[Life Back West] February 2011 – “When Money Isn’t Everything”


Image by TW Collins via Flickr

A painting done by Joan Savo of her husband leaning back in a chair hangs in my home office. Part of the attraction is that the frame to the painting was made by her husband, part of the attraction is the care that I know must have gone into the work by Savo.

It’s a treat to see when I’m in the office, and a lesson in the waiting for many of us.

Savo was part of the circle of incredible artists that formed the Bay Area Figurative movement, a subset of the larger Expressionist cultural movement from the last century. Savo’s community of painters included luminaries such as Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Joan Brown and Elmer Bishoff; she was so talented she even had her own one artist showing at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1964.

Akin to working with the Beatles, Yo Yo Ma or Elvis in music, or being part of the team that was at the epicenter of sequencing the human genome, she professionally had it all.

And then she gave it up.

She moved to Monterey, California with her husband and eventually raised a family. She got involved in the Monterey community, and she and her husband did things that were likely a far cry from the rising, critically acclaimed artists she had left behind in San Francisco. Savo painted some, but mostly raised her kids.

When I worked as an SVP of Human Resources for a $13 billion firm my McKesson colleague Jeanette Maggio would remind me that first things come first (“Mike; it’s not about Maslow’s self-actualization. These supervisors have basic training needs that are like their versions of fire, food and water“), but the fact is that sometimes basic needs – something like a paycheck – isn’t enough.

Other parts of life become more important.

Advertising executive Alex Bogusky had it all too; fame, family, international recognition for his work, family, autonomy, part of the nameplate in Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (CP+B), and an annual paycheck with six zeros. He was powerful enough to call a shot to relocate himself – and 500 of his associates – from Miami to Boulder when he decided that he liked the vibe of the Rockies better than the glitz of South Beach.

But in the end, like Savo, it wasn’t enough. Bogusky recently walked from CP+B , and all that came with it. He helped form and earlier this month launch “Common” –  a collaboration community/brand for social entrepreneurs. The intent of Common is to inspire a new consumer revolution, turning, in effect, his advertising skills for the good of consumers, not selling to consumers. Goodbye big paycheck; hello do-good for mankind.

The reality is that once you get beyond the lure of the paycheck that covers not just needs but your wants, other issues can press forward.

Kansas City Royal’s baseball pitcher Gil Meche chose to retire recently rather than sit on injured reserve and collect his paycheck. How much did he walk from? $12 million dollars. Sure he had been paid well and likely had all his basics (Jeanette’s fire, food, and water) covered. What did Meche say? “I was making a crazy amount of money for not pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

Cut to the chase; what’s the moral of the story?

There are some days when I miss the “masters of the universe” game I used to get to play in corporate America. Those were the days before I struck out on my own as a consultant coaching execs (and would-be execs), start-up and leadership teams. I know I miss the predictable paychecks, and at times the familiarity of constant colleagues would be great. And I confess that sometimes I miss the trappings; I was someplace the other day and pointed out to someone the office on the very upper floors of One Post Street that had a lock that fit the key I carried (“Wow! Nice office!” ).

Life, though, is about trade-offs. Most, including me, would like to have it all; life simply doesn’t seem to work that way.

What I don’t miss are the corporate political games, and doing parts of your role that you really hate in order to get a chance to do the parts of your role that your really like. I don’t miss being pulled away from my family (“It’s really important you be here for the meeting.”) And while I don’t like certain parts of my new life (the constant hustle to get clients),  mostly my consulting practices is like that adage about fishing; “a bad day of fishing is like a good day at the office.”

So Savo, and now Bogusky and Meche, are reminders to all of us to focus on the stuff that is most important. For me it’s about being a great pop to my son Traylor, having a great family with my spouse Chris and a thankfulness for his continued support to get my consulting business up and running, and doing what I really do well, which is to coach execs and teams.

Perhaps, in a roundabout way, if you’re clear about what’s really important you can have it all.

Just ask Joan Savo.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy ofKnowledgeCrush.

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