Career | Mindset | Surprise Me | Wealth Creation

3 Really Wealthy Social Workers and 10 Lessons on How They Got Rich (+ Infographic)

There’s a far too common belief that social workers can’t be wealthy. And the worst part about that belief is that it’s usually social workers that perpetuate it.

There. I said it.

The truth is that not only are there social workers who make lots of money, but some are also even rich, rich, rich!  And the good news is that they used their social work skills – some of the very ones you have – to amass their fortunes and become famous in the process.

Now, whether or not you have aspirations for fame or fortune, the point is that we can all learn a thing or two from the social workers listed below, so let’s get to it.

Wealthy Social Worker Stedman Graham

Most people are defined by their titles, their cars, their house, where they came from, their color, their race, their religion. And so it’s up to you to take control of your own life and define you. As long as you understand who you are and you have a solid foundation of understanding what your talents are, what your skills are. – Stedman Graham

Before he was the recognizable companion of Oprah Winfrey, Steadman Graham received his BSW from Hardin-Simmons University and a master’s degree in education from Ball State.

While some people may think that he owes his success and wealth to his uber-successful companion, Mr. Graham was a successful businessman long before his relationship with Ms. Winfrey.

So how did he do it?

Lesson #1: Get Behind (or in front of) Your Cause or Passion

In an Interview with Mike Kiley Mr. Graham disclosed his personal challenges with insecurity and powerlessness.

[Growing up], I didn’t have anyone who said to me, `I’m going to stay with you every day and show you what educational values can do for you. I had the potential to do better, but I didn’t know that.

He went on to explain that at the time he didn’t believe that he had as much value as others because of his beliefs about race and his potential.

If I can translate what I have learned, particularly to African-Americans, to get them to realize it’s not about race, it’s not about black and white, it’s not about blaming anyone else, it’s not about victimization, it’s about taking control of your own life, changing the way you think, creating opportunities in excellence and improving the quality of your life and your family’s, I’ll have accomplished something. We are handicapped by our fears and that has held people back for years and years.

Mr. Graham got behind (or in front of) the effort to help others see the opportunities that he felt he had missed early in his life. He channeled his personal experiences, insights, and social work skills (of course) to create the brand that he is today.  Because of that he is a regularly sought after speaker and trainer and promotes the ideas of self-awareness, personal identity, and the importance of having a vision for one’s life.

Lesson #2: Surround Yourself With People Who Are Smarter Than You Are and Who Have Successfully Done What You Want to Do

A cursory study of Mr. Graham ‘s history will reveal that, although his claim to fame might be his relationship with Oprah Winfrey, it’s his mentor Bob Brown – a successful black businessman – whom he credits for putting him on the path of success.

Of his mentor he said, 

He’s in public relations and a multimillionaire. He was a special assistant to President Nixon. He’s basically my mentor. Because of him, I got to travel around the world and escort Mandela’s children down to South Africa when he was released from prison and have breakfast with Nelson Mandela. I got to visit the White House, meet the president. All this opened my eyes and was what I had been looking for. I was 37.

The lesson for Mr. Graham and for us is clear: if you want to become ultra wealthy you’ll have a much better chance when surrounded by those who are themselves – and it can happen at any age.

Even if you think that wealthy people are out of your physical reach, exposure to people who are even moderately more successful than you could help you to gain an advantage over your current situation.

Barring the above, there are plenty of books, blogs, and videos to immerse yourself with so that the mindset and the methods begin to seep into your soul.

Wealthy Social Worker Brené Brown

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.” -Brené Brown

Brené Brown is a social worker’s social worker.

Boasting not one, not two, but three degrees in Social Work, Brené has parlayed her area of focus into international renown and acclaim.

Her work in the areas of vulnerability, courage, worthiness, authenticity, and shame has been featured on global stages through her TED talks and in her books, CDs, and courses.

Her ability to command over $25,000 per appearance stems not only from her pioneering research but from her ability to leverage her knowledge to the masses.

So how did she get rich?

Lesson #3: Position Yourself

You’ll notice that more often than not Brené introduces herself as a researcher, not as a social worker.  There’s good mileage in that. Not only do organizations pay handsomely for research, being labeled as a “researcher” automatically entices people from all walks of life. When someone says, “I’m a researcher,” the obvious next question is, “What do you research?” This gives her the opportunity to talk about what she does which ultimately involves social work.

To follow Brené’s example, try on a different title from time to time and see how it lands with your audience.  While not everyone will connect value to the title of “Social Worker,” you may find that you get more mileage from titles like “Program Manager,” “Children’s Advocate,” or “Online Entrepreneur.”

Lesson #4: Package Your Product or Service

While most research sits on a shelf or gets buried in the volumes of professional journals, Brené has managed to package the insights from her research into consumer-friendly products accessible to the masses.

If you read any of her books you’ll notice that they’re mostly free from the usual academic jargon that is all-too-familiar within social work arenas and has translated it into useable advice and information for her audience. This way she’s been able to not only help many, many people but also monetize that service in the process.

