followed by the sentence “Paradoxically, fulfillment pursued as an end in itself is a dead end.”

On to St-Augustine

The feeling that I was left with from the Rockefeller reference was that clearly there IS a point where one can (and should) stop focusing on getting “more”.

But then a few pages later, there’s another quote, this time from St. Augustine, that seems at least a little bit contradictory.

“If you are pleased with what you are, then you have stopped already.  If you say, ‘It is enough,’ you are lost.  Keep on walking, moving forward, trying for the goal.”

Compare and Contrast

On the surface, these two statements seem to be about the same subject, i.e. continuing on the path to accumulating more.

Rockefeller seems to want to admit that he already has plenty but almost can’t help himself.  St. Augustine seems to suggest that one should never stop, because that would be the beginning of a rather abrupt end.

Now there are surely other interpretations to this that you may have, and that’s great too. I try to never speak in absolutes or to preach that my understanding is “the truth”.

Nuanced Differences

In addition to the potential interpretations one can have regading Rockefeller’s answer, there’s another significant nuance that I really only noticed when I began writing this piece.

It comes from the second quote, from St. Augustine.  He begins with “If you are pleased with what you are” before imploring you not to stop. 

He isn’t asking about what you have.

There is a world of difference between the two.  You may have enough “stuff”, but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting to be more.

Stop Working In your Family Business

When I wrote SHIFT your Family Business, in 2014, I added a secondary title.  It’s actually pretty long, but it also addresses today’s point.

“Stop working IN your family business” is an invitation to put and end to the “just a little bit more” phase of “making the pie bigger”.

Start Working On your Business Family

The second part, “Start working ON your business family”, is also an invitation, but this time to become a different kind of family leader, i.e. one who is more concerned with how the family will be able to enjoy the pie together.

Rockefeller alluded to the fact that it’s hard to stop, because a driven person will not easily give up their drive.

St. Augustine also suggests that continuing to drive forward is so important, that if one were ever inclined to stop, it would be tantamount to being “lost”.

Goldilocks: Just Right

I think that I’ve found the “happy medium” for these ideas, and I’m kind of surprised that it was staring me in the face all along.

It isn’t a matter of Stopping one thing and Starting another.  In many ways they are the same “thing”, the drive.

What’s different is the focus, from the Having (the What, and How Much) to the Being (the for Whom, and How) related to transitioning it all to the next generation.

How Much is Enough for You?

The question about “how much” is of course a very personal, and everyone has a right to their own answer.

I encourage you to simply change your focus from accumulation to transition, and see how that fits.


* Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stolzfus

Click here to check out my guest Blog on Steve Legler's Website

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