Your boss calls you into his office.

You're a little  nervous. Not exactly the boss's favorite, you realize this could be bad news.

But after some small talk, your manager says he wants to let you know your bonus for this year. The number?

$3.6 million.

For most of us, this would be reason for celebration. Call your family, break out the champagne.

But not for Sam Polk. He received that offer a few years ago, when he was a 30 year-old trader on Wall Street. His reaction was different than you might expect.

Polk got angry.

But why?

Because he wanted more.

For the Love of Money: A Memoir is Polk's story, and yesterday marked its launch in bookstores. It details how Polk worked his way up one of the biggest hedge funds on Wall Street in an obsessive pursuit of wealth--and how he lost himself in the process.

The book originated in the form of a 2014 New York Times op-ed with the same name, that quickly went viral. In that piece, Polk shares details about his first year working as a trader, which resulted in a $40,000 bonus. Before long, that bonus grew into the millions.

"For the first time in my life, I didn't have to check my balance before I withdrew money," writes Polk. "But a week later, a trader who was only four years my senior got hired away by C.S.F.B. for $900,000. After my initial envious shock--his haul was 22 times the size of my bonus--I grew excited at how much money was available."

Within just a few years Polk was a millionaire, had access to the most expensive restaurants in Manhattan, and could get second-row seats at a Knicks game at the drop of a hat.

But through it all, Polk was suffering from a major problem.

He explains:

"I was nagged by envy. On a trading desk everyone sits together, from interns to managing directors. When the guy next to you makes $10 million, $1 million or $2 million doesn't look so sweet. 

...I wanted a billion dollars. It's staggering to think that in the course of five years, I'd gone from being thrilled at my first bonus--$40,000--to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid 'only' $1.5 million."

Polk suffered from addiction. An addiction to wealth.

He compares this addiction to an alcoholic who insists on driving, putting everyone in danger. Similarly, explains Polk, wealth addicts are specifically responsible for the ever widening rift that is tearing apart society.

"Only a wealth addict," says Polk, "would earn hundreds of millions as a hedge-fund manager, and then lobby to maintain a tax loophole that gave him a lower tax rate than his secretary."

One day, after a conversation with his boss, Polk realized that enough would never be enough. Suddenly, his perspective changed.

"I'd always looked enviously at the people who earned more than I did," writes Polk. "Now, for the first time, I was embarrassed for them, and for me."

He walked away from Wall Street soon thereafter, never to return.

And now?

Polk currently runs Groceryships, a non-profit he founded that helps poor families struggling with obesity and food addiction. In addition, he's preparing to launch Everytable, a social enterprise which will provide healthy and affordable meals to those in need.

"I am much happier," says Polk. "I feel as if I'm making a real contribution."

"And as time passes, the distortion lessens."

Published on: Jul 20, 2016
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