It’s true that the best CEOs among us make far more money today than they did 50 years ago. It is a global market now, and the opportunities are much greater for everyone today. In 2020, a CEO of a top 350 company in the US was paid an average of $24.2 million, including all options that were redeemed in that year.
However, the best actors, musicians, and athletes earned more, much more. In 2021, the average salary for a top 10 actor was $29 million, a top 10 musician $230 million, and a top 50 athlete $280 million! The career choice and sacrifice required to become a top-tier actor, musician, athlete, or businessman in society means that very few make it to the end. Nobody gets to the top for free. However, the opportunity is there for everyone.
It helps if your parents are already established. In sports, Brett Hull was the son of Bobby Hull, Stephen Curry is the son of Dell Curry, and Payton and Eli Manning were the sons of Archie Manning. It also happens to actors. Dakota Johnson’s parents were Don Johnson and Melanie Griffiths, Emilio Estevez, and Charlie Sheen’s father is Martin Sheen, Angelina Jolie’s father is Jon Voight, both Oscar winners. Music can also be a family business. Jakob Dylan followed in his father’s footsteps, as did Carnie and Wendy Wilson, and Julian and Sean Lennon.
“Wealth is not an end of life but an instrument of life.” –Henry Ward Beecher
You can see a pattern here. What we are exposed to growing up can influence the possibilities and opportunities for us as adults. My uncle was a doctor and so are two of his sons, and so are some of his sons. Many children follow in the footsteps of their parents, but this is the exception, not the rule.
Most of the CEOs, entrepreneurs, actors, musicians, and athletes who rose to the top did not come from a privileged families. Coming from privilege can be a burden for the next generation. For a 26-year-old young adult with upper-middle-class parents, the odds of being diagnosed with drug or alcohol addiction are two to three times higher than national rates in the United States.
The truth is that anyone can become a millionaire or even a billionaire. In my native Canada, two-thirds of our millionaires are self-made. Nearly half were immigrants or first-generation Canadians. According to Forbes, 70 percent of the 400 richest people in the United States bjj from scratch during their lifetime. In doing so, they created much prosperity for those around them.
It’s also true for other people who have worked hard to harness their talents at the top of their profession. Sean Combs is worth $885 million in 2021. Coming from Harlem, he first earned money to buy sneakers on a paper route. LeBron James lived with four generations of his family in a single-family home near downtown Akron. Now it’s worth $500 million. JK Rowling, now a billionaire, was raising a daughter on public assistance while she was writing the first Harry Potter book in 1994.
Who is helping to increase the wealth of these CEOs, athletes, actors, musicians, and celebrities? You are, and you get value in return. Every time you make a call on your iPhone, Google a place to eat, post a picture of your dog on Instagram, watch the Super Bowl, or listen to a hit song on Spotify, you’re enjoying the work of talented, hard-working people. It even helped the top 10 YouTubers average over $30 million each in 2021.
It is not a crime to earn money in exchange for value. It is everywhere in society, and what the rich earn helps the pie grow, not shrink. On average, people were many times poorer in the past than they are today. If we compare the economic prosperity of each region today with any time before, we see that each is richer than ever before in its history.
The opportunity to be better at what you do exists for everyone. For a few, they will go so far as to become the best among us. We should celebrate the work and effort they put into their success, and celebrate how far we’ve come in all classes, too.