with Jack Canfield
Although I didn't have money as a kid,
I grew up around it. I used to spend summers with my wealthy
cousin. I also went to a private school (with tuition paid
for by my rich aunt) and I got a scholarship to go to Harvard,
where I had friends like Larry Rockefeller. So I was in
an environment where people had both power and material
My uncle instilled in me a sense of
. I always wanted to have money, not so much for
my own personal fulfillment, but because I saw what it could
do for people. I thought, "If I had that much money, I know
what I'd do with it," and it wasn't buying three Mercedes.
I have always been interested in the conscious use of money.
My first job out of college was as a high
school teacher. I got two paychecks each month for $120
each. My rent was $79. After expenses, there wasn't a lot
left over. I used to have what I called my eleven-cent dinner--a
can of Contadina tomato paste over noodles.
I then became a teacher trainer, went to
graduate school, wrote my first book for educators, started
doing trainings for teachers across the country, and later,
for businesses. I was living a pretty standard middle class
life until our book,
Chicken Soup for the Soul
off. It was a slow build, but after awhile, we started getting
royalty checks for $100,000. Eventually, I got one for a
million dollars, and then one year I made six million. We
sold thirteen-and-a-half million books that year and suddenly
I was in a different world.
My ex-wife and I went through what I call
period. We sold our small house
in L.A. and moved to Santa Barbara, where we bought a big
spread with horses and a swimming pool. We got a cook, a
housekeeper, a decorator, a gardener, and a Lexus. It was
expensive and time consuming to maintain the property.
When you're making six million dollars-which
is about three-and-a-half million after taxes - it's hard
to spend all that money on yourself. So the issue was what
to do with the rest of the money. The question became one
of stewardship and leveraging. We asked ourselves: if we
had only one dollar to spend, where could we spend it to
get the most transformation in the world?
We identified literacy and dyslexia as two
of our key leverage points. Literacy, because of all that
being able to read gives you access to, and dyslexia, because
research shows that eighty-five percent of people in prison
have learning disabilities. We believe that helping people
learn to read and stay in school is solving a lot of crime
problems and it's giving people opportunities to be successful
in life. We also chose to focus on supporting community
colleges, because they allow people access to higher education
who otherwise wouldn't have that chance. In addition to
our education focus, we pay for operations for cataracts,
through the SEVA Foundation. Ten dollars will buy a cataract
operation for someone in a third world country, which enables
the recipient to no longer be dependent on handouts. I also
got involved in prison work and we published a book for
Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul
written by prisoners for prisoners, which we distribute
free to prisons-more than 130,000 copies so far.
My ex-wife and I always tried to make a
difference in the world, even before we had a lot of money.
So, basically, we went from normal lives trying to make
a difference to having a lot of money and trying to make
a difference. The money helped increase our impact in the
I always say that money doesn't change you;
it simply amplifies who you already are. If you're a jerk,
you can be a big jerk with a lot of money. If you're very
conscious, you can be very conscious with a lot of money.
If you're generous, you can be a lot more generous with
money. If you avoid decisions, you can avoid bigger decisions
with more money-as I did at first.
When we hired our first cook, he started
embezzling, but I wasn't paying attention. When our accountant
finally caught it, the cook said, "I was planning to pay
you back." I let it go and he made payments. But it was
a yellow alert and I should have fired him. I didn't because
it was uncomfortable. I had other people on the payroll,
too, whom I should have fired but didn't, because I didn't
want to have to make those difficult decisions.
Another example is when I would buy clothes.
If there was a blue, a gray, and a maroon sweater and I
couldn't decide among them, I would buy all three. I went
through that stage, though I wouldn't have predicted it,
because of all the work I'd already done on myself. But
money has a drug-like effect. For me, it provided insulation
from some of my patterns. It allowed me to go a long time
without feeling their effects. The good news is I got to
see them, confront them, and transform them in myself.
How do I transform myself? Whatever it is
that more money helps me see in myself, I just confront
it. I'm a big believer in therapy. I go to therapy to become
conscious of what's outside of my awareness. I'm also a
meditator, and these things come up in my meditation. Also,
my wife Inga doesn't shy away from telling me what she sees
when I go overboard. With all of that, I'm able to see my
patterns. I am also a big believer in taking action once
I see something. So I set budgets for myself; I make up
rules, like with the sweaters. One day I counted up the
shirts in my closet and realized that if I wore a different
shirt every day, it would take two months to wear all my
shirts. So I made a rule that other than seasonal clothing,
if I hadn't worn something in two months, out it went. That
was difficult, because I'm kind of a pack-rat. Therapists
will sometimes have a client make something bigger-they'll
make you whine louder and louder until you can hear yourself
whining. That's what happened with the sweaters. The overabundance
of them became increasingly obvious.
Money has allowed me to have access to transformation,
to therapy, and to teachers. In that sense, it has contributed
enormously to my personal growth.
Does money give transformational power?
My oldest son got into drugs. For me, being able to afford
good rehab for him was an example of that kind of transformational
power. Having money allowed us to have access to the best
available tre a tment, which was expensive. A lot of people
don't have those options.
As our book sales have leveled off (we're
now selling about half the number that we did before) and
I've recently become divorced and remarried and am giving
money to my ex-wife, I live on about a fourth of what I
did before. That has forced me to make more careful financial
decisions. One thing my business partner and I do, though,
in both good times and bad, is to consistently tithe ten
or more percent of our sales income to charity. (Our publisher
matches our donation.) Every one of our books has one or
more charities that we support with the tithe from that
book; it's a way we force ourselves to follow through on
our commitment. We've given away more than six million dollars
to more than 150 charities. That's one of the great things
about having money. You can really support the causes you
From a conversation with Pamela Gerloff
is the best-selling co-author, with Mark
Victor Hansen, of the
Chicken Soup for the Soul
series. He is also a professional
speaker and corporate consultant.
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