So here we are again. It’s another year, and we’ve already knocked over the first quarter. Can you believe it? With barely a thought for the year that was, we’re back to the 50+ hour work weeks – paying bills, fixing things around the house we said we’d fix over the holidays, and running kids to concerts, parties or after-school activities.
Our New Year’s resolutions have gasped their last, and we’re back to questioning our lives and the meaning of it all (if there even is one). We feel that subtle heaviness – the fear that things won’t change even though we want them to.
I’ve been here many times, mostly during my late thirties and early forties. As a much younger man, though, it was very different. The arrival of each year filled me with unassailable optimism. I’d tell myself that this was my year. This year, I would become the change I sought.
But as I got older, each new year took on a darker hue, like those lugubrious winter days when the sun stays behind a veil of brooding clouds. I’d tried and failed at so many things – sometimes spectacularly – that each time I threw out a calendar, it became harder to find a silver lining.
After many years of this cycle, I slowly learned something. I learned that everything has an end, whether that thing is good or bad. Bad relationships end. Winning streaks fizzle. Good economies crash and bad ones recover.
And so a few years ago, I made a deliberate decision to turn things around. You can read about much of it in my other posts on my other site, but suffice to say, once I made the decision that today was ‘Day One’, things began to change.
What you Say vs What you Mean
Nowadays, I’m super intentional about the decisions I make – especially about the things I want and don’t want. And I’ve learned that what I say I want is often just a thin veneer covering something deeper, and much simpler.
I’ve since adopted a simple phrase, “So that…”, and it has transformed how I make decisions and with it, my life.
When a decision comes before me, I always carry it through to its conclusion with a series of brutally honest ‘so that’s’.
What this does is lead me towards the ultimate outcome, and it forces me to question my motives. Let me give you an example. Say I wanted to get a job promotion. My ‘so that’ sequence might look like this:
“I want to get this promotion…”
- So that… I can earn more money
- So that… I can buy a Mercedes
- So that… I look cool to others
- So that… I feel like I’m winning
- So that… all those years of work are rewarded
- So that… I fulfill my dream of ‘living the good life’
Once I’ve made it to the end, I then ask a simple question: “Will this deliver the final outcome I seek?” In this case, it’s item number 6.
If the outcome of the above example is, ‘living the good life,’ then the answer to the question might actually be ‘No’. I’ll explain why in a minute.
As I’ve said before, the thousands of marketing messages we see every day teach us that the only path to the life we seek is to buy our way there or give up huge chunks of our life. Usually it’s both.
The sad thing is, few of us question it because we’re all doing it.
The Six Costs of What You Want
Every decision has multiple costs, and we’d be wise to consider all of them each time we’re about to make one.
- The time cost – how much of it you must surrender
- The relationship cost – the impact it will have on those you love
- The freedom cost – the restrictions it will place on your autonomy
- The ethical cost – the moral and ethical compromises it might demand of you
- The ‘truth’ cost – the divergence from who you are and what feels ‘right’
- The financial cost – the money you pay for it
Running my ‘get a promotion’ example through this test, my answers might go like this:
- Time – I’ll have to work longer hours
- Relationships – my wife and kids will see less of me
- Freedom – I might have to give up dinner or breakfast with the family
- Ethics – I might have to promote or support something I don’t believe in
- Truth – I’ll have to do things that are unnatural or awkward for me
- Financial – I’ll have to direct more income to car payments and restaurant dinners
See how this plays out? This is the simplest way I can explain why I decided over 10 years ago that I would no longer chase job titles.
Sure, I’ve made less money than I might have, but I’ve always been there for my kids (I still am), and that’s worth a lot more to me than a fancy job with a fancy title and lots of money. It just is.
Like most things, though, I learned this the hard way.
The Lust for Money
The first time was over 20 years ago. I was lured by a fancy guy in a really fancy suit to head up a new franchise at a car dealership.
He took me out to lunch and told me how wonderful my life would be. The money would flow, accolades would tumble from the heavens and supermodels would beg me for my number.
Almost none of that is true, but the offer did come with an immediate 50% pay rise, a new car and a dose of extra status.