Lesson #5: More About Positioning

It’s no accident that Brené’s work has received so much attention. The truth is, she’s not the first person to research the topics of shame, worthiness, and vulnerability…but she is the first one of them to align herself with Oprah Winfrey.

There is a real phenomenon called “The Oprah Effect” which looks at the remarkable effect that alignment with Oprah Winfrey has on one’s business and life. The Oprah Effect almost guarantees that the prepared person who is able to get noticed by Oprah gets noticed by the world. It’s no wonder, then, that Brené has found herself sitting pretty with the queen of talk herself. In fact, they’ve even joined forces to create an e-course called The Gifts of Imperfection.

And if that weren’t enough, Brené’s TED Talks have gained more than 20,000,000 (yes, that’s twenty million) views, making her one of the most watched TED speakers to date.

Last but not least, Brené’s website beautifully portrays her as an accomplished and influential leader, author and teacher. All of these actions have helped to position her as a person who can command a large audience and an even larger paycheck!

It’s not as difficult to follow Brené’s example as you might imagine. The key is to position yourself in a way that establishes credibility in the arena you want to also influence. It can be as simple as sharing a picture of you and a prominent person aligned with your audience, having an article you’ve written featured in a well-known publication, or ensuring that your online presence reflects a high level of professionalism. 

Lesson #6: Be Relatable

Boasting Texas roots that, no doubt, helped to shape her bold approach, Brené comes across like your no-nonsense friend that’ll give it to you straight, share from her own struggles, and always has your best interest at heart. 

Not only does Brené study shame, she shares her own struggles with it. Not only does she research vulnerability, she makes herself vulnerable. Not only does she preach authenticity, but her own authenticity shines through every interview she does. A core principle of marketing is that people buy things from those whom they know, like, and trust. Brené’s willingness to personalize her relationship with her research makes her highly relatable, likable, and trustworthy which ultimately translates into dollars and cents.

Brené inspires millions around the world to live genuinely and powerfully through vulnerability and wholeheartedness. What I appreciate so much about Brené is that she gives us permission to look at ourselves and believe that we are, as she puts it, ‘enough.’

Rich Social Worker Suze Orman

“People first, then money, then things.” – Suze Orman

It’s often a surprise when people find out that legendary fiscal guru Suze Orman is a trained social worker – it definitely was to me.

While it’s true that Suze has never held a social work post, it’s clear that much of her social work training has informed her approach to financial counsel for the masses. In fact, she holds no professional degree in financial management but has found a way to parlay her passion – helping people increase their wealth – into social work-worthy interventions, and all while building a fortune for herself.  Between her books, TV show, financial courses and now credit card, Suze has amassed a fortune in products, services, and endorsements.

So how did she get rich?

Lesson #7: Get Your Financial Education On

It’s no secret that Ms. Orman has a pretty good grasp on wealth creation and money management, but it wasn’t always that way.

In her mini-autobiography, she explains that when she entered the arena of wealth management at nearly 30 years of age she had to learn an entirely new discipline.

After having received a lump sum of money to start a restaurant, she was advised to open a money market account with Merrill Lynch. She not only followed this advice but during the months that followed she paid attention to what her investment broker was doing with her initial investment. She also read Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal for financial investment news and taped stocks and options prices to her bedroom walls.

Suze didn’t just take a cursory interest in money – she immersed herself in the world of wealth creation. And like any good scholar, she hasn’t stopped learning since.

Lesson #8: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Suze admits to feeling terrified when she began working as a broker at Merrill Lynch. Her new job exposed her to an entirely new world filled with words and concepts formerly inaccessible.

While it can be scary to move beyond what you’re familiar with, there are several user-friendly tools to help you gain confidence in the new world of wealth creation. Besides, the consequences of NOT stretching yourself beyond what you know just means more of the same. You’ll have to decide for yourself if where you are is where you want to stay.

Lesson #9: Keep Going, Keep Going, Keep Going

Prominent in the Suze Orman story is her drive for more; more experience, more knowledge, more exposure and, yes, more money.

While your aspirations are likely very different from Suze’s, the lesson is this: keep learning, keep dreaming, keep doing, and keep going for bigger and better things in your life. In the years following her hire at Merrill Lynch, Orman went on to become a Vice President (at another firm), a firm owner, a radio show host, an author, a guest on various TV programs, the host of her own TV show, and she hasn’t stopped expanding. You can check out to keep up with her latest ventures.

Lesson #10: Find More Ways to Help More People

If you’re looking for a more “social-worky” lesson in this post it is this: find more and more ways to help more and more people.

Suze  Orman has over 30 products and services on her blog alone to help people in various ways.  And guess what? The more people she helps, the more money she makes. Even if she’s not initially making a sale, the publicity and exposure from her charity ventures guarantee that she’ll gain followers and future customers for years to come.

So a good rule of thumb is this: [Tweet “The more people you can help, the more money you can make.”]

But that’s not even the best part, because for the social worker, the more money you can make, the more people you can help. Talk about your win-win situation!

Your Turn

Are you someone who has managed to monetize their message or do you know someone who has? What was the strategy and what was the outcome? Tell us about it in the comments section. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Happy landing!


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