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Senior Correspondent

The air was a little sultry when I lowered my window to give my name to the guard. One phone call later and the huge 15-foot, scrolled-metal gates opened to let me into the condo property. Lush landscaping dotted my route to the building where I had come to have dinner with some old friends, Phil and Elise.

They were here from Europe, enjoying the waterfront investment property they rent out by the week, mostly to other Europeans. But fewer of their countrymen are traveling because they’re panicked over the future of Europe … and of the Euro. So this year they had their choice of when to come enjoy the Florida sunshine.

And this year their son Jonathan wasn’t with them, so I asked how he was.

As expected, they said things were going really well. Jon had taken his wife and child up into the mountains skiing, for a well-deserved vacation. They were relaxing with other young couples in the family.

I remember him from his early teens. His parents and I did business together 20 years ago; in fact, they repped one of my lines in Europe. He came with them to Florida each year to visit his grandparents and I remember first meeting the pretty girl who would become his wife.

I also remember Jon talking about a concept he had for a business. He was getting out of college, just about the time his parents were thinking of selling their business and taking early retirement. They helped him get the concept off the ground.

Today his company offers mandatory training to most every major corporation in his country, both public and private. Phil explained proudly how he was now renting Jon the offices he and Elise had grown into years earlier, before selling the business. He talked about how his son had started at home too, working with his wife. How they needed to expand those offices now because the business was growing by leaps and bounds.

I said, “Jon’s such a natural. He moved into business ownership as if he had been trained for it all his life.” And he had been.

Jon watched his parents build their business from the house. When he was three or four, if they had a meeting at the bank, he went with them, taking his coloring books along but half listening to the conversation. Dinner table talk was peppered with shop talk. He heard what to do. And what not to do. No wonder he’s such a natural.

Today, despite the uncertainty in much of Europe, Jon’s business is blossoming. Profitably. He learned from his parents not to have a business with inventory, hence he trains trainers and offers training nationwide. (No inventory.)  He learned about cash flow, so instead of having to wait 30 or 60 days for payment, he factors his invoices at a 3 to 5 percent discount, but has his money before he even has to pay his trainers. And so on.

And his 6-year-old son is watching his parents grow their business, from a home-based start-up to a healthy enterprise.

Now, we don’t all have such perfect situations to model. But the lesson is that we do indeed model ourselves after our parents, either reflecting or rejecting what they did.

In my case, my father was extremely entrepreneurial, to the point of irresponsibility. He traveled incessantly, which made him an absentee father. He dragged us through high peaks of wealth and low valleys of being broke. Like a Pied Piper, he tried to convince us everything was okay. My mother, on the other hand, was the rock. She tried to hang on to her traditional role as wife and mother. But, when needed, she was the one who went out and worked to keep a roof over our heads and to keep us clothed and fed the best she could.

Curious how the four of us kids turned out.

My older sister married someone who would ensure she’d never have to live with the instability my mother did. My oldest brother reacted by working in global corporations where his rise to the top included long stints overseas, raising his kids much as we were raised, except with stability. My other brother identified most closely with my mother, and carefully invested his solid income from solid engineering jobs he did all over the world. All three made financial security their primary goal.

And I replicated my father to a tee. By 19 I was starting businesses, and let my insatiable curiosity take me from one thing to another. From one country to another. (Life was an adventure, right?) The biggest difference between us was that I never had children so any irresponsibility hurt no one but myself. But I certainly drank the Kool-Aid.

I had to hit the wall financially at 53 before I looked deeply at my patterns and recognized that they would never take me to a peaceful retirement. Instead, they’d keep me on the financial edge, as they did my father until he died at 63. I was living a hidden vow of loyalty to my father that was stronger than my good sense.

I invested the time and energy to thoroughly understand money, the role it plays in our lives, the influence our families play in our finances … and how we can change our trajectories.

So here’s my suggestion:

Take a moment to look honestly at where you stand financially. Then look at how you were raised. Revisit the role played by each parent and define how much you reflect or reject each one. Look at any hidden vows you may have made to be just like one parent … or never to be like another.

Be brave enough, if there is something you don’t like, to change it … regardless of whose feelings you think you might hurt.

You do not owe anyone a vow of loyalty to the point of putting your own financial peace of mind at risk. Your only vow of loyalty should be to yourself and to your loved ones … to provide the greatest amount of well being you can.

And remember one more thing: that does not necessarily mean tons of money. It means whatever “well-being” means to you.

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