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Why You Should Design Your Life


"Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it."

-James Clear


I'm sure my face is red. I'm frustrated and borderline angry. I just want to know what I'm supposed to do. It's my final year of college and two of my professors just asked me what I want to do next year, but I don't know. I didn't grow up in a situation where there was a lot of choice. I just lived my life like a reptile - moving from opportunity to opportunity without any thought. Now I have these guys asking me where I want to go, but I'm clueless. So clueless, in fact, that it's uncomfortable. I'm learning that I have permission to figure out who I want to be and what I want to do.

A few years later I've decided that I want to be the kind of person who drinks martinis at jazz clubs. I want to learn more about wine and understand the differences between the grapes, vintages, and growing processes. This is kind of fun, but it's not really me. The more I learn about wine, the more I appreciate more expensive wines. But before learning about it, I was perfectly happy drinking cheap wine. More knowledge is simply costing me more money. Plus, no matter how hard I try, I can't get myself to enjoy martinis. This is the lifestyle that many of my work colleagues live and I want it, but it's not real. I'm learning that it's beneficial to pick a life that I want to live, rather than being influenced by society and my peers.

A decade later, I still enjoy wine and jazz, but I've learned I also enjoy outdoor concerts with a gin and tonic. I enjoy being out in nature, going on hikes, walks, runs, and bike rides. I enjoy being active. I want to be the kind of person who reads every day for at least an hour. This is what works for me and not necessarily anyone else, and I'm comfortable with that. I'm also comfortable knowing that my preferences will likely change again at some point.

Designing our lives doesn't mean picking something and sticking with it no matter what. It's about constantly learning about ourselves and what we want out of life. What we want out of life will change, and that's okay, but it's important to have some flags in the ground to move towards.

design your life

Life is Finite

If you think about it, you're very, very lucky to be here. You get to enjoy life. On top of that, we understand that we are going to die. Many don't like talking about it, but that doesn't change the fact. You get a few dozen trips around the Sun. Thinking about life through this lens means that there are some hard-to-swallow pills. Namely, we are going to die, and everyone we love is going to die.

None of us know exactly how much time we have. Being mindful of this fact helps us realize that we really have a choice of how we want to spend our time.

life is finite

In Rare Company

Knowing that life is finite gives us an opportunity to choose the kind of life that we want. We can pick a future that we want to live - within the bounds of the resources we have. It's up to us to imagine a future that works for us, and just as importantly, a future we don't want.

Instead of taking action in ways that would get us closer to a life that would be as valuable as possible, as we define it, most of us let life happen to us. We float around from circumstance to circumstance. It's very rare that anyone answers the question, "what do you hope you achieve?"

most people don't design their lives

Designing Your Life

There's tremendous value in figuring out what kind of life you want in the future. What kind of future do you want? What does your social life look like? What do you want your family to look like? How about your career or what you do for fun? You have the opportunity to envision what a healthy and productive future looks like. Think about the kind of life would you be happy to look back on, and what kind of future you want to avoid.

If we don't choose what kind of life we want, we are just along for life's ride and we often simply do what's easiest; we'll watch more television, play on our phones, or otherwise put off doing what would actually make us happy.

design your life for happiness

Moving Beyond Goal-Setting

You might be thinking that I'm trying to tell you to set goals, but I don't believe in goals. In fact, I think goals limit us. Choosing your future involves much more than hoping for specific outcomes. It's about figuring out the kind of person you want to be. Once you know who you want to be and what you want to do, you can start implementing habits that will help you become that person. Achieving goals, that is, getting specific outcomes, is a fleeting moment. Changing habits and implementing good systems is life-changing.

If you focus on your process, the outcomes take care of themselves. Further, if you set up your systems correctly, you will be happy no matter what the outcome is.

focus on process over outcome

You Decide

The choice is yours. It's easy to be swayed by what others think. Figure out what money needs to do for you. Spend some time understanding the kind of person you want to be and what your most important personal values are.

The results from this kind of self-discovery are going to be uniquely you. These results should not match your neighbors, mine, that person you follow on Instagram, or anyone else. What matters is what you actually want.

Another one of my mentors, Carl Richards, likes to say that we don't etch our plans in stone, we write them in pencil. Life happens. We have permission to change our minds if our first guess doesn't work. That's okay. It's the ongoing process of continuing to choose a life that we want that's important.

you get to decide your future

Figuring out what you want, and what you don't want, will give you confidence. This confidence will flow through to all areas of your life. Knowing what you want out of life and how to use your money to support that will give you a certain peace that many won't experience.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

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Related Money Health® Reading

References and Influences

James Clear: Atomic Habits

Sam Harris Channel: The Lessons of Death

Karen McCall: Financial Recovery

Self Authoring Suite: Future Authoring

Wait But Why: Your Life in Weeks

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at or thought about while writing this article. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.


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About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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