I was raised to value hard work. The concept was pretty simple: stay out of trouble, do your job, and (once you’re grown) let your paycheck set you free. Work was presented as a means to self-sufficiency and independence, so I pursued it as soon as possible, taking my first job as a dishwasher at fifteen. And that was awesome! But the flip side of the coin was that once I left home after high school—once I took that step into freedom—I was on my own. I was taught to get out there and earn money, and that was the beginning and end of my financial education.
So there I was as a young adult fresh out of art school, helping companies sell consumer goods, and it was survival mode. I’d known people who followed their passions into meaningful careers and those who just did whatever would make them the most money. Somehow, I’d found myself not even on the spectrum between those two possibilities. I wasn’t pursuing meaningful work—I was selling pointless products to people who didn’t need them—but I also wasn’t making quite enough money to give my family any breathing room (even with my speech pathologist wife hard at work beside me).
I was deeply misunderstanding those two critical concepts that I tended to think of as the ends of a continuum I’d fallen off of: money and meaning. As it turns out, the two aren’t opposites at all. For me, at least, they are deeply and inextricably linked.
The Secret Language
My parents were right. Money is the only human and earthly means to achieving freedom, and that makes it deeply meaningful. Understanding money is the one and only universal secret language that separates the haves from the have-nots in this world, so it follows that financial acumen is the only thing that can truly close this gap in our society.
If we really want to change the world, we have to tap human potential.
The best way to do that is through education, particularly financial education: teaching people the same things we, as business owners and leaders, have learned along the way. I’m a natural lifelong learner, but I still spent 25 years working for other people, doing my best to help them reach their goals, with no access to information about how business really worked and without any idea of what really needed to happen. How easy that would have been to change if someone had just pointed me in the right direction!
Bear in mind, I’m not talking about money as the key to freedom that we should all be chasing single-mindedly, dreaming of private islands and palaces. Think of the most regular person you know, maybe someone blue-collar. Imagine that person freed from the daily burden of stressing about paying rent or supporting their kids because they understand and control their paycheck, know how their work affects their company and their own pocket, and feel comfortable using the money they earn effectively and well. That’s the world I want us to move towards—a world full of people like that.
Today, I work for The Great Game of Business, sharing a system of employee empowerment with companies nationwide. We help businesses reach their potential by engaging their employees with tools related to financial literacy, accountability, and effective incentives. I’m doing what God made me to do—sharing a deeply meaningful message and using my people skills to communicate that message in an engaging way! It’s been incredibly fulfilling for me, not least because the message I’m sharing is one I happen to be a poster child for: the power of financial literacy. If an art major can become an authority on business, anyone can!
My family is my critical number. I want to leave this place better than I found it, mostly because of them. A close brush with cancer has also emphasized my “why” in recent years—it’s put an exclamation point on the work I do. We’ve all got lessons coming our way every day, but we so often don’t hear them. I want to be a part of helping people realize what they need before they need it and before it’s too late.
I mean, really, if you knew exactly how much time you had left on this planet, what would you want to change? Wouldn’t you feel compelled to grab the reins with a little more determination? Do you really know who you are and what you want? We’re all working with limited time; let’s make the most of it. For me, that means continuing to pour into my work of financial education and employee empowerment, making the secret language of finance accessible to as many people as possible so they can step up to bat with the tools for success they need.
We can’t predict the future, but we can be a part of creating a brighter one.
Don’t miss out on hearing more of Steve’s story! Register for the Storyline Webinar here.
November 16, 2023
His audiences range from Harvard University to the Department of Defense, and he is a regular at Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000 Conference. He has served on the Board of the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) and SRC Holding’s Ownership Culture Initiative.
Steve is an award-winning artist and lives in Springfield, Missouri, with his trophy wife, JoAnn, and three above-average children.