Have You Learned The Secret?

Peter G. Peterson, now 83, has led a rather public and distinguished life. It started in Kearney, Nebraska as the son of Greek immigrants who owned a 24 hour diner. From there he went to Northwestern University and then to the University of Chicago where he earned an MBA. In 1972 Peterson became the first Greek cabinet officer when he was named Secretary of Commerce by Richard Nixon.

In the June 8 issue of Newsweek Peterson wrote in the My Turn column about his decision to give away $1 billion that he earned through founding the Blackstone Group, a financial services company. Why give that much money away? Why not spend it on yourself or leave it to family members? After getting the “big payday” that most people long for, Peterson discovered that it wasn’t all that he’d hoped. After climbing to the top of his profession and the top of the financial ladder, Peterson discovered that he’d placed his ladder next to the wrong thing.

Uninterested in purchasing big ticket items and bored by the inactivity of retirement, Peterson began to look for opportunities to be a part of something more significant. As he looked at other billionaires, he couldn’t help but notice that the ones he admired most had found the “pleasure of giving their money away.” Here’s another story that motivated him…

Ultimately, I decided to commit $1 billion to the Peter G. Peterson foundation—the vast majority of my net proceeds from Blackstone. Why so much? Kurt Vonnegut once told a story about seeing Joseph Heller at a wealthy hedge-fund manager’s party at a beach house in the Hamptons. Casting his eye around the luxurious setting, Vonnegut said, “Joe, doesn’t it bother you that this guy makes more in a day than you ever made from Catch-22?” “No, not really,” Heller said. “I have something that he doesn’t have: I know the meaning of enough.” I have far more than enough.

So Peter Peterson realized that he has enough. That’s great. It’s a lesson that we all need to learn. But do you have to be on the Forbes 400 to learn that? Do you have to have enough money to give away $1 billion before you have enough? Isn’t it easy to learn that you have enough when you have so much?

The answer to the last question is “No.” No, it is never easy for anyone to learn contentment in this world. That’s because the secret of contentment has nothing to do with how much you have. At a time in which the apostle Paul was in prison for his faith, he wrote:

Philippians 4:11-13 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

A few concluding observations:

1. No one is born content and contentment doesn’t come naturally for any of us. Paul learned how to be content.

2. Contentment isn’t based on your circumstances. Whether you are poor or wealthy or somewhere in between discontentment is always lurking. So to believe that you will be content when you get that house you’ve wanted, move into that neighborhood, land that job, finish that degree, find a spouse, improve your marriage, lose that weight, or get one more raise is to believe a lie.

3. According to Paul, the secret of contentment is Jesus. He says that he can do all things (live in plenty or in want, being well fed or hungry) through Christ. What’s the secret if not that the only thing that truly satisfies and therefore brings contentment to our life is Jesus.

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