From Monk to Money Manager
I’ve always hated talking about money. Growing up in a rich family, I learned through the behavior of those around me that money and materialism were evil. Instead of being used in love and service, money was weaponized and became a tool to manipulate and control behavior. So when I began studying philosophy and religion in high school and read the words of Paul the apostle, “For the love of money is the root of all evil,” I mistakenly believed Paul was right. I was a proto-monk in the making.
As a rebellious teenager, I found refuge in a hippie community, but despite the “one world” rhetoric, they didn’t seem to give a darn about anyone but themselves. So in college, I pivoted in the other direction and attended Officer Candidate School with the US Marine Corps and loved it. I was looking for a life of selfless service, but the Marines taught us to enjoy killing, and that freaked me out.
If I was to quit the Marines and do something better, what could be a higher calling? Where else could I live a noble life and avoid the “greedy capitalist corporate world?” Just then, I began to have a religious reawakening and started to explore the possibility of becoming a monk.
It seemed a perfect solution. In the monastery, I would have all the structure and discipline I liked about the Marines along with comradery, or esprit de corps, but with an even nobler purpose. God comes before country. Best of all, I would take a vow of poverty and be free from the grip of money and materialism forever.
Or so I thought.
I entered the monastery fresh out of college. My original intent was to try it out for a little while, like taking a gap year. It was the “road less traveled.” I was looking for the meaning of life, and I decided that if I was ever going to find it, a monastery was the most likely place to do so. Each day was rich with meaning, even if poor in spirit.
In my early years at the monastery, it was a struggle to pay the bills and keep the household running smoothly. Since the other brothers were older and wiser, I assumed they knew something about finance and bookkeeping. Sadly, this was not the case. Within a few years, it was clear that something was desperately wrong with the community finances. We were all working full time, but somehow there wasn’t enough money to pay the bills.
Eventually, I took over the monastery bookkeeping and stumbled into a Pandora’s box. I learned that the community had been running in the red for years. There were medical bills, car repairs, student loans, insurance payments, and all the living expenses. There were also retreats to Rome and help given to those in need. Credit cards became a necessity for survival. Even when our income level improved after we all landed good teaching jobs, it was too late. We were under an avalanche of debt.
How did our financial problems get so bad?
For two reasons. First was the hope that prayer alone could solve our money problems. If prayer alone was ever going to solve a big money mess, we were first in line. The second reason was that we viewed money as evil and didn’t own up to our individual or collective financial responsibilities. Somehow, everything was going to work out for the best, or it was someone else’s job to fix. The quest for blame is always successful — even for monks.
Hope and blame are not strategies. Prayer that leads you to the right action is great. Prayer that leaves you sitting on your backside isn’t. And prayer used as a form of denial or blame isn’t real prayer. Praying for the bills to get paid without taking right action is a guaranteed path to failure. You won’t have enough money for retirement if you don’t put any money into your account or buy lottery tickets as your financial plan.
After cleaning up the monastery finances, my life took another unexpected turn in 2005. I was working as a math and economics teacher at a private seventh-through twelfth-grade school, and serving as chair of the mathematics department. One day a good friend asked me for help planning her retirement. At sixty-four, she knew it was past time to start. However, her retirement savings was only $16,000! She had never faced this money demon, and had never opened her retirement account.
She is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known. But when I explained the gravity of her situation, as delicately as I could, she broke down in tears and cried. And cried. She then asked me when she could expect to retire. I lied and said I didn’t know. The answer wasn’t good, and I lacked the courage to speak the truth.
After seeing the trouble my friend and colleague had saving for retirement, I began to dig into the retirement plan at my school. Her situation wasn’t unique, and I wanted to know what went wrong. Someone must run the plan and be responsible for it, right? Why did our retirement plan fail to work for my friend and most of my colleagues?
Then, after more research, I discovered this wasn’t a unique situation. Almost every teacher retirement plan in the country is in shambles. For decades, retirement plans have been neglected by school boards in both public and private institutions, providing financial predators an easy feast.
To remedy these systemic problems, I formed my own company, Lynam Financial Services, then happily merged with a larger firm, LongView Asset Management. That’s when I left the monastery. I’d found a wider community to serve. In my mind, I didn’t leave monasticism; I’m just bringing what I discovered in the monastery out into the world.
The hard truth is that money is the root of almost everything, good and evil. And the deepest spiritual reality is that we are all interconnected. So we need a healthier attitude towards our finances that aligns our investments and money habits with our values. When we take a “green money” approach not only do we improve our own financial lives, we are also using our wealth to build a better world. It is a healthy way to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Article by Douglas Lynam
Partner at LongView Asset Management
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug Lynam is Director of Educator Retirement Services at LongView Asset Management in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, the “Great Books” school, where he earned a degree equivalent to a double major, one in the History of Mathematics and Science and one in Philosophy, as well as a double minor, one in Classical Studies and the other in Comparative Literature. He is also a graduate of the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
Douglas has devoted his life to service. He was a Benedictine monk for twenty years, while working as a math and science teacher for eighteen years, and math department chair at Santa Fe Prep for over a decade. His work with teacher retirement plans and individual investors combines his desire to make the world a better place with his fascination for economics.
Before becoming a teacher, Doug worked as a legal analyst for Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was the vice president of the St. John’s College Search and Rescue Team and is a certified cycle instructor and an avid yoga practitioner. He continues to work as a pro bono financial adviser to low-income families, which he has done since 2005, and he has won awards for his volunteer efforts for the homeless.