Trauma and Business Empires: From Paris Hilton to Logan Roy

critical thinking money trauma Mar 27, 2023

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I took the last month off to travel a little and prepare my house for sale. Selling a house in a rollercoaster market brought up a lot of old memories about selling a home after the 2008 financial crash. As I had breakfast in my midtown New York City hotel and heard the Blackrock guys talking about the Silicon Valley Bank crash, it made me remember the personally traumatizing events surrounding 2008. I noted how it was colouring my thinking and preventing me from enjoying the moment or being rational. All of our lived experiences impact how we view current events and I had to make a concerted effort to recognize that my anxiety was not stemming from real events (my home sold easily the week I returned) but rather from memories in the past. This allowed me to get into my critical thinking brain. 

Traumatic experiences can shape the way we interact with the world and influence our decisions at work. It does not always have to be bad, although it can be. I wanted to explore how trauma and business thinking intersect in HBO's Succession which kicked off season four last night (no spoilers, I promise) and in Paris Hilton's recently released memoir. 

As you likely know, Succession follows the lives of Logan Roy, a King Lear figure and CEO of Waystar Royco, and his adult children. Throughout the series, we see how Logan's past traumas have shaped his personal and professional behaviour. 

Logan's father was an abusive alcoholic. His childhood has left Logan with deep physical and emotional scars that he carries with him into his adult life. He is critical and distant with his children, and his leadership style is characterized by ruthlessness and a lack of empathy. He traumatizes almost everyone with whom he interacts, both personally and professionally. 

Through Logan and his relationship with this his children and employees, we can see how trauma can lead to a sense of distrust and an inability to form healthy relationships with others. It can also lead to a desire for control and power as a means of protecting oneself from further harm. We see the family make trauma-driven business decisions, leaving the company and subjecting employees to abuse and other forms of harm. 

I once worked with a similar family and while the scenarios are built for entertainment, they do not seem wrong. Trauma, unless healed and addressed can wreak havoc on a family and a company. 

Paris Hilton's memoir is also about personal trauma and its impact on business. Like Logan, Paris's trauma has also played a role in shaping her career. But in her case, it has had a more positive impact. 

Paris's traumatic experiences stem from her childhood. She has spoken publicly about the emotional and physical abuse she suffered while attending a boarding school for troubled teens. These experiences left her with deep emotional scars, and she has credited her business success as a means of coping with her trauma.

While she was locked in the world, experiencing life's ugliness, she dreamt of a world of fashion, beauty, fragrance, music, and art. She derived comfort from the vision of a beautiful future and that helped her endure the abuse. She also made a commitment that she'd be financially successful so she never feels powerless again. That's the only place where her trauma impacted her business in a similar way to Logan. Trauma survivors seek control and independence and this often shows up at work. 

HBO's Succession and Paris Hilton's business ventures illustrate how deeply embedded trauma can be in our personal and professional lives. Trauma can shape the way we think, feel, and behave, and it can influence our decision-making processes in profound ways. Whether we are media moguls, celebrity entrepreneurs, business owners, HR leaders, or frontline staff, our experiences with trauma will impact how we work.

As an HR professional or business owner, having an awareness of your own trauma and how it shows up at work can help you create a safe space for others. When you are healing from your own trauma, you can then be in a place to help others with theirs. Breathe, take care of yourself physically, and recognize when you might not be in your prefrontal cortex making rational business decisions and need to take a moment to recharge. Trauma is part of being human but you have a choice in how you handle it at work. You can be like Logan and spread the trauma to everyone around you, or you can focus on healing and use your trauma to build something beautiful. 

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