More Than Money
Issue #36

Money and Work

Table of Contents

“Finding Your Right Place”

An Interview With Mark Albion

by Pamela Gerloff and Mara Peluso

Mark Albion is a writer, speaker, and social entrepreneur. He has co-founded six start-up companies and business networks, including Net Impact (formerly called Students for Responsible Business) and You & Company, which helps people lead lives of service in the business world. He is the author of the New York Times' bestseller Making a Life, Making a Living (Warner Books, 2000), and the creator of "ML2," an electronic newsletter read by students and executives in 87 countries. Previously, Mr. Albion was a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School and consulted to major corporations, including Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble.

MTM: What do you do now for work, and why do you do it?

ALBION: I help people find their path of service. I do that in lots of different ways: through writing, speaking, working in companies or in the government -whatever is required. But why do I do it? That's like asking me why do I breathe. I do it because I'm compelled to. It's how I interface with the world. It's where my "greatest gifts meet the world's greatest needs." It's my "right place."

In the movie Jerry Maguire, it's not that Jerry hates his job-he just knows he's in the wrong place. I think that when you're in the right place and you feel that you are doing what God intended, then there just aren't any other options. I've seen that with some great entrepreneurs. They're doing what they do because that's what they're "supposed" to do.

My real passion is to be connected to something-to something bigger than myself. I love to be able to touch the world and feel good about myself-to play some role in making the world a better place and relieve some of the suffering on our planet. That's why I do what I do.

MTM: Did you always take this approach to work?

ALBION: No. The first half of my life was focused on what might be thought of as conventional economic pursuits: Get the best job you can, and make the most money you can. Then, in my mid- 30s, my mother got cancer. She ended up beating it, but it was a wake-up call for me. I wouldn't say it was a sudden turning point; like most things, it was an evolutionary process. I just started to ask myself, "Why am I here? Is this the best use of my life energy?" I was teaching at Harvard Business School, and I looked around and saw where I would be at Harvard in 25 years-if I were really lucky-and I thought, "That's not my place." I began to realize that I wasn't happy because I wasn't serving and using my talents in the way they were meant to be used.

So I certainly wasn't always doing what I do now, mainly because I didn't always measure success the way that I do now.

MTM: How do you measure success for yourself?

ALBION: I measure it on the basis of being able to act daily on what I believe in. It means that some days I'm taking care of my 13-year-old-which can be very difficult! Erich Fromm said it beautifully when he talked about "freedom from" and "freedom to." I think money can give us the freedom to do certain things. For a lot of us it's the freedom to be able to serve in the ways we think are important so that we can look back and say, "Hey! I'm doing things that I feel really good about"-as opposed to watching the clock. When people ask me how many hours a week I work, I say, "I don't know. Who's counting?" Work is one way I express myself. It's joyous to me. (Not that I don't have bad days!)

MTM: Would you say more about change as an evolutionary process? I know it took you ten years after your mother had cancer to make the changes in your work that you talk about.

ALBION: I think such changes are evolutionary in the sense that, for any of us, our whole life is about trying to be ourselves or find ourselves. (I don't subscribe to the belief that there is only one ultimate self. I believe that we each have many.) A lot of people, when they try to make changes with their work, expect to fall into the right thing right away. But, in my experience, that's not how it works. My colleagues and I have counseled thousands of people over the years, and we've found that it's pretty much the same for all of us. It's an evolutionary process because you're really changing your identity or your notions of integrity.

Who Are Your Heroes?
When I speak at leading business schools, I ask students two questions: 1) What did you dream of being and doing before you felt compelled to get an MBA? and 2) Who are your heroes?

Less than five percent of these talented people in their late twenties know what they really want to do. Nor have the vast majority of them ever known it in such a way as to make them feel they could make a living doing it.

By contrast, more than 7,000 MBA students have responded to my heroes question with exemplary names heavily weighted in favor of those who have served humankind. Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa. Moms and dads are mentioned often. So, too, are personal teachers. Few businesspeople make the list.

Most of these MBA students admire people for their hearts more than their heads-they admire people who do good. But why, if you greatly respect one way of life, would you feel compelled to pursue an entirely different course?

It isn't easy to give yourself permission to pursue your dreams, follow your heroes, and seek your inner truth. It isn't easy to work to express your true self rather than to play a role that isn't you and answer a calling that something or someone else has determined for you. Mother Teresa said it best: "To work without love is slavery."

Excerpted from Making a Life, Making a Living: Reclaiming Your Purpose and Passion in Business and Life by Mark Albion, Warner Books, 2000, pp. 10-11

MTM: Would you say more about that?

ALBION: I think that, usually, changes around work are really about issues of integrity. Choices and dilemmas about work often arise out of an unwillingness to violate your own identity. So you go through a process of re-forming your identity, and that doesn't happen overnight. It's not as simple as just taking another job; you're changing all of your relationships. And it's not just about money; it's about changing your relationship to yourself and to other people. Changes around work can be especially complicated when you have a lot of money-earned or inherited-because part of your identity is wrapped up with the fact that you've got a certain amount of money or you have a certain family name. You can't just say forget it , because it's part of who you are. Well, how do you wrap your identification with money into your personality? How do you fit your identity as Someone-with-a-lot-of-money into doing meaningful work for yourself and others?

