What happens when money and business define you?

The economic crisis descending upon us is having a profound impact on many people’s lives. One of the most troubling things to witness is the rise in suicides, especially high profile suicides. The past two days news of US property mogul, Sheldon Good, and the German business magnate, Adolph Merckle, have graced the front pages of newspapers. They join the French investor who was conned by Bernie Madoff, Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet. This news is very sad not just because they are dead, but more sad that they chose to end their lives as if there was no more point to living.

These men were described as honest, hard working and generally good, smart people. I didn’t know know them when they were alive, but they chose to end their lives once their businesses and fortunes collapsed. Why just because your money is gone, your life is forfeit and has no value? How utterly sad is that? How sad is it that these people only defined themselves by business, materiality and money?

There is so much more to life than the material things we accumulate only to give up later when we die or give away before we die. There is family and friends. There is nature and beauty. There is love and goodwill. And most importantly is service to others.

Our ego mind lies to us. It convinces us that what is important is the kind of clothes on our backs, the shoes that we wear, the car that we drive, the house that we live in is paramount in our lives. The ego mind convinces us that our business stature and how other people regard us is what is important. But this is all a lie. Is this what our soul really wants? Is this who we are? Of course not, but years of listening to our ego and worrying what other people think create habits of mind and this is what we become. So that in the end, if suddenly our business, money and fame is taken from us, we are left with nothing. And what else is there to live for?

Imagine instead what these three very capable, very smart men could have done in terms of service to investors, their families, friends or just one person if they hadn’t killed themselves. What lessons could they teach investors? How could they be of help to family members or friends in need of help, advice or just someone’s presence? What help are they now? How much suffering has their deaths caused?

What if even in their hour of darkness, they had broken out to volunteer or do service for another person? This is one selfish reason, I volunteer. In one of my darkest times in 2003, when my love life, business career and health all failed at once, I’m convinced that volunteering at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospital kept me grounded and functioning, and it kept me from the darker thoughts that obviously consumed the three men mentioned above.

In 2008, I had the worst business performance of my life. It was terrible and it hurt me greatly that the clients that had entrusted money to me had lost so much money. And things are very uncertain now in many ways in my life. But what I have learned is that I can only do my best, work hard, learn from my mistakes and move forward. In the meantime, there is way too much for me to do that isn’t business, including: service, volunteering and good deeds. There are friends and family that may need me for a myriad of problems or advice or just to listen.

My advice to those that are hurting economically is to get out of your ego for a moment and do service for someone else. In times like these, I can guarantee you that there are people in circumstances that are much worse than yours. Try to help someone else. And in the end your giving of yourself will end up helping you in ways that are so much more important than material possessions and money. The meaning and the joy that you will receive will make you richer than you can possibly imagine.