12 Aug Episode 10: Sam Polk
“I am Enough”
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“The thing that I associate the most with Wall Street is loneliness.” ~Sam Polk
Imagine getting a $3.6 million bonus at age 30? The dream scenario, right? This episode’s guest, Sam Polk made more money in that a single bonus than his parents had earned over their entire lives. Yet he still needed to repeat the mantra “I am Enough” to reaffirm his own self-worth. Sam was a senior trader at King Street, one of the most successful hedge funds in the world. But behind his rocket-ship trajectory was a story of rage, addiction, arrests, and loneliness — the result of a strained relationship with his parents, especially his dad.
Sam began his healing through regular therapy beginning at age 22 (over 400 sessions) to which he attributes some of his Wall Street . Today, he’s a social entrepreneur and founder of Everytable, a mission-driven company delivering healthy meals affordable to everyone. Sam is truly an open book and we discuss masculinity, “the Number,” what he’d tell his 20 year old self, fatherhood, and how to forgive.
More about Sam
- Check out his book on Amazon For the Love of Money and the New Yorker’s Review
- Read his Op-Eds about The Love of Money (NY Times), Wall Street Bro Talk (NY Times), and Social Enterprise over Non-Profits (LA Times)
- Everytable: One of the most exciting experiments of Food Democracy (LA Times)
- Connect with Sam on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and sampolk.me
- Learn more about Groceryships and Everytable
And don’t miss our previous episode with Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: Stop the Money Madness
Sam’s teenage insecurities
I was incredibly status-seeking and I really wanted to be popular, accepted, and have a lot of friends and be admired. Yet at the same time, there was this underlying question: “Is there something wrong with me?”
— Khe Hy (@khemaridh) August 22, 2016
Therapy while on Wall Street
I started doing some work about my childhood and the pain I was carrying around and this self-sabotaging behavior and that work talked about my dad, the rage and anxiety in our household. By the time I got to Wall Street, I was sober and doing quite a bit of therapy.
Conformity on Wall Street
Wall Street often seems like a place of swashbuckling renegades, but actually it’s about deep conformity. There’s a deep hierarchical structure, there’s a deeply conformist culture that says you have wear this, you talk about this, and live in a certain place and if you deviate from it you get laughed at.
Masculinity and Young Men
“There’s one group of book buyers, young men. But I wanted to write this book for a 19 year old, just stepping into the world, with all of the insecurities that that time entails and especially the kid like me that was carrying this deep belief system of inadequacy.”
- Srini Rao on challenging traditional definitions of masculinity
On finding his life’s work
What is my life’s work? We have this brief window of time here and I want to do something — it doesn’t have to be big or grandiose — but it has to be authentic and have to be worth my time. Because if you believe that we have this brief gift of time, I do not want to fritter that away.
The full integration of life and work
I started to integrate and acknowledge in me that I have these two parts of myself: I have a deep desire to help people and make the world a more just place and I have this competitive and ambitious side in me that wants to do big things in the world. For the first time in my life I am doing something that fully reflects who I am.
Working on yourself as a Leader
That captures what it feels like for me to be doing this work right now. Starting a company and working in a tight group of people; all of my issues come out, the ways I relate to people, my employees, my investors — I’m in this grindhouse of working on myself. All the stuff — the inner stories and beliefs come out, it’s almost like your work is there to wrestle with those things.
A common question from 22 year olds:
KH: You can think about these things, because you’ve achieved both wealth and status. Once I get those, I will too.
SP: In some sense they’re right. It’s a privileged position to think about this vs the folks we work with in South Central LA, whatever it takes to get from 45k to 150k should be done and need to be done so God bless them for trying to do that.
But [this question] only makes sense in the context of our current world — and the context isn’t working. This system, where there’s a winners and losers, and the winners only come from this small group of aristocratic circles and the winners hold this money where others gave very little access to it, there’s something about it that’s off. And it’s because we have this mindset: I’ve got to get enough for me, I’m all about my own economic survival.
Scarcity comes from Fear
KH: This difference between scarcity and an abundant mindset and the scarcity mindset being the prevailing one on wall street which is “there’s never enough”. … I think that that scarcity mindset comes from a place of fear. I think the fear on the wall street side is not, in the Maslow’s hierarchy sense, will I make my next rents payment it’s will I have the Panerai that the guy sitting next to me has.
On his future relationship with his daughter
For every kid, even those with a stressful relationship with their parents, there’s no time that they don’t want a connected, supportive relationship with their parents. And when I think about my daughter I’ve made this commitment that if there’s ever a time where we don’t see eye to eye or she’s pissed at me and it’s getting in the way of the relationship:
I’ve basically agreed that there is no belief that I won’t give up, or position that I won’t abdicate so that I won’t be connected with her, because I know how much she needs it.
- Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, Taylor Branch
- LURN (Leadership for Urban Renewal Network) and Executive Director Rudy Espinoza
- Lyndon Johnson, SBA and Fast Food in Poor Urban Areas, PSMag