WWL>Topics>>2-3 2:10pm Angela, Are we addicted to wealth?

2-3 2:10pm Angela, Are we addicted to wealth?

Feb 3, 2014|

Can you imagine being thrilled about a $40,000 bonus and just a few years later being disappointed that your bonus was only $3.6 million??? Our Guest: Sam Polk…a hedge fund trader says as his salary, bonuses and accumulated wealth grew…he grew more and more empty and unhappy. When is enough, enough? How much is too much? Can you ever imagine feeling trapped by wealth? Sam Polk had an epiphany. Maybe his will inspire one for you. Do you think being wealthy would bring you happiness?

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

If you believe addiction to drugs or alcohol or gambling or food is real. The do you believe there could be an addiction to wealth. And addiction to making money. Sample dies. He went to Wall Street at the age 22. -- first bonus was 40000 dollars. At age thirty his bonus was three point six million and he was angry it wasn't big enough she was hooked. Have you ever felt that way or thought someone you know might be addicted to money. The annual truly be interested in our next hour as we talked to Sam poke. Former Wall Street hedge fund trader now founder of the nonprofit fighting hunger in America. Thank you stand very very much for joining us. And so it's an honor to be here thank you so much. I really meant what I said job before it went on I was reading my New York Times once Sunday. I read the entire article. My mind was just blown. And I thought won a very interesting thought which frankly had never thought of that one could be addicted. But also for your unbelievable honesty. In that article concerning your life. But you feel you were addicted to money wealth. -- and look let me just say from the beginning -- I'm not a scientist not a doctor or call him as a guy who had some experiences in nineteen agent early. Twenty's where I was addicted to alcohol and drugs and I ended up getting sober from those rights right about the moment when I started on Wall Street. And over the years I was on Wall Street I came to see. Is that the way I felt about money and power which was a there was never enough. And be that I was sort of using it to sort of -- need to make myself feel better about myself. And that seemed really similar to what -- been doing with alcohol and drugs in my twenties. You know you were not really an exceptional kid and then you went to Columbia. No small schools there and and yet you came from relatively a simple means. Yeah you know I have this. Sort of interest things story where I was. I grew up in a family where we live paycheck to paycheck a lot we can have a lot saved games there wasn't enough stuff to buy you know baseball cleats and stuff like that. So relatively modest. On the other hand. And I also grew up a white kid in America in a two family homes that living in the suburbs. So. I would -- came from -- didn't have enough but in the same token I came from the feeling that had a tremendous amount of privilege. Very interesting to say that which you go to Columbia and you again in this article very open about your drug use. And alcohol and and what we're aspiring to go to Wall Street and you get there -- the first -- did the intern -- and that was IE open. Yeah I mean -- let me first say when I got to Colombia I felt completely unprepared. For sort of how to exist in the world and it was one of those things you know growing up. He that you think that your and we sort of normal and then I got to Colombia and I started to kind of realize that I had not been sort of prepared to be out in the real world and one of the things I mean by that is that my family. Is not a war room in the world by any means my mom and dad both did a great job on a lot of levels. But one area that they didn't do great job lies within their camper and they've both had these. Explosive. Tempers that would send them into region that was. Terrifying as a kid and so I sort of grew up. Sort of super afraid very insecure. When somebody would move near me I would flinch and that sort of thing. And so that sort of nervous insecure kid to when he found and I found alcohol and -- this it was like my savior. And and yet it didn't stop you from doing getting good enough grades to get this in -- ship -- did get in trouble until. And started cutting to the chase with this you did get in trouble and -- -- we kicked out of school or you -- Suspended from school for a burglary. -- arrested twice sorority for this fighting I was sort of this kid who you know I I -- -- Inside it felt so afraid and scared. But my full attention was focused on creating an outside in the exterior. Image that was tough. And unafraid. And powerful and so you know when I was in college. You know when people would pick on me or -- -- in the fight you know I would give and so many fights because you know I'm terrified of getting in fights. I still wanted to prove to everybody that I was scared. So you when you finally do. Apply for a job biggest omitted the fact that you didn't. Gotten into trouble. Yeah I -- in fact that article was probably the first time most of the people who hired had ever heard of that. Well. You have since moved on but we're gonna we're gonna go back to Wall Street because I think this is the essence of what you talking about. First of all I would like to ask after the article was published where you are so bolt. In your comments. About what's going on on Wall Street. You know greed doesn't even begin to have to say the word. Did you get a lot of response. I mean the response has been. -- reward is staggering. And I mean I was completely and prepared for and so I've gotten. Thousands if not tens of thousands of personal emails from people on top of that there's -- and I mean I would guess you know upwards of forty -- fifty media requests you know -- on The Today Show and you know. And it's it would it would I think -- like I rarely do you think and by the way you know I'm sort of it has surprises anybody but I and didn't mind my. -- -- -- You know the generic -- New York Times email address so it was electing