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Watch: Leaving Wall Street, and overcoming an addiction to wealth

Sam Polk made millions on Wall Street, but realized he needed to give up the high life –€“ and his whole belief system

Sam Polk started out on Wall Street fresh out of college. It was 2003, and the young trader was surprised to learn that one of his Bank of America colleagues had two Ferraris.

By the end of his first year, he had a $40,000 bonus. It was intoxicating, and he soon threw himself into the world of bond and credit default swaps. But even as he earned $1.5 million at the end of his second year at a hedge fund, Polk still felt jealous and worried that he wasn’t making enough.

"I was using money to fill this hole inside me," he said. "It’s very hard to sort of maintain your own values amidst a system that values something different."

And when the 2008 stock market crash happened – which Polk likened to "being on roller skates on a ship in the middle of a storm" – he didn't lose money. He actually profited by shorting derivatives of risky companies.

But the crisis was a turning point. For one thing, watching industry bigwigs claim they couldn't have anticipated the collapse helped crack away at the power Polk associated with them.

"I was like, 'Oh so maybe these guys at the top aren’t masters of the universe,'" he said. "'Maybe they’re just guys that happen to be at the top and what they are trying to do is hold on to their seats.'"

He also realized something else. Polk, who'd struggled with alcohol abuse while in college, had replaced his former addiction with a new one: wealth.

But leaving finance wasn't so easy. He worried that 10 years down the line, he'd come to regret the decision – not to mention the others who thought the idea "crazy."

It wasn't until 2010 – after pulling in $5 million in just over six years – that the 30 year old mustered the courage to walk away from Wall Street. It wasn't just his wealth addiction he was leaving behind, he said, it was "an entire system of beliefs."

When he left, Polk has said, he received calls from colleagues saying they wished they could do the same.

Polk and his girlfriend moved to Los Angeles and got married. Seeing how wealthier people would spend $30 on lunch just a few miles from where families were going hungry, and eating unhealthy, they launched Groceryships – a program that provides scholarships for groceries. Ten low-income families at a time receive healthy food and lessons for leading a healthier lifestyle.

To help get it off the ground, though, Polk turned to his former life, calling up his former Bank of America boss Michael Meyer.

"I said, … 'I think a single Groceryship is going to cost about $3,000 dollars. Are you willing to donate one?'" Polk recalled. "He said 'I'll take 10.' And that’s how Groceryships started."

In April, Polk and his wife gave birth to daughter – their first child. And looking forward, he wants to make sure that she doesn’t have the same sort of tortured existence that he endured.

“I would love it if she felt from the beginning that her life was enough," he said. "That she was enough from the beginning."

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