Everybody says, "It's really complicated. I have to work for money." But you really don't. It may be true to some extent, but a funny quote I love says, "The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated." You generally don't need to work for as much money as you think you do.

I try to get people to focus on not making their identity so tied in with that stack of money they've been given or have made. I try to get them to use that money as a freedom to find ways to serve others. I tell people, "Just think about how you can use that money to make a difference out there."

MTM: And all of that takes time.

ALBION: That's right. It's a process. I've said before that wealth isn't measured by how much you have, but by how much you give away-but that's a huge shift of perspective to make. Easy to say, but hard to do.

MTM: Because it involves an identity shift?

ALBION: Yes. The difficulty, particularly if you have inherited money, is in establishing your own integrity and identity-because your big way of measuring what a cool person you are has been taken away. So how are you going to develop yourself in such a way as to consider yourself a successful person? If you're thinking of working in the family business, for example, how do you develop your own identity, so that you feel OK when people say, "Oh, he just has the job because his dad is the boss."

Just Lucky?
A study of business school graduates tracked the careers of 1,500 people from 1960-1980. From the beginning, the graduates were grouped into two categories. Category A consisted of people who said they wanted to make money first so that they could do what they really wanted to do later-after they had taken care of their financial concerns. Those in Category B pursued their true interests first, sure that the money would eventually follow.

What percentage fell into each category?

Of the 1,500 graduates in the survey, the money-now Category As comprised 83 percent or 1,245 people. Category B risk-takers made up 17 percent or 255 graduates.

After 20 years there were 101 millionaires in the group. One came from Category A, and 100 came from Category B.

The study's author, Srully Blotnick, concluded that "the overwhelming majority of people who have become wealthy have become so thanks to work they found profoundly absorbing.. Their 'luck' arose from the accidental dedication they had to an area they enjoyed."

Excerpted from Making a Life, Making a Living: Reclaiming Your Purpose and Passion in Business and Life by Mark Albion, Warner Books, 2000, p. 17

MTM: How do you do that?

ALBION: It can be done in many different ways, but we usually advise young people not to work in the family business for five to ten years. We say they should establish a reputation outside the business and then come back. Very few do that.

MTM: What is the business supposed to do for that five to ten years if it's a small family business?

ALBION: Well, this is the problem, particularly if the parents are counting on the son or daughter. What we try to do then is to have the child begin to develop at least a piece of the business that is distinct from what the parent has developed. For example, in a large company we have worked with, the son developed the whole Internet part of the business, which is really the future of the company; and he is now developing the market in China, which is something his father would never do. This has allowed the son to establish his own turf.

MTM: Do you have strategies you recommend to people for finding their "right place?"

ALBION: If you say to people, "What's your passion?" most won't know. A lot of people haven't thought about it. So the first thing we do is diagnostics. For example, we tell people to look at who their heroes are. We say, "Give me three heroes. Why are they your heroes? What kind of work might you see yourself doing that in some way would be moving in the direction of honoring the people you most admire in your life?" We also say to look at yourself as an 11- or 12-year-old. What was it that you were really excited about? A third diagnostic is to go back to your childhood and think of one book that you really loved. Then go through the story of that book in your mind and see how it might relate to what you love.

These diagnostics can be helpful, but frankly, my thinking about this has changed over the years. Now, I think that most of us find what we love just by going out and doing things and then learning from what we did and the mistakes we made.

MTM: A lot of people don't get to try out different kinds of work activities when they're young, so they don't get the chance to discover what they love to do or what their path of service is. Kids don't generally get this in schools, and parents often have their own ideas of what is acceptable work for their children. This leaves young people stepping into adulthood with very little sense of what their talents are or what kind of work or volunteer activity would genuinely fulfill them.

ALBION: Yes, and that's why it's important for parents and other adults to help young people discover their interests and talents. But no matter what your age, it is never to late to start.

The thing to remember is that, most of the time, what people are really looking for from their work is not money. What I think we want is love and intimacy, adventure, and a sense of purpose. And we want respect. So really, the notion I think people have to get out of their heads is that they have to earn money to be doing something valuable.

MTM: How do people get that out of their heads?

ALBION: Usually, through pain. I find it hard to get people to change unless they have gone through some sort of pain; it's only when the pain becomes greater than the fear of change that people begin to make changes. That's why I find people in their 40s and 50s more ready to change than people in their 20s and 30s. They've experienced more pain. Choosing and/or changing careers can be a wonderful process, as long as we can help people develop a new personal measurement system for success and start thinking about doing something valuable that is not predicated on personal finances. For adults, we start by asking them what their hobbies or volunteer interests are.

MTM: In your book Making a Life, Making a Living , you cite a study that found that people who did what they loved ended up making more money than those who sought to make money first and then do what they loved.

