By Bob Kenny
Being true to our own moral vision is the
key thing, and it’s not always easy.
As executive director, I get a benefit
that tops any stock option. I continually
meet people who are looking for
more than money. They are looking to
express and to act on their passion. I feel
an affinity for people who care deeply
about their work. When I was 13 years
old, I lived at a school in the shadow of a
Benedictine Abbey. The monks were my
teachers. They taught me Latin—
whoops, they taught Latin to me—algebra
and biology, and they taught me
about values. They were my mentors and
heroes; some became long-time friends.
The monks also taught me some
things about money. How? All these
men, young and old, took vows of
poverty. That seemed pretty extreme to
me, and I guess it still does, but I recently
realized something else about these
monks: they were some of the wealthiest
people I have ever known. Their vows
provided them with enormous freedom.
You see, money was “taken off the table”
for them, individually, on a day-to-day
basis. Accumulating money for personal
gain was not a factor in their daily decision-
making. They raised money to do
their work and their work was to make
the world a better place.
I got to see up front and close what life
was like when an individual’s primary
goal was making a contribution, helping
others, making a difference in the world.
Some of the monks had a zeal for teaching,
some for mission work in Africa,
some for work in the print shop, some
for preparing meals for the community,
and some for toil in the orchards. Their
zeal came from a deep need to contribute
to the greater good. They taught
me that finding meaning in work is
important—maybe even essential.
I have met people who view life and
work as the monks do. For diverse reasons
and to different degrees, they too
have “taken money off the table.” Some
of them are financially independent,
others benefit from a terrific education,
and still others cultivate a great talent—
all of which increase their ability to set
their own course and stick to it. It is
acting on and sharing their passion, in a
way, that gives them their freedom.
For most of my life, my memory of
the monks has been a touchstone for
decisions I’ve made about work. But,
like everyone perhaps, I have moments
when I question those choices. One such
moment occurred recently when I was at
a fancy hotel reception with a number of
people who had made a lot of money.
Without realizing it, I found myself
comparing my own economic status to
that of others in room. In the back of
my mind, I feared I didn’t measure up.
This led to an uncomfortable sense of
doubt about the wisdom of my values
and life course. Did I do the right thing?
Maybe all this freedom isn’t so great.
How, I wonder, do the tangible results of
my life measure up against the results of
Maybe it’s being 53 and recognizing
that any fantasies of bailing out and
doing my life all over again are just
that—fantasies. Maybe I use those
“inner voices” to avoid tackling some of
the hard work ahead in my job. I may
not recover my equilibrium right away
after these moments. But thankfully, I
usually do recover my ability to distinguish
my true inner voice from outside
noises that can distract and confuse us.
I’ve also gotten better at recognizing
that we live in a culture that says loud
and clear, over and over, that we’re only as
good as the stuff we collect and the
money we make. It’s true that how much
money we make is one marker of success.
Fortunately, it’s not the
What about success at making social
contributions in investing, healthcare,
food production, the environment,
educational opportunity, homelessness
or literacy? The list goes on. We each
have our own way of viewing what constitutes
success in life. Being true to our
own moral vision is the key thing, and
it’s not always easy. We need heroes, we
need friends and we need community.
That’s why I am glad for my memory of
those monks. And that extra benefit I
get at work: you. ■
Bob Kenny is the executive
director of the
More Than Money
Institute. For more
than 20 years he has
worked with individuals,
and organizations to
identify and address
the gaps between their
stated values and the
realities of their lives.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved