Ever feel like your possessions own you and that the corporate ladder has become a journey to nowhere? Two young men, who by most measurements would be considered successful, decided “having it all” wasn’t enough. They each ditched their high-paying careers to embark on a different, very personal journey.
Sam Polk, a trader on Wall Street who earned more than $5 million in bonuses in eight years, walked away at age 30. A few years later, he’s the head of a nonprofit he founded called Groceryships that assists low-income families challenged by obesity.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Polk describes his former obsession with money as another of his addictions, which included drugs and alcohol. “I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.”
He notes that he earned more in a year than his mother, a nurse practitioner, earned during her entire career, and blames the widening gap between rich and poor on the wealth addictions of Wall Street. “Wealth addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and the poor and the annihilation of the middle class,” he wrote.
But his decision to leave his career was mostly a personal one. While he noticed the outsized gap between the salaries on Wall Street and those on Main Street, he realized there was always someone making more and his own addiction would never be satisfied.
The power of living with less
In his late 20s, Joshua Fields Millburn discovered minimalism and now, at age 32, he counsels others on how to live with less. He’s written a book, “Everything that Remains,” in which he describes abandoning a six-figure salary and 80-hour work week, selling most of his possessions and paying off $100,000 in debt.
He and a partner also founded a website, The Minimalists, to advise others on how to reduce their dependency on possessions and make room for the things that really matter to them.
In an interview with Business Insider, Millburn said, “I had wrapped up my identity in my career and status, but started to realize that it wasn’t in line with my beliefs.” He now lives in a small town in Montana and has lost 80 pounds. “Once I shed the superfluous things I owned,” he said, “it led to other parts of my life: my health, relationships, work.”
Many people are able to keep work and life in balance and don’t feel the need to take such drastic steps, but the stories of these two can be a reminder that money isn’t everything.
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