A Better Life

 In Business, Charity, Community, Culture, Family, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Money, People, Uncategorized
Listen to “A Better Life.”


As I handed him the check for the work he had been doing for us he paused before folding it neatly and putting it in his shirt pocket.

“Are you happy with your current lifestyle? Would you like to know about a business opportunity that could help you get more income and be able to afford a better life?”

I knew what was next and, fortunately, I had a prepared answer that stymied him completely.

“I really don’t want any more money than I have. In fact, I probably have more than I need right now.” I had the feeling that was a response not covered in the book. That was the end of the conversation. But now, 30 years later we were invited by a close friend to attend a local meeting sponsored by a multilevel marketing organization.

I was expecting pretty much the same appeal to my interest in having more money to buy more things and have better vacations. But, things had changed in 30 years and, while there was that element, it was obvious that more income was not at the top of the list any longer. It was still there but had moved down and I found that more than interesting. It was an illustration of how our lives and what motivates and sustains us have changed.

First, there was the offer that you could be in charge of your time. We would no longer be chained to a job that demanded a fixed (and increasing) amount of time spent working. No more punching a clock or working insane hours to make a good living. We would have time to invest in things that mattered.

Second, there was an emphasis on the value of family. Not only would we have more time for the family but the nature of the business encouraged family involvement. There would be no more “going off” to work and being separated from those we love. It reminded me of studies done on the impact of the Industrial Revolution on family life. For the first time in history, the father left home to go work for long hours away from the home and came back exhausted. Work relationships replaced the close ties families had enjoyed for centuries.

Third, there was the promise that we would be joining a team of people who would support, challenge, encourage and commit to making us successful. This was not becoming part of a faceless corporation but it was not the isolation of being the lonely entrepreneur taking the whole risk of the venture on themselves.

Fourth, by the very nature of the business and the chance to offer the benefits to others, we would have an impact for good in the lives of people who were struggling in so many ways. Over and again, we heard personal testimonies of people who were grateful for the opportunity to help people. They were not telling stories of how their new found wealth had given them total independence. In a way, it was just the opposite. Their lives had been enriched by helping others.

Fifth, there was the obvious prospect of making more money for a better lifestyle, for funding a college education, nicer homes and furniture and all the many things that people do with disposable income. But, while this was at the top of the list 30 years ago, it was almost at the bottom now. In fact, 30 years ago there had not really been a list. It was this one thing as the main incentive.

Finally, there was the opportunity to use increased wealth for charity. People talked about mission trips, supporting orphanages, increasing their giving and being charitable in a variety of ways. The money had a higher purpose.

Naturally, it started me thinking about what this means. Have we moved from a culture that was once motivated by and primarily interested in more money? While the lack of money for a better life or the simple desire to be rich had been enough to engage people in the past, it was far less a driver now. Instead, what we lack and want is time, relationships, control, being part of a team that is supportive, and a desire to make some kind of genuine difference in the lives of other people. I think it might be and, whether they have thought it through this intentionally or not, it certainly did resonate with people as I watched their body language and attentiveness. Yes, the money was interesting but not nearly as appealing as before. Something had changed. What was once merely a multilevel marketing organization had discovered somehow that all of us have multiple levels of motivation.

I think they are on to something.

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 10 comments
  • Bruce M. Brown

    Does The Gathering no longer send out a Newsletter?

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Bruce – We do not. We stopped several years ago after looking at the expense of printing and mailing. Each newsletter issue became more expensive than the last. Email and the website is far more efficient and, hopefully, just as useful.

  • Carol McGuire

    Fred, Your description of the changes in people’s motivations really resonates with me. I see this in myself and our grown children who are 40 and 42. They desire relationships, being part of a team that supports them and their beliefs and they want to do something that addresses issues bigger than themselves. It’s been a good shift in society not to idolize money making and the things that money can buy. Instead there is a desire to be compassionate and generous towards others who are in need. Jesus would like that

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Thank you, Carol. Sitting there did give me a bit of hope.

