Wednesday, July 5, 2006

How much is enough?

I work at Aspen Valley Hospital, where Ken Lay was pronounced dead earlier today. The media, which were already in town to cover the Aspen Ideas Festival, descended on the hospital in force. Wolf Blitzer from CNN was seen in the lobby. TV-station vans and cameras surrounded the building.

At one point early in the day, my duties took me past the morgue. I stopped and stared at the door, wondering if he was still in there, but I didn't dare check to see if it was locked. Instead I thought of the man behind the door and what his life must have been like.

At the peak of his career, Ken Lay was a very wealthy man. It was common knowledge that he owned four multi-million dollar houses in Aspen. This boggles my mind. Any one of the houses was big enough to put up the extended Lay family and several guests. So what were the other three for? To house staff? If so, the man was living large, extremely large. And I think that is what got him into the financial mess he ended up in, the one which ultimately contributed to his early death. When you're living the way he did, the money has got to flow at a tremendous rate just to maintain equilibrium. If that balance is upset and the money suddenly stops, what do you do? If you're Ken Lay, you don't scale back; you figure out ways, many of them fraudulent and illegal, to keep it all going until the inevitable crash.

What may have started out as simple greed grew over the years into something that was well beyond Ken Lay's control. I believe this is a common occurrence in modern society, where the gulf between the wealthy and the poor is every-widening. If you reach a point in your life where you have so much stuff and such a complicated life that you need to hire full-time staff to maintain it and organize it for you, then you are living too large. It is time to step back, realize how lucky you are, and start simplifying your life before it consumes you. It's too late for Ken Lay. May his life and death be a lesson to others.

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