What would you do if you were offered an annual bonus of $3.6 million? Would your first reaction be that it was not enough?
Sam Polk’s memoir For the Love of Money is a fascinating read. Polk writes about his rise to senior trader at one of the largest hedge funds on Wall Street. His childhood was deeply marked by a self-absorbed and emotionally unavailable father, which set Polk on a path of addiction and self-destructive behavior. His school years and early adult life included overeating and bulimia, alcohol and drug abuse, pornography and sexual addiction. Nothing ever seemed enough as he constantly strived to prove himself through the pursuit of big money.
During all this, however, there was something else at work in Polk’s life. Slowly he began to realize the shallowness of the things he surrounded himself with. One by one, overeating, bulimia, drugs, alcohol, pornography, and illicit sex lost their meaning and appeal. Ultimately, Polk grudgingly accepted his $3.6 million bonus and turned his back on Wall Street. The life he had known was shallow and meaningless.
By the world’s standards, Polk was highly successful, achieving what many can only dream of. But Wall Street’s shallow culture, sexism, and crude machismo caused Polk to establish his own definition of success. Today Polk is cofounder and CEO of Everytable, a social enterprise that sells healthy food in food deserts at prices competitive with fast food establishments. He is also the founder and director of Groceryships, a nonprofit whose mission is “To promote health and wellness in under-served communities through the power of healthy foods and human connection.” Both organizations are based in southern Los Angles.
Image of God
While the story itself captivated me (I read the book in a single day, finishing it sometime after 3 am), what really speaks to me is the innate image of God that is evident in Polk’s story. Nowhere in the entire book is religion or spirituality of any kind mentioned. Yet Polk inherently knows that he needs a purpose beyond himself and his personal pleasure. He concludes that each of his destructive behaviors is meaningless and abandons each of them in turn. In many ways, his life lives out Solomon’s admonition, “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” (Ecc. 1.2 NIV). As the innate image of God began to surface more and more, whether Polk recognized it or not, he exchanged the meaningless parts of his life for a purpose outside of and greater than himself. And it was then that he found purpose that was truly fulfilling.
God loves us so much that He created us in His very own image. Some of us are blessed to know and live in that truth. Others have either not heard the truth or opted to ignore it. But that does not mean that the image of God in which God created each of us does not have pull and sway over our lives.