  • John

    I don’t normally speak this openly about my opinion, and I am sure I will get many dissenters. That’s okay. Respectful dialogue is good. That said, I think the answer to your question is no, we haven’t moved beyond the idea that accumulating wealth is our biggest priority—as a society, that is. To me, your example of network marketing seems pretty isolated, but I see a lot of other evidence that tells me otherwise.

    1. One of the most repeated defenses of the current happenings in Washington during the current administration’s first year was that they must be doing a good job because look at the stock market. I would ask people, whatever happened to the idea that there were more important things than money. And, frankly, the stock market is only one measure of an economy. The wage gap in our country continues to grow, the uninsured numbers are growing again, and the level of respectful discourse has dropped even lower than it was before 2017, and that’s saying something.
    2. Prosperity gospel preachers still attract millions of followers because they teach that God has designed us to live prosperously, and that’s what people want to do. There’s never a mention of the widow who left her pennies in the temple, going home at the end of the day as poor as when she arrived, probably never knowing Jesus noticed her or that we would still be talking about her 2,000 years later.
    3. In our own town, people get concerned about there being an affordable housing for the middle and lower classes, but they refuse to curb any of the activities, or allow the city council to curb any of the activities, that would help keep housing prices down such as limiting the number of starter-homes that can be purchased and turned into bed & breakfasts, not giving tax incentives to a convention hotel that will bring more tourists and more business to the West end of downtown, but also mostly add low-paying jobs and fight for employees with other employers who already have trouble hiring people because low-wage employees can’t afford to live here, and not allowing subsidized housing for low-income people because it will be too close to their homes. They recognize the problems, and they recognize how those problems ripple into their own lives, but they aren’t willing to make the sacrifice to their bottom line when it comes to solving them.

    I see the idea among some that there is more to their personal lives than making money, but at the end of the day, for the vast majority of our society, all other decisions will be made after first considering how it will impact income and career. Now, I wasn’t an adult during the opulent 80s so it might have been even worse then, but I don’t think we’ve departed from that line of thinking too much. Why else would congress be convinced that they had to pass a tax cut when so many other things need to be accomplished?

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      John – As always, a thoughtful response. I am glad you decided to post this as it is important. Yes, my experience was something of a one off but, still, I can see something of a difference in my daughter’s generation – at least her friends – than mine. As you say so well, it is different when it comes to economic development, affordable housing, healthcare and NIMBY. We are doing a class at the conference this year on affordable housing and I have been collecting all kinds of articles on some great stuff going on. It’s not widespread but it is growing. Keep us honest!

      • Connor Skelly

        John and Fred,

        Thanks for both of your posts, and happy to see that these issues are getting attention. Specifically, the “NIMBY” issue is a major one here in San Francisco. I’m involved in the SF YIMBY Party (Yes in my backyard), which is working on more affordable housing and density in this region.

        As John said, many folks in the Bay Area can recognize the problems that face are region, but are not willing to make sacrifices to solve them. This is especially true when it comes to building more affordable housing (which could potentially block peoples’ views, change the neighborhood vibe, etc.)

        I’m really interested in these issues, and would welcome connecting with either of you to talk more.


        PS- Fred, keep up the fantastic blog posts! I always enjoy your reflections and vulnerability.

  • Duane Watt


    This is a great read as well as interesting perspective. Thank you!

    It is encouraging to see people in general (not just organizations) beginning to understand the value of things in addition to money…i.e. the eternal impact of the other 2 “T’s…Time and Talent. Although “Treasure” certainly makes a difference and allows flexibility with time and use of talent, the prioritization and perspective of where treasure is on the “motivation list” is refreshing in this culture. I do believe as you illustrate, we may be shifting in a good direction overall with money not being the primary driver…at least for now.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Thank you, Duane. Yes, “at least for now” is a good thing to note. I’m not naive about the power of money (and our attraction to it) but I do think (and hope) that the obsession with it comes and goes.

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