ALBION: Yes, the study found that, basically, if you followed your natural path of passion, you would be financially better off. [See sidebar, p. 8.] There have been a lot of studies done on this subject, and there is still a lot of controversy around them, but ultimately, the research says that it's not about the money you make, it's about the journey you take. So why not take a journey you enjoy? It goes back to Joseph Campbell's idea of following your bliss. We don't necessarily know what our bliss is, but we certainly know what it isn't; we learn pretty quickly what we don't like, though we don't necessarily move ahead quickly to what we do like. The point is to just keep following your bliss. You don't know whether the money will follow or not, but one thing does seem clear: you won't care about the money as much.

The other thing is that when you're doing things you love, you're meeting other people who love the same things. And they're sort of like angels who will help you along the way. If you're not doing that sort of work, you won't see the angels.

MTM: It seems to me that one of the reasons people don't pursue their passion is that they don't know that there can be that level of joy in life. Do you think that's true?

ALBION: Yes, I do. In December 1999 the well-known child psychiatrist Robert Coles was teaching a course on life reflection for seniors at Harvard College. I had the opportunity to meet in small groups with about 400 of those students just as they were starting to look for jobs.

The most striking and repeated comment I heard from them was, "I don't know any adult, starting with my parents, who is happy. They're always stressed out. I haven't seen one adult who's happy." In fact, at about

Two Hungers
The way we treat money is the most decisive test of our character. If you really want to know something about anybody, look at how they treat their money.

There is an African expression that says there are two hungers: the lesser and the greater. The lesser hunger is for money and what it buys, such as goods and services and things that sustain life. But the greater hunger is to answer the question Why? Why are we here? What's our life for? When money is no longer something you have to be concerned with, this is the stuff you really worry about.

There is an interesting story about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. When his brother died, The London Telegraph thought it was Alfred who had died, so Alfred had the unusual experience of reading his own obituary. The obituary told how he had created dynamite and made a fortune from it-and how dynamite was used to blow up nations and kill people. From that point on, Alfred decided to dedicate his life to humanity and philanthropy. He created, of course, the Nobel Prize, and now he is remembered for his good works in the world rather than for the destructive effects of his invention.

That's an amazing story of reversing branding. For me, the heroes are the people who have made money and then used it as a platform for service.

-Mark Albion

that time, Ellen Galinsky of the Work/Family Institute published a book that included lots of research on children's attitudes [ Ask the Children (Quill, 2000)]. She reported that kids weren't saying, "I want to spend more time with Mom and Dad." They were saying, "When I do spend time with Mom and Dad I want them to be less stressed out. I just don't see anybody being happy around here."

So you're right about how easily we can get away from that joy and happiness we found in different things as a child. Several years ago, when my daughter was a young teenager, I went to a lot of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I remember seeing all those 13-year-old boys and girls and noticing how full of life they were. Their parents would say all these wonderful things about them, and then I would see the same young people later on in business school, when they were in their late twenties and early thirties, and it was if they were all completely different people. What happened? What did we do to them?

MTM: I've seen that, too. It seems to be a strong argument for helping kids follow their passions and talents early on and keep that sense of aliveness into adulthood.

ALBION: Yes.

MTM: What other advice would you give to parents who want to help their children navigate their relationship to money and work?

ALBION: The first thing I would say is to try to help your children understand that we're here on this planet to serve. I think it's important to help young people understand that money is here to help us serve humankind. We have four billion people on the planet who aren't getting two meals a day. None of us, no matter what our resources are, can cure that problem, but each of us can make a difference. Pick your spot where you want to make a difference. It might be your hometown. It might be the environment. Just pick one place.

Secondly, I would say that you can use money to promote education and experience. Give your children a chance to discover what they love to do and where they can serve most effectively. Help them find their path.

MTM: Let's assume that the path you're talking about leads to increased happiness. Yet it also seems to require a certain amount of courage. What gives you the courage to keep going down the road you're going?

ALBION: That's a question I ask myself sometimes, and sometimes I wonder, "How stupid am I?" In my family, I've been surrounded by money, but I have chosen another path. I gave up my position at Harvard Business School. I've watched some of my friends make more lucrative career choices. But I go back to the idea that, in a hundred years, when people in my family look at the ancestral tree, I want to be thought of in the same way that I think of my grandfather.

In the 1940s my grandfather was the biggest purchaser of wool in the world. He ran huge textile mills in Massachusetts and Vermont, and when the time came for the company to move those mills south, he refused to do it because he employed thousands of families, many of whom had worked for his family for a couple of generations.

I remember growing up and hearing about how my grandfather was really a smart and good man, but that he was too soft in business; he couldn't make the hard decisions. But the truth is-as I found out later on-it was just the opposite. He was a man of tremendous integrity. He was a man who made quite a difference for a lot of families. Instead of amassing money for himself, he spread it out through a lot of families whom he kept employed for another 15 years or so when those towns had no other employment. If the mills had been lost, lots of people would have been out of jobs. He left a meaningful legacy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said how he wanted to be remembered after he died. He didn't want to be remembered for his honorary degrees and Nobel Prize. He wanted to be remembered because he tried to love and serve and make a difference.

I always ask people, "What do you want your kids to know about you?" The question for me is, "What do I want my kids to take away from how their father acts?" That's what compels me to try to be the type of father and ancestor I would be proud of.


© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved