The Despair of Selfish Accumulation & the Joyful Adventure of Relinquishment

One of the greatest gifts I ever received was the classic economic concept of “scarcity, choice and cost” at a relatively early point in my career. I was able to grapple with the concept of “how much is enough?” I was confronted with the ideas of sustainability, balance and relinquishment in my own life. 

The theory and art of accumulating assets and the acquisition of influence and power have become the curriculum and catechism of my culture. Rank materialism drives and shapes the behaviors of our business communities and entertainment enterprises. That same spirit of accumulation and power even drives and shapes the entitlements of the welfare state. Greed, advantage, and one-ups-man-ship are what we eat for breakfast.

I realized that just because I had the abilities to earn and accumulate wealth for myself wouldn’t necessarily make me a happy man. Often, my mind would go back to the stories of my childhood heroes introduced through the books my mother read to me. Those heroes seemed to be a happy lot because they “did well” in order to “do good.” I was doing really well but I wasn’t necessarily doing good. In the deals I was putting together everybody was ending up better off—financially. But I wasn’t helping them be better people—or myself, for that matter.

In our business dealings we ended up with a lot of high energy, testosterone-driven moguls as partners. They were fun to be with but the more I studied them the more I concluded that they were not happy people either. None of them had successful home lives. I was painfully coming to the realization that I had been sold a false dream. Whatever it was that we were all chasing would never be caught. I fought tooth and nail to keep from reaching that conclusion. In my quiet times, however, I had to admit such compulsive behavior made me an addict. I was addicted to the accumulation game. I was doing well, but I wasn’t doing good!

In the process something transformational happened at my core. I began to see the futility of trying to accumulate enough material things to make me happy. At that point I was open to a more excellent way. I was ready to pursue goodness and abandon self accumulation. I never took a vow of poverty or promised to wear a hair shirt. I just wanted to break the addiction to the power of selfish accumulation. From that time on, I have actively and sincerely tried to pursue the concepts of sustainability, balance and “relinquishment.” I changed from a person bent on “getting” to a person bent on “giving.”

I began learning how to take my hands off the things that would last for a short time so that I could lay hold of the things that would last forever. The best business trade I ever made was to exchange what I could not keep for what I could not lose.