How to Overcome COO (Child of Owner) Syndrome

  • January 8, 2019

We all have that friend—he or she has that dream life we all want. All they do is party, eat at the best places, travel the world, and take gorgeous photographs of their latest #OOTDs and #HypeBeast purchases. They never seem to be working like the rest of us. Their only job is to have a good time, and show everybody what fabulous lives they lead. When asked what they do for an actual living, they usually say that they are between jobs, “resting” after getting their diploma, or come up with quick answers like, “I’m a lifestyle blogger!” The truth is, we all know why they don’t work. They are rich kids with COO (Child of Owner) Syndrome, a rare breed who enjoys their designer clothing, love the #blessed hashtag, and have no particular career in mind.

For the rich COO kids, sometimes life is difficult. They are often going through an identity crisis. Life has afforded them all the luxuries since birth, so they don’t know what it feels like to work for something really hard. It’s not their fault, really, and it’s quite sad when you really think about it. You have somebody who is afforded the best of everything—top connections, a quality education, all the resources at their disposal—and yet, they don’t know what to do with it. Enter: social media. The COO Kids can Instagram all their riches, and they’ll instantly become “Instafamous”. There’s nothing wrong with becoming a lifestyle blogger. Many of those who do it in the Philippines are actually very good and informative. But those guys worked for it. COO Kids who are “lifestyle bloggers” are often those who just boast their wealth online (and they’re doing it with their parent’s credit cards!).

I was curious about the life of the COO Kid, so I began investigating. I couldn’t ask questions to those I thought actually have the syndrome, because of fear of offending them. Instead, I interviewed kids with wealthy business owner parents, who instead of living the ultra glamorous Instagram lifestyle opted to pursue a career. Please note, some of these kids work for their family businesses (I will specify when they do). I debated whether or not I should include them in this essay, but I realized I should. Why would I exclude them just because they are heirs to businesses and companies? It’s their birth right, and at least they are working hard, and earning their inheritance. I asked them: How did you avoid or overcome the COO syndrome?

At one point in Gossip Girl, Blaire Waldford (played by Leighton Meester) was living the life of a kid with COO Syndrome
At one point in TV series Gossip Girl, Blair Waldorf (played by Leighton Meester) was living the life of a kid with COO Syndrome

Go Your Own Way

I spoke to a young woman who has a father working as the president of a huge company, and whose mother is a business owner (she doesn’t only own a clothing manufacturing company, but also does real estate—I remember a few years ago, she sold an entire island!). Instead of helping her mother, she opted to work in a corporate position for a beauty company. “I think the first step to overcoming the COO Syndrome is to have the drive to accomplish something for yourself,” she shared. “I chose to work because I did not want to rely on my parents’ careers and wealth, and I also wanted to start a career for myself. I wanted to learn and to grow as a person in the industry that I loved. Starting from the bottom, I was able to learn and gain experiences which money or connections could never buy. These experiences are what help me grow my career slowly but surely and hopefully it will help me become a credible leader to a team someday.”

Similar as the girl above, a young man who owns a digital marketing company stressed that he wanted to have his “own thing.” He also stated that he didn’t want people to think that he was spending money that wasn’t his. “That’s their money and they can do what they want with it,” he said. “I can’t demand it be given to me or act like I spend it. I’d rather make my own and build my own career so I can have my own millions to spend. I know it’s their money and not mine. So I made my own. I think it’s that simple.”

The Right Environment 

Some of the young people I spoke to credit their parents for raising them in the right environments. “First of all, I didn’t even try to overcoming the COO Syndrome,” said a young Chinese girl whose parents own multiple enterprises. “My environment just naturally raised me to be productive and purposeful. It’s a lot of factors actually. Even if my parents always made me feel like I have some wealth to rely on, you know for a fact they’d look down on you if were just a bum.”

“There’s an old saying, “children don’t follow what parents say, they follow what they do”, and since my parents are very balanced individuals who choose to work and spend time with the family, and we grew up the same,” she continued. “In addition, my parents are also supportive in encouraging me to pursuing my passion, so I never thought about just staying at home and just lounging around, I just kept doing my best in what interests me and the opportunities just keep coming.” This interviewee finished school with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, earned her Master’s Degree abroad, and now works for the government—a far cry to the glamorous hotels her parents own.

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Kids with COO Syndrome are born with a silver spoon in their mouth
Kids with COO Syndrome are born with a silver spoon in their mouth

Proving a Point

On the other hand, a young attorney told me that when she decided to study law, her dad (who is a celebrity lawyer) instantly told her that she was the heir to their family law firm. “When I was younger, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be involved with the firm. But eventually, I started feeling that being in the business was all I could see myself doing. It’s because I was exposed to it and it really influenced me. My parents never forced me. In fact, they often reminded me that I didn’t need to feel pressured to enter it.”

Sometimes, the kid who avoided the COO Syndrome did it out of necessity. A 20-something business owner told me that she opened her business to prove a point. Her parents always thought her as shallow and incapable that she decided to build everything from the ground up. When starting out, harsh words strained her relationship with her parents. She moved out and lived in a small apartment, saving every penny from a day job to open a fascinating, new idea. She succeeded, and now it’s one of the most thriving businesses in the central business district. Curious? I can’t and won’t tell! I made a promise not to reveal who she is.

A young man, a friend of mine, also shared his story, having become successful to prove a point as well. “Growing up the youngest and knowing that I was queer since I was five years old, and living in a conservative Chinese family, reality opened my eyes that equality is never going to happen. There will always be favoritism and personal biases. I knew I that I will never work for my parents. Ever since I was high school, I was constantly thinking of business ideas. I opened a leather shoe brand, and then a food cart franchise in college, until I got my jackpot idea. The hard work came when I had to execute it.”

When he told his parents his “jackpot” idea, they told him that he was never going to make. He didn’t listen and continued to pursue it. Today, his product can be found in numerous groceries and specialty stores across the Philippines. “Earning your own money is very empowering. You don’t need outside validation, because you yourself should know that you have what it takes to make it,” he said with a smile on his face.

Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass is a good example of a character who overcame COO Syndrome
Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass is a good example of a character who overcame COO Syndrome

Work Now, Enjoy Later 

If I continue sharing these stories, I could go on forever. It was a nice little experiment to see how young people avoided the COO Syndrome. Success stories are always very inspiring because everybody has a different story to tell. Now, what is my conclusion with all of this? THE COO SYNDROME CAN ACTUALLY BE BEATEN. All it takes is the proper mindset, hard work, passion and a little bit of grit. So if you’re a kid with COO Syndrome and you’re reading this, remember, you’re very young and very blessed. You have everything to make it happen for yourself. You’re luckier than most the population. If your parents disapprove, use your quality education and get creative. Tap your friends for help—maximize your connections. Live humbly until you earn that first million. Nothing in life is easy for anyone, so start now, and be happy later.

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