"Most of us live our lives by accident. Fulfillment comes when we live our lives on purpose."
I'm on the fourth floor of the library looking out over the campus. I like this spot. It's quiet and peaceful. I'm studying for one of my economics classes. I have too many classes this semester. Plus, I'm working full time at the bank. I'm tired, but I know I need to get through this so that I can get a job somewhere.
The next day I have a conversation with a professor about what to do after college. He suggests I consider a Ph.D. program in economics. I voice concern over five more years of school, so he suggests at least a master's degree.
Still uncertain, I talk to another professor who thinks law school is the answer.
I've had it. I wonder why nobody suggests making money. I want advice on what kind of job I should get.
Sensing my frustration, my professors simply ask me, "Derek, what do you want to do?"
I get mad. I wanted them to tell me what to do. It occurs to me, I've never thought about this before. I have no idea what I want to do. I never thought it was an option to choose for myself what I want.
I was floating around life from circumstance to circumstance, reacting to what life was throwing at me. It wasn't until after those conversations that I spent some time figuring out what I wanted out of life; figuring out what is important to me.
Why Is Money Important To You?
Most people have never taken the time to learn why money is important to them. Why would they? It's not something most people think about. But it takes only a few moments of pondering to realize that it's only after learning what's important to us that we can use our money to support the kind of life that we want. Author Mitch Anthony has a saying that we should strive to live the best life we possibly can with the money that we have. That is a different way of looking at life than telling ourselves that we'll make a change when we finally get ahead.
Once you spend the time to learn what's important to you, your most important values become clear. Your values can become the foundation upon which all your future financial decisions rest. Use your money to support what's important to you.
Life is Finite
Many of us have not considered the fact that life is finite. Tim Urban of the Wait But Why blog wrote about the importance of being intentional with your life because the knowledge that we don't have unlimited time should change how we live our lives.
Here is a version of a visual from Wait But Why to help make the point. Each dot represents one year of your life.
We're Not Here Long
Using this visual, or one like it, helps you visualize where you're at in terms of how much time you have left.
For example, the average life expectancy in the United States is about 79 years old. As I write this, I am 39 years old. Plotting those points on this visual shows that I have lived half my life, and it's up to me to determine how I want to spend my remaining 40 years.
Using tools like this is a great way to visualize the rest of your life. How do you want to fill in the rest of your dots? What will you do with your remaining years? What do you want to do?
Life Is Not Predictable
Now, just because we can spend the time to figure out what we want out of life doesn't mean it's going to be easy to get that ideal life. Unfortunately, this is what I see too much of in financial services; the selling of certainty. "Buy this product and your problems will be solved." "Use these services and you don't have to worry about anything." "This app is your ticket to an easy life."
Certainty is a myth.
Life Throws Us Curve Balls
There's no such thing as certainty, and our path is not going to be a straight line. That's okay. Life happens, and we should expect and embrace life happening.
Just because the path toward our ideal future is not crystal clear doesn't mean we shouldn't determine our ideal future. It's important to know what we want and what's important to us. Getting clear about what you want out of life and what's important to you will make it easier to handle the noise that can often distract us.
Make Some Guesses - Not Goals
Author Carl Richards suggests we stop using the word "goals" and instead start using the term "guesses." I like the idea. Make your best guess, put some flags in the ground and move toward them. You can always course-correct when your plans change.
Think about it for a second. I might have a goal of retiring. But what does that mean? Does it mean to retire in 25, 30, or 35 years? Where am I going to live when I retire? How much will my transportation costs be? What activities will I be involved in?
I don't know those answers. To make a goal of retiring in 25 years to Phoenix, and driving a golf cart to play pickleball every day means that I am almost surely going to miss my goal. Instead, I can make a guess. If my plans, values, situation, or anything else changes, that's okay. I can make a new guess.
Goals also have a tendency to give us tunnel vision, making it more efficient to focus on systems, processes, and habits. The Farnam Street blog writes about creating habits instead of setting goals, and author Scott Adams talks about using systems instead of goals.
Just because we start using the terms guesses, systems, habits, or processes instead of goals, doesn't mean it's not important to figure out what you want out of life. Get clear about what is important to you, figure out what you want out of life, and use your resources to support your important values.
You only have one life - live intentionally.
The Alpha of Listening: The Labyrinth: Birth and Death
Mitch Anthony: The New Retirementality
Farnam Street: Habits vs. Goals
Sam Harris: Waking Up
Carl Richards: The One-Page Financial Plan
Wait But Why: Your Life in Weeks
Wikipedia: List of countries by life expectancy
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