For the Love of Money: My Reflections on the New York Times Article

I read Sam Polk’s recent op-ed in the New York Times with great interest.

His account of life as a former hedge fund manager and story of addiction are riveting. And although very personal, he effectively uses his words to raise some universal, multi-layered questions about money, wealth, and our collective relationship to both.

In the days since the publication of “For the Love of Money,” I’ve had a chance to hear an interview of Mr. Polk on NPRs “The Takeaway” and read others’ reaction to his piece.

That’s when the emotion (dare I say, anger) set in.

Not Everyone on Wall Street is a Greedy Villain…or Spiritually Lost

While I’ve never worked as a trader, I’ve only ever worked in this space we call “Wall Street.” I know people making the salaries he describes in his piece. The ones I know well; the ones with whom I’ve shared holidays are not like the empty souls he described. They are generous, considerate and very philanthropic.

Painting this broad-brush stroke is one sentiment that didn’t sit well with me.

When are we going to elevate the conversation beyond “us” vs. “them” or “Main Street” vs. “Wall Street”?

Until Mr. Polk’s article, I had never heard the term “wealth addiction.” The parallels he draws between it and other addictions are fascinating and I’d like to learn more. But here’s where he introduced another sentiment that didn’t jive with me, and that is this notion that money makes you something or someone you aren’t. Nah…money just amplifies who you are at your core.

If you’re not a humble person; if you feel entitled and are self-absorbed, selfish, greedy, and inconsiderate when you have money, you’re likely to be the same without it! You’re just a broke jerk, instead of a rich one.

Wrong Focus Leads to Missed Lesson

JmT-NYTJan192014The statement in Mr. Polk’s article that was the most vulnerable for him to share, in my opinion, took my breath away: “…Because of how smart and successful I was, it was someone else’s job to make me happy.”

It also happens to be the third thing that rankled my feathers.

I wasn’t upset with what he said. Rather, I was pissed that folks – as best I could tell from the comments and the questions asked of him on-air – were too eager to play up the whole, “love of money is the root of all evil” angle of his experience.

They didn’t read between the lines and, therefore, totally missed a key message from Mr. Polk’s story: what goes awry when you abdicate your power.

As soon as you begin thinking along the lines of ‘it is someone or something else’s job to make you (happy, complete, or fill in the blank)‘ – baby, you’ve entered dangerous territory.

My coaching clients hear it from me all the time, “outsource, but don’t abdicate.” Usually, I am saying this in response to a particular task they aren’t doing, but should, or a decision they need to make but would prefer someone else did it for them instead.

Abdication (of any sort) can sabotage your success – financial or otherwise.

Sam Polk first abdicated his power to drugs and alcohol and then to money. The accounting of his experience serves as yet another reminder of what happens when your self-identity and self-worth are wrapped up in external factors. Likewise, his story reminds us that whether it pertains to your money or your happiness, whenever you defer that responsibility to someone else (or something else), as if you don’t play a role at all, you’re screwed!

Don’t be screwed.

p.s. our next virtual event is Wednesday, January 29th at 8pm ET – “Food & Money: What Every Dieter & Budgeter Get Wrong, But Need to Get Right. Mark your calendars now – registration form is forthcoming.

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