Confessions of an Overnight Millionaire

“I constantly ask myself, Do I deserve this money?

Animation: QuickHoney
Animation: QuickHoney

Since July 2020, nearly 750 companies have gone public, raising more than $200 billion and minting thousands of new paper millionaires. Amid the frenzy, one millennial tech worker on the verge of unexpected wealth shared what was going through her mind.

When I joined my company, I theoretically knew there were only two exit paths — an acquisition or an IPO. And a third, where the company implodes, like WeWork, but you’re hoping for one of the first two. I didn’t really think about it when I signed on. I thought that I’d make a little bit from an IPO, maybe $200,000. You don’t think much about $200,000; it’s not life-changing. After I joined, people would say things like, “I think I’ll retire off this money.” I thought they were delusional. Then, last year, a friend called and said, “Are you ready to be a millionaire? Check the news.” That’s how I learned my company was IPO-ing. I had no idea. I would be making north of $6 million.

It’s not purely a celebratory time. It’s a stressful time, too, because of the constant decisions. The amount of money is so large that if I make a 5 percent fuckup, that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I’ve been interviewing wealth managers, and honestly I couldn’t be less impressed. If I were a wealth manager, I’m exactly the client I would want. I’m young, and I could be a client for 50 years. So these people should be thirsty, but they’re not. The wealth-management firms are old school — I don’t think they’re designed for people like me. I was video-chatting with one guy, and he didn’t know how to do a screen-share properly, so he was showing his entire screen, including windows that I probably shouldn’t have seen. And I was like, I’m going to trust you to oversee my millions? I was asking another, “How do you evaluate a tech stock?” You can’t just look at the financials — you have to look at the market, how the technology is unique. There’s a lot of industry understanding they lack. They’re using principles from the 1990s.

There are things that rich people do, and hiring someone to manage your money is one of them. I’m wondering, Is this something rich people do because other rich people are doing it? Is this industry a farce?

The money is and isn’t life-changing. At this point in my life, nothing is going to change. What would I do differently? I’m only having as much fun as my peers are. I don’t know why I would buy a Tesla, which is the common reaction people have. I don’t want to buy a house. San Francisco feels like it has peaked and is going downward. I walk my dogs at 10 p.m., and I don’t feel fully safe, and I think that’s unsustainable.

I’m not a generous person; I’m incredibly frugal. Now, my floodgates of generosity can finally open. My sister’s love language is gift-receiving, so I got her a candle from a local boutique. The shipping cost $10. Normally, I wouldn’t pay to ship, but now I’m like, No matter. I’ll pay the $10. It’s been a lot of minor expenses. Like, I bought a boutique cheese from the farmers’ market for $15. Before, I’d be like, That’s a ridiculous amount to spend on cheese. I don’t even like cheese that much.

I’d say my dogs’ lifestyle has changed more than mine. They’ve gotten a food upgrade, a special prescription diet that’s low sodium. It’s $70 a bag. The average pet food at the supermarket is $15. And they’re on supplements: a fish oil, a probiotic, one for joint health. This all happened recently.

My dogs are also getting dentalwork — they need to have some rotting teeth extracted. I’m going to a place with a pet anesthesiologist, and it could cost around $10,000. I think if this windfall hadn’t happened, I would’ve still sprung for the operation. But would I have done it at the premier dental clinic for dogs? I probably would’ve explored my options more. The dogs are also going to see a cardiologist, and the cost is going to be in the thousands. So they’re seeing three doctors for dogs, which is more doctors than I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’ve always had a sense, since I was young, that I would have kids in a less traditional manner. In high school, I was diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance that makes it harder to get pregnant. Since then, freezing my eggs has been in the back of my mind. Before the IPO, I thought, I’ll wait until I’m older — it’s kind of a big to-do. That combined with the cost: The first round will be $15,000, and I’d want to do multiple rounds. But recently, I started to do the math and thought, Why wait if I can afford it now?

For me, the whole thing about the money is that I just want to afford the lifestyle I grew up with. I grew up in a wealthy town. When I was very young, my best friend’s parents got divorced. The mom had never worked; the dad worked in banking but blew all his money. And the mom relied on the dad, so her grandparents were literally paying for their groceries. That freaked me out. Then, in 2008, my parents announced their divorce to us, and two months later the market crashed. So, for me, this idea of financial dependency is so tied to the idea of being in a relationship. Being dependent on someone financially is my biggest fear. With the IPO, I realized: My worst fear is not possible now. It’s the most liberating thing. I haven’t fully internalized it.

We grow up hearing about this linear process where you meet someone, get engaged, marry, and raise two kids together. Because of my parents’ divorce, I never felt like I needed to be with a partner to have kids. But financially, it would’ve been a huge burden to support children in the Bay Area, even with my current salary. Now I can maintain exactly the same lifestyle I grew up with, without a partner in the equation at all. That’s what the egg freezing is about: I might decide to have kids in my mid-30s, and I can be who knows where in different relationships. Maybe I don’t have one, maybe I’m in one, but I can separate the idea of a family from the idea of a relationship.

When it comes to dating, I’ve always been pedigree-focused. I’ve been obsessed with men who are smarter than me. (Even when I was younger, at sleepaway camp, I was fixated on the boys who went to the magnet public schools, because I knew they were hard to get into.) Part of it comes from an obsession that my kid has to be intelligent, but part of it is about earning potential, because smart men tend to earn a lot of money. I see my friends who are in these relationships where both people make more than $200,000. No kids and $400,000 combined? That’s a great lifestyle. So it’s always been in the back of my mind that I want somebody who’ll match me in income. But I have an extremely complicated relationship with it. I don’t want them to earn more than me, because then they’ll have more power, but if they earn less, I won’t be able to afford the life I grew up with. Basically, there was no amount they could’ve earned that wouldn’t have made me feel uncomfortable except exactly the same amount as me.

But now, even if they have more money than me, who cares? After a certain million-dollar mark, nobody is getting competitive. So at either end of the spectrum, I’m going to have the power, financially. Now, I can see myself dating someone who makes much less. I want to focus on their values. When I’m on the apps, I’ve been trying to change my habits. Easier said than done, though. I’m going to therapy to work on it.

Recently, I went on a date with a guy. He asked me where I worked, and I told him, and he said, “You’re going to be rich.” I didn’t know how to respond. I was like, “Yeah.” Sometimes I think about the guy I lost my virginity to, and I think about telling him how much money I have. I think it would feel wonderful.

My job, it’s all narrative. I don’t build anything. I don’t do any math equations. I’m corralling a bunch of pieces together, so in reality I’m doing everything and I’m doing nothing. It’s all about the perception of how you’re doing. It’s very intangible. So I constantly ask myself, Do I deserve this money? Why would I deserve this? It’s not necessarily an accomplishment to become rich from your company doing an IPO. It’s luck — I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It’s not like I’m any smarter than the tens of thousands of people who have my job at other companies.

To me, there’s no option but to give the money back. Being a tech worker is not like banking, where you know you’re not doing good for society. A lot of tech workers delude themselves into thinking they’re being “mission oriented.” I was never quite delusional enough to believe that. I was just hoping I didn’t do net harm, which in itself is hard to avoid in this industry. I want to spend and donate as much as I can in my lifetime, and if I’m able to have the money create meaning, that’d be good. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it yet, though.

I’ve been thinking about how I don’t want my future kids to have so much money that they think they have money. When I was in high school, there were a lot of lawyers’ and doctors’ children — people who came from comfortable levels of wealth, but nobody was counting on their family’s money. By the time my youngest sibling went to my school, half of the kids came from hedge-fund and private-equity money. That grade was intensely materialistic. On top of all this, my parents always told us that we were middle class, and I truly thought we were. Both of my parents worked really hard — my mom more than my dad in terms of raw hours. It was never a question to me whether I was going to have to work hard to earn my own money.

For my kids, I’ll pay for whatever education they need, and that’s it. If I allow my kids to take my funds, it’s literally giving them a free pass. And it’s not good for society because you’re keeping the wealth in a bloodline. It would be like reverse reparations. And when I think about inherited wealth, I also think, Why would I waste it on a future where I don’t even know what it looks like? Some of my first memories are 9/11, then the economic recession, then global warming and Trump’s presidency. Our generation has seen a lot of crises. It’s hard to imagine what world my inheritance would even go to. Are my kids living in coastal cities? Are coastal cities habitable? Is traditional money even a thing? We’re 30 years away from a full-blown climate crisis. It all feels a bit pre-apocalyptic.

I’m not a private person, but this money feels offensive to talk about with other people. My roommate does much more noble work — he works in health care — and his job doesn’t have windfall potential. He’ll say, “I’m never going to be that rich.” He would never bring that up except when I talk about how I’m becoming rich.

But it’s hard for me not to talk about it because it is on my mind. My dad said, “You don’t know how your friends are going to look at you, so don’t talk about it with them.” He also said, “Don’t talk about it with these relatives or your siblings; you don’t want them to feel insecure.” My mom has gotten bitter. She said, “You’re going to have more money than your dad and I combined, and we’ve worked all our lives.”

In my cohort at work, we’re all becoming rich. I was telling my friend, It feels like we’re all in this secret porno together. You all know you’re in it, but it’s not appropriate to talk about. People fall into two camps, I’ve noticed. There are people who don’t know what they’re doing but feel very excited. And there are people who feel like they don’t know what they’re doing with the money, and what the money means, and they’re encompassed by anxiety. They don’t realize that nobody else knows what they’re doing either.

I have not heard of anyone going ham. This is a new, new generation of money. We all grew up in the recession, and people are freaked out by the pandemic — everyone knows someone who lost their job. We’re the first generation in a long time that will have an average net worth less than our parents’. So even if you’re doing really well, it’s much more in your face, the distance you can fall. I think about Yahoo constantly. Yahoo in the ’90s was the darling company, and now I don’t know if it exists. Netscape is another example. AOL. There are so many businesses that don’t exist or are worthless. It would be disastrous to frivolously spend this money; it would be assuming it’s going to keep coming.

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