There were two problems. The location was an extra hour from home. Also, the owner was a lunatic. I discovered this important fact on day-one when he blasted me for leaning against a desk in the new, as yet unfinished showroom.
Three days later, I realised what a horrible mistake I’d made and I quit.
The second time involved a $250,000 carrot from a tech start-up. Again, a mistake.
In exchange for my quarter of a mill, they required everything short of my first-born. There was no room for anything else in my life. Even a very lucrative ‘offer’ from a sexy colleague wasn’t enough to keep me there. So I called up my previous boss and begged him to take me back. Luckily he did, and that’s when I restructured my work arrangements.
What I learned from all this, and through the 10 years that followed (I’m a slow learner), is that the things I wanted all came with multiple prices.
I also learned that the things I wanted could be acquired through means that didn’t conform to societal norms. In other words, I didn’t have to give up as much as everyone said – I didn’t have to pay three or four different prices for everything.
This is where you come in. I mightn’t know exactly what you want, but I reckon I can guess a few of them – at least in broad terms.
I’m guessing you want:
- A degree of autonomy around how you spend your days
- Healthy relationships with your partner and kids
- To do work that matters to you
- To hold fast to your values and beliefs
- To have the time and energy to appreciate life and pursue the things you love
- Financial freedom
Have I missed any?
The One Word that Means Everything
Personally, I can sum these up in one word: Freedom. I have two cars with number plates that include this word; that’s how strongly I feel about this.
I want the freedom to decide where and when I work, who I spend time with, what I work on, which causes I pursue, and how my income is created (and spent). I want a meaningful life, and so everything I do is filtered through this lens.
All of this bubbles up during my annual reflection (sounds religious, I know), where I ask myself five questions. Sorry, I tend to think in lists.
- What do I want this year, and how do I want to feel?
- What worked well last year?
- What didn’t work so well last year?
- What will I say ‘yes’ to this year?
- What am I going to say ‘no’ to?
Considered this way, and with the number one question filtered through the criterion described above, I can go into my new year knowing exactly what matters – for me.
If you’re in my age group (I’m 50), chances are you’ve denied yourself this kind of introspection for years; maybe decades. My question to you is, how much longer do you think you have? What exactly are you waiting for?
Permission? For the kids to leave home? For your nest egg to reach a mythical number?
If you’ve worked as long as I have (33 years), you deserve to ask, “What do I really want?” Hell, if you’ve just started working, you can save yourself decades of misery by asking the question right now. If no one was judging you – if the decision was wholly yours to make, what would you really want for yourself or your family this year?
And remember, you don’t have to quit your job. But maybe you need a different one – one that aligns better with what matters to you, or one that gives you more freedom to pursue something on the side. And speaking of that, maybe you need a side hustle. Actually, I think everyone needs a side hustle.
Maybe you need to eliminate some of the crap from your life – people included.
Perhaps it’s time you shut out all the noise and go somewhere to think for a while. I’ve done this many times – often driving a few hundred kilometres from home, just so I can be alone in my car with a voice recorder at the ready.
You’ll be amazed what you can tease out if you just make the time to do this. And as you think out loud and record your thoughts, you’ll uncover truths you’ve been hiding under a thick layer of bad programming and societal expectations – probably for years.
Don’t see this as an indulgence. If you can spend weeks planning a holiday but won’t devote a day (or even half a day) to figuring out what you really want from your life, you’re kidding yourself. Things won’t change all by themselves.
Decide what you want for your life at the purest level. Write it down. Keep it simple. Cut away all the bullsh*t crutches and veneers and just be honest with yourself for a change. Pretend no one is watching.
Then when you’re ready – truly ready – you can make tomorrow Day One.
Tribe of Mentors – by Tim Ferriss
The Power of Now – by Eckhart Tolle
The Art of Non-Conformity – by Chris Guillebeau
The Element – by Sir Ken Robinson
Choose Yourself – by James Altucher
Debt Free in 3 Simple Steps – by Peter Fritz
Side Hustle – by Chris Guillebeau
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