As a Mormon, I grew up believing that all good comes from God and that knowledge and art are inspired by the Holy Spirit through worthy humans. The best way to be successful in life was to be a valiant Mormon. This belief took a hit when I was old enough to read biographies of artists, scientists, and national and world leaders.
Recently, while reading a New Yorker piece about Dasha Zhukova, the girlfriend of a Russian oligarch, I was reminded of the role money, native intelligence, and opportunities play in success. Zhukova has founded an art venue in Moscow, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, to promote innovative art. Although young, beautiful and the cause of her billionaire boyfriend’s divorce, Zhukova does not fit the stereotypical notion of a mistress—Russian oligarchs apparently having moved beyond gum-chewing blondes to warm their beds.
Zhukova comes from a wealthy, intellectual, and influential Russian family. Her mother is a molecular biologist and her father an entrepreneur. She grew up in Los Angeles, received an excellent education in the US and London, and enjoyed international cultural opportunities with influential people. A capable manager, Zhukova uses her guy’s money to promote the arts and education in Russia. I doubt many young women from working-class families have the chutzpah and the know-how to successfully conceive and carry out a project on the scale of Moscow’s Garage Center.
Reading about Zhukova made me reflect on the successful people I know (successful on a much smaller scale, of course.) Very few successful and influential people in modern times come from deprived or even lower middle-class backgrounds. Contemporary studies link a person’s chances of financial success to the financial status of their parents. Most of the creative people I know come from families who were creative or associated with creative people.
While I don’t advocate the lifestyle of Zhukova and friend, clearly this couple has an impact on their country. Personal righteousness does not appear to play a large part in attaining affluence or influence in the world. Certainly, we have prominent Mormons like Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, Jr. playing a role in national politics, but would clean living have been enough if these men had lacked the advantages of family fortune and connections?
Character counts in achieving success, but above average intelligence, excellent education, and connections to influential people play a major role. Maybe parents who want to raise successful children should concentrate on their own education, achievements, and sphere of influence.