More Than Money
Issue #42
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More Than Money Magazine

Table of Contents

“From the Executive Director - The Courage Our Choices Can Require”

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 decisions they made?

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 only measure.

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, communities, and organizations to identify and address the gaps between their stated values and the realities of their lives.

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