new anybody had any sort of understanding that they were gonna put it on the front page of the Sunday review -- the ways that they did. The Whitney did that if he -- such sort of illumination of the importance of the articles that. I think the sort of response -- them -- overwhelming. Well for those many of us who were not in the financial world I think it took and and may -- him and speaking for too many women speak for myself. I think it took the the crash. Of 0809. For me to realize that these extraordinary. Bonuses that are given. On Wall Street the incredible salaries. On Wall Street it seemed. Very skewed. And I speak as a very proud capitalist. I do believe in in the system. But I think that were out of whack. And so it all of a sudden was very heightened. -- story. Illustrated. One person's. Experience or view of it. Of you going as a young man ride out a college he get that first bonus 40000 the most probably never seen. 40000 dollars you're thrilled and within a relatively short period of time the three and a half million isn't enough. Wolf for me it sort of in the other it was all about perspective. Meaning that. You know when I was on Wall Street you know by the time I was 25 -- go to any restaurant in this city that I wanted to it many times have -- paid for. I can go to the World Series just by calling somebody -- thing I was interest in tickets. -- whenever I would fly in from the business stripped of Libya black or waiting for me with my name on the window. I mean there was so much sort of power that I experienced and young man that was really. Attractive. At the same time. You know I really did sort of like condi. Experience what you sort of talk about which is that the truth was I found myself in this. System that was paying people in finance weighty. Greater percentages than they have ever compete before. But when I was in the system it would sort of -- -- that was perspective. And what I mean is that you know. But four years after a certain -- Wall Street I was offered a contract that guaranteed me one point 75 million for two years. And do they were still part of it felt like that wasn't enough and I know it sounds crazy to everybody even me. At the same time I would -- it sitting next to people that were making ten million dollars. And so with this sort of -- a lack of perspective. And the whole thing in my article is about. Is about. Opening up my perspective about. You know what I full circuit when I was on Wall Street I thought that whether I got paid 1000002 million was so important. And it was only with the help a bit of -- counselor concerted working with need to kind of open up my thinking that I came to understand. Frankly just how crazy that was and just how ridiculous that -- that to me. It was so important whether I'm in all this money. Instead of being aware that you know 9095%. Of the world lives you know hours 75% of the world does paycheck to paycheck insult people out there are struggling with. Real things. Whether hunger whether it's a Serb breathing need whether it's Madison that they need and my issues. We're so minimal but they felt so real. I want everyone to stay with this we're gonna talk -- continue. I think a fascinating discussion. With the man who police say survive Wall Street. And we're gonna talk specifically how he sees wealth addiction right after this financial on WW well. Well Sam Polk wrote an article -- incredible article for the New York Times several weeks ago. Talking about his journey through Wall Street and what he calls an addiction to wealth. And I guess at what point did you realize. You know a lot this isn't just wanting to be successful there's nothing the matter with the going to be successful. There's nothing the matter with wanting to make a lot of money. But you're saying there's this step beyond. Yeah I mean each time I received a bone. I would think I would get this Russia you know endorphins or whatever and feel like what it is great but at the same time I would also think. Oh god this is -- enough. Like some of them and have enough condenses into. And I do want to step back in today you know should show a little bit more about my story that I think illuminates what happened and that is that. You know my first month on Wall Street and started working with a counselor is right -- I got -- from drug and alcohol. And I found that getting -- from drug and alcohol was just the beginning. And the counselors started kicking into the you know this stuff that I would have never thought about you know how my parents treated me. She called it she called the what was wrong with me she said that addiction comes from the spiritual malady the sort of broken -- in side. And so over the years while it was kind of rising up the -- on Wall Street. You know I would go home at night you know once or twice a week and called this woman and we would start doing this sort of counseling. That was focused on. You know repairing this stuff that was broken inside me. And so you know six or seven years after it started on Wall Street. I had started the kind of because of that work to be able to see the world from different eyes and that led me to this moment that I ever count in the article where. I was in a meeting with several bosses and one of them said that you know we are talking about hedge fund regulations which of course the whole world was in favor of but one of my bosses says do you know. Rice said -- and hey you know is in this better for the system as a whole because they were all against -- and they said. I don't have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole -- can only think about what's good for me. And it wasn't that I judged him. Because that's what my article was about it was about saying. You know I saw myself and -- and I saw that for all this time on Wall Street I had been so rapidly focused on. Making more and more money for myself. That I didn't even consider. Sort of how my actions were impacting other people for the rest of the world -- especially people that didn't -- -- you know as easy as I did when he came to money. And so that was the real moment where I sort of BQ and began to understand that oh you know I have more of the responsibility. To the rest of the world and even for myself to be a better human being that I Wednesday. But that was also sort of the product. You know a lot of years sort of work counseling. You say that. Wealth addicts are more than anybody specifically responsible. For the ever widening rift. That is tearing apart our once great country. Well addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity. Between the rich and poor and the annihilation of the middle class it's pretty strong stuff. Yes and let me say that I don't have my finger pointed out have other people I have my finger equally pointed -- myself. And what I mean by that is like I was saying earlier I didn't have a sense of where enough was. So even though I had you know we're getting paid a million dollars per year or even more towards the end. I still didn't feel like that was enough so no matter how much ahead in the bank even though I was making in one year more than my mom uncle lives. I was still focus on making more and that's sort of the issue that I see almost on a global scale which is to day. You know there's five billionaires now that have more money in the bottom 3.5 billion people. And yet it seems to have my that those billionaires continue to try to accumulate more money for themselves. And if they're anything like me. Then. -- -- In the don't know what it passes and that's what I was sort of pointing to which is that if you don't know whether enough which I didn't. Then there's never enough. And in that case no matter how much you have there's just you all -- -- trying to do was take more and more. You have another quote I think this is the one that. The majority of people can go 00 dear. Only a wealth attic would feel justified your receiving fourteen million dollars in compensation. Including an eight and a half million dollar bonus. As the McDonald's CEO Don Thompson did in 2012. While his company then published a brochure. For its workforce. On how to survive on their low wages. Only a wealth and it would earn hundreds of millions as a hedge fund manager. And then lobby to maintain a tax loophole that gave him a lower tax rate than his secretary. That's what I'm talking about. Out of -- Again I believe in our system. I and I believe that people have every right and if they're motivated to make as much money they wanna make it's not that it is. We've lost something. Well that's I mean I completely agree with you and I on the capitalist myself and obviously the system worked in some sense for me. But it was also what I found to be a system that encouraged this absolute focus on -- And sort of a lack of responsibility. For the rest of the world. And that's one thing that I just wanna say again which is that. You know I didn't have a tough time growing up and make -- work really hard and I you know did to kind of do the right things on you know getting into the good college boldest things. But on another very similar plane. I with a white male in America who happened to be born intelligent which meant that I had. So many advantages. And one of the things that you know my counselor continue to talk to me about was that. If you are born with these -- Don't -- certain not for you those gifts or four. You -- sort of fulfill their potential by sort of helping the people as best you can that you were uniquely situated to. And that just wasn't how I thought about it while I was on Wall Street. Were you living a super high life. You know what's funny is that an offense. I mean all the yes in the sense that everybody on Wall Street is which which means that when I was in New York are pretty much always took captain I lived in you know. Apartments that cost several thousand dollars a month. On the same token vs the rest of Wall Street I actually lived a pretty modest slice side never. An idea who I was in the gulf I was never a -- -- -- country club I didn't have a call origin of the vote the occasion house. Because from eat -- it from the beginning it was and it wasn't so much about this stuff. It was about more of the status and the whole war and the prestige and being known as somebody that was you know capable of -- all of this money. And I really want to say that I think that police came from this part of the that was broken inside that felt like if you really took away all my defense mechanisms and all the things that I all of my blustery almost as the balloon that was the -- that felt like he wasn't really valuable and he was desperate to prove that he was and you know I used money to try to do that. Stay with us we're gonna continue our talk with a man who says he was at one point a wealth addict. And we're gonna learn what he's doing now which is also pretty breathtaking. Stay with this but now let's go to the newsroom and -- it's. Sam hoped. Graduates from Columbia University. Goes to Wall Street. Makes big big money supposedly living the dream. But now what he realizes what's he was really living and addiction. An addiction that was perhaps an extension of the addictions he had felt and went through during college which was drug and alcohol. Sandy the incredible thing is is that you finally made the tough decision -- If -- just walk away it's not easy just to walk away. That you finally got to a point where you said a -- and every discuss I think it was in 2010. But there weathering addiction I -- You would government three point six million dollar bullish you were upset it wasn't higher so you demanded eight million. You say my bosses said they'd raise my bonus supply agreed to stay several more years instead I walked away. That was huge. You know there were accused in one of the things that it was. Sort of it was that I actually believe half three point six on the table so it was sort of the choice between. You know some ordinary. Million or whatever but -- raised my opponents to verses. Two million. Lesson -- which is what sort of walked away and I don't mean as a sob story and because I am. Yeah incredibly clear about how lucky -- got on Wall Street in terms of