Additional "Philo$ophy" Articles


Philosophy + Money
Published: 12/11/2012 7:32:06 PM


Three years ago I didn’t know how to tie a tie (I had to look it up on YouTube), I only listened to indie bands that most people hadn’t heard of (until people had heard of them), and I was a grad student struggling through a master’s thesis (I wanted to be a professor who wore a smoking jacket). Now I wear a suit and tie to work (and know the difference between a Windsor and half-Windsor), I read the Wall Street Journal, and I watch CNBC.

When I made this transition, my friends and family who have seen me go through my fair share of vocational crises tended to react in one of two ways: 1) how could you "sell-out” and go from the arts and humanities to business and finance? Or 2) we knew you would "grow up” one day, you can’t pay a mortgage by roasting coffee full-time. Both of these responses really bothered me, because on the one hand I didn’t want to be a sell-out, and on the other, I wanted to financially provide for my family. I think most of us wrestle with the same tension: How do we stay true to our ideals while being responsible for life’s demands? And a lot of these demands, I’ve found, involve money. While I would love to be a full-time musician/coffee roaster/professor-intellectual, I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to pay me a decent wage to do it, and I was running out of grad programs to enroll in. So I took a job in the financial services industry…and learned to tie a tie…and subscribed to the Wall Street Journal…and tuned in to CNBC. And to be honest, for a while I did feel like a sell-out, like I was trying to be someone I was not, that I wasn’t being ‘authentic’.

I felt first-hand, the modern day epidemic that Stephen Cope describes: "People feel profoundly like they're not living from who they really are, their authentic self, their deepest possibility in the world. The result is a sense of near-desperation." Luckily this desperation quickly subsided. Instead of quitting my job and going back to roasting coffee full-time, I realized that I was actually exactly where I was supposed to be, I just didn’t believe it yet. And just because I wore a suit and tie to work instead of skinny jeans and plaid, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t be myself. I could still be the creative and adventurous person I desired to be (and write music, and hang out at coffee shops, and read literature), but what did need to change was my attitude and approach toward my work. We can’t let the generalized perceptions of others (or even of ourselves) define who we are or what we do, because God has called us to particular enterprises with unique gifts as people with a specific mission. Sometimes it just takes us awhile to realize what that mission is. Eventually I came to believe that there was a reason for studying philosophy and theology for years before becoming a financial adviser, because philosophy and money actually have a lot to do with each other. Once I saw this connection, I started to fully believe in the work that I do, because once I knew my mission, I had vocational peace.     
Philosophy at its core is the love of wisdom and the search for truth, meaning, and beauty. Money is a tool, a tool that gives us choices. For many of us, money (or the lack of) can cause a lot of fear and worry. Usually this leads to one of two extremes, either ignoring our finances or obsessing over them. Neither of these are really healthy options, and ironically, both probably lead to more stress. The challenge is; how do we align the financial choices we make with our core values and purpose in life? Does money have to cause stress and worry, or can it be leveraged to serve the things that bring us and others joy?

Over the next few months I’ll be wrestling with answers to these questions. Stay tuned.

Contributed by Jon Graf

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