Michael Phillips has been Medical Self-Care Magazine's main source of financial advice since the days when we were having doubts about ever being able-without grants or backing-to put out a magazine at all. His early advice, "Just go ahead and do it and the money will come, " has turned out to be absolutely correct. That advice, by the way, was the exact opposite of the advice we received from most of the other people we consulted—most of whom mumbled something about needing at least a quarter of a million dollars to start-up capital and advised us to go look for a grant.
A former vice-president of the Bank of California, Michael is now director of the Glide Foundation. He is the founder of the Briarpatch Network, an association of alternative businesses in the San Francisco Bay area, author of The Seven Laws of Money, and editor of The Briarpatch Book.
TF: Eight years ago you were one of the youngest vice-presidents of a major bank in the country and were considered a rising young star in the banking world. Why did you quit?
MP: Quitting the banking business was just the final step of a long process that began when one of my clients—who knew what I needed better than I did myself—sent me away on a cruise ship. I was thirty-one years old, and I'd never had a vacation in my life. I was nervous, tense, and stressed—a typical superachiever. I'd never in my life been able to just sit still and do nothing.
What happened on the ship?
Once I was on board and realized that there was literally nothing to do, I just about had a nervous breakdown. I even tried to get a helicopter to come pick me up. Finally, I was faced with the choice between going insane and just sitting in a deck chair and looking out at the ocean for several days straight.
It was the beginning of a big change for me—a big change in the way I thought about myself, about money, and about the world. In the banking world—and in the business world in general—making money is the name of the game. But once I thought through why I felt so driven to make money, I realized that my job was keeping me from getting what I really wanted.
What was that?
I spent a long time thinking about that. It came down to the things everybody wants—freedom, respect, health, security for my family, and security in my old age. I had been thinking that money would help me get these things, but in fact, it was keeping me from getting them.
What I was getting was hemorrhoids and stress ulcers. A psychiatrist I consulted helped me see that I was using stress to make me more effective in the business world—and that same stress was making me sick. And the more money I made, the more sick I was getting.
I realized that because l wanted freedom, and thought that money could get me freedom, I had ended up working in a job where I had very little freedom to do the things I really cared about. I thought that people with more money would be more loved and respected, but when I looked at the people l loved and respected—and looked at the qualities that made me care for them—money had absolutely nothing to do with it. I wanted security for my family and friends, yet I was hardly even able to see my family and friends because my life had become so excessively work centered.
In thinking about old age, I looked at my parents, and saw that their most important asset in dealing with being older was their ability to be competent, helpful, flexible, curious, generous, and involved with others. Money had very little to do with it.