having enough savings to sort of -- helped me start this security and you know work on my writing and he has spent as much as I possibly can buy toys so it's not. Not that I don't see that benefit I really -- plea deal and actually incredibly lucky I also do wanna make the point that there is you know I was at the you know right at that time on Wall Street career words goes from sort of crazy money too ridiculous Monday. And so this sort of trajectory that I walked away from. Was really really very substantial. And you know there's a lot of people on Wall Street. Who have plenty more money than I do in the bank credit I mean that would sort of chuckle at how much money in the bank. And still are sort of looking for more. You said that when you do it walk away it was literally like going through withdrawal and an and you had been through. The withdrawal of drugs and alcohol. I mean that's the thing to -- you know you're kind of makes you -- chuckle a little bit like. How scary it you know as this rich -- I think has scary it is to sort of walk away from Wall Street but like you point to. You know if I'm really being honest. It was really scary you know I had been told my whole life that. -- rich was gonna make me important to him and the -- equality and prestige of these institutions to I was associated with defined my value. And so the sort of step off of that -- In two totally and non in this. On king's life with no sort of idea where I was -- ago wasn't as scary in terms of like where I can get my next meal. But it was a scary for me who spends so much time trying to prove I was important for the world. Actually take this happened where for many many years as sort of disappeared from the world. What you disappeared and all of a sudden -- happily married. To Wonder Woman and you're you're living a life of great purpose. Iran and you've got through the actual withdrawal and you when your wife have started a thing called grocery ships is that -- pressure -- Yet grocery ships which is like scholarships for groceries. And just to go back for a second like to withdraw -- work really hard and you know there there is a part of you that thinks that that's important because. You know people are kind -- I've talked to a lot of people who were in their jobs in sort of want to leave voters scared to do it. And what it really looks like it was like you know waking up in the morning sort of panicked about where my next paycheck was gonna come from Google had savings. I would still so used to trying to make money that it was terror. It was really scary that I wasn't going to and also you know I was trying to be a good husband and a good father and so I had some savings but it would've -- it. You know I was scared -- my wife I think less so it means in effect that was working and that wasn't bring it even though she was. From the beginning incredibly supportive means saying effectively. He -- and do something you think is important not something that you think we'll just make as money. Back to the that the the life on Wall Street. When Mueller sitting -- -- desk and you were just -- and then money -- was it getting you were getting high element. It was it was even like beginning hi this is where it I don't know if you might need to be sort of an addict. I understand -- but you know people talk about how much they like smoking cigarettes for example. But if you really catch people at the moment of honesty they would say they want nothing more. Been to wake up and be free of that addiction and and so I sort of felt the same way about money would come into my desk every day. And during my twelve hours on the desk I would have. Bond and excited about the money but I would also feel insecure and I would also feel jealous of other people I would feel like. Gosh I don't know how many years have to keep doing this until I get what I want. And it wasn't until I realized. That that's fueling that viewing of sort of not enough and fear and insecurity. That is the addiction. And no matter how much money I made whether it was ten million or hundred million or billion. I would still can feel like that. Were your parents. Aware of what was going on in your life. You know I talk to my mom recently and she says cuts him I -- make a lot of money but I think you're making like 250000. Dollars. And we kind of chuckled. But she also you know she was supportive of me leading to even know you mentioned quite know the amount of money as me. I'm just a bit she'd love the article them. She did love the article and she's she gets. You know she gets worried about me you know as he said that article sort of really put me out there super formal way and so she called me and she was like -- crowd you that your -- really -- -- -- You're just you're bringing up the subject that again it is is a complex. Because. We we do draw in America thinking of you work hard you strive hard you should. Have -- I mean you should make money should be able to attain the things that you want to do without any apology. Because this is this is good it's I just sensed listening to you and reading your article it's more a bit. For some it is an -- it is more more more more. Yeah I mean for me it's not about you or anything it's about balance and and like. You know I sometimes think of myself on Wall Street -- like. You know those body builders in bodybuilder competitions -- -- -- so many muscles are so huge and yet they spend eight hours today. Doing even more bench presses to them soon one data can bench -- five more pounds. That's what I feel about how I was on Wall Street and -- Wall Street is in general which is that. There's no balance. There is for me there was I had. You know if you think the good life as like if you think of money is one thing that's an important and good life and I think that's true having enough money in supporting your family and having a good place to live in doing -- do that's really important. And so it was community. And so the same way and so is you know your relationship with your friends and for me the focus was just totally on money. With no balance. Please stay with us we're gonna continue and -- combat were definitely gonna talk about what he and his wife have done just a great great story I'm Angela under the -- -- well. We've been talking to Sam poke a former hedge funds -- personal on Wall Street's who is now had a radical change in his life but. While he was on Wall Street realized for him. Making money was an addiction. And so has sort of done a whole mental and otherwise shift. You when your wife have started thing called grocery ships. As you said like scholarships but with aggression -- great concept based on watch. We'll tell you. First -- where it came from and what are sort of plan is but you know I -- -- super heavy -- and I got teased a lot to call bad boy I just know what it's like to be sort of had the -- it. In America and then one day my wife and I were watching movies it was called the police of the table that was about hunger in America. And it started talking about how hunger in America looks different -- in Ethiopia because. You know -- in America in low income areas sometimes don't have enough to eat but in the next meal eating KFC's of the very kids that don't know where their next meal is coming from. Sometimes are also really overweight you know be an exit you know that's too much it's too much from me because I know how -- -- -- being. And overweight white kid in the suburbs. America. Content messages with weightlessness -- So we sort of this program that is called grocery ships scholarships for groceries so we start with a simple premise. We do -- can simply that time who apply. And then we start with the idea that we can make -- -- they can make themselves healthier by eating more whole plant foods fruits vegetables grains beans. But of course. What sounds simple is actually incredibly complex because. To me at least obesity for me have a lot to do -- Emotionally eating. With numbing feeling. Which sort of you know this belief system that my body weapons -- war honoring. And so we start this program where these ten families for six months go through a program where. On each week they meet they're given money to buy. All only the most healthy foods but -- we teach them for two hours each week different ways that they can incorporate those into their diet. In the first hour is sort of the practical skills that I am talking about which is -- Cooking skills in nutrition education and how to shop at the grocery store to only get the healthiest foods. But the second hour is sort of what I think to be more critical and more important and it's just effectively a support group. A group of ten that gambling is going to the scenes saying talking about how hard it is to get their kids. Help you know world that advertises the most junkies -- directly to their children. And how -- scary it is to sort of -- -- the things they like desserts and stuff they have at the end of their day. And I will tell you that from my perspective I come at this not as some sort of expert that knows everything about hell. But -- the guys that fellows suffer a lifelong journey struggling -- -- myself. And so me and my day you know coach teacher Angela for the first group or consider round. With the group and talk about our own problems and because I still struggle with food on a daily basis. The the the it's very interesting. We have done shows recently on -- hunger in America it is still. Unbelievable at some point that the numbers are what they are on it it is unbelievable but it is reality and and of course it is kids who suffer. And so your choice of doing this. As a nonprofit. It is a very very timely and good one but it yourself right it's more than just here's food now eat. It is why you need to eat those foods. It's why -- he does it but it's also is recognizing the reality of the situation where is which is that you know extra rest. And obesity are highly correlated and we don't know that from like getting dumped by his girlfriend or having getting fired from -- job like a lot of people -- in on those feelings. But it's even worse and low income areas where sort of the and so that's sort of one of the things that gets me to this idea of groceries ships where. We really want to sort of view this sort of group that helps these Stanley is. But without any expectations. Because my experience is that didn't really -- in America to be healthy and you know there's so much. You know in the way of being healthy whether it. You know the fact that fast food places are all over the place for that. Healthy organic fruit to -- more expensive or just the fact that. You know two parents are working in the don't have time to cook for their kids and it -- says just a ten minute phone call. Don't beings make it's so difficult to be healthy. That we really just want to provide this group that says he we know that this is really hard. And we don't have that magical answer for you we have this great structural for you but we also know it's going to be hard to just wanna sit with you. While we all sort of address this problem together. In the final minutes as you look back over your life today and yesterday. What this change most of -- much. You know what people asked me if I'm happier having left Wall Street and I think the answer is that it's not about happiness it's about humanity. And so look I feel like. Somehow. This change that it happened to me which I will credit completely to sort of the counselor at work with and my mentor on Wall Street could talk a lot about kindness and generosity. These teachers have sort of given me back to myself. And so now I'm just the human being in the world is sort of working with other human beings and trying to be his services best I can. And I honestly feel like for the first time in my life I'm using my life like it was supposed to be used rather than in the way I was sort of distorting it for so -- Sam poke you or extraordinary and I cannot thank you enough for joining us and and the most success to you. In this new venture. Think you can actually make one -- that www. Grocery ships. Dot com -- families could definitely use your support. Absolutely thank you again so much. --