I sit on the floor surrounded by a group of smiling first graders. “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” I ask. Their hands shoot up high into the air as they enthusiastically call out their answers.
- “A doctor.”
- “A nurse.”
- “A basketball player.”
- “A builder.”
- “A teacher.”
- “A zoo keeper.”
They are so excited they have a hard time waiting for their turn to share. As we go around the room each child speaks confidently about their desired career. Their futures are full of possibilities. They have big plans to to live their best life and no fear that they may fail.
After class I reminiscence about my own childhood desires when an unexpected longing arises from deep within. A desire to go back to a time before obligations, bills and responsibilities altered my goals.
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” How did you answer this question when you were a child?
Around the age of ten or eleven I wrote a report about the greatest speeches of American presidents. Speeches like John F. Kennedy’s “We Choose To Go To The Moon”:
“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”
Or Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate Speech:
“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
At the time I couldn’t imagine anything more thrilling than becoming a speech writer. (Looking back I suppose I was an unusual kid.) I was certain I could write the words that would inspire a nation.
Of course that never happened. I graduated with a degree in English Literature and went on to become a software engineer. I enjoyed my career, but I never forgot about that original goal. Even now, three decades after I first dreamed about it.
What is Important To Me?
At some point in our lives we lose sight of the aspirations of our childhood. We stop asking the fundamental question, “What is important to me?” As adults we become too busy with daily obligations to ask ourselves “What do I value?”, “What do I care about?” or “What do I want to be?”
The complications of adulthood muddy our thoughts and make these questions difficult to answer. Some of us grow up and forget about our childhood dreams all together.
I will never become a speech writer. In fact, I no longer aspire to become one, but that doesn’t mean I’ve completely forgotten about my dreams.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life. Do I want to find a new job or ease into the option of early retirement?
Mortality Provides Clarity
When I sit down to contemplate the options I find it difficult to narrow down my choices. After feeling frustrated by my lack of progress I begin to reframe my thinking. Rather than asking, “what do I want to be when I grow up?” I find myself asking, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”
When I get stuck I reword the question again. This time I ask, “What would I do if I only had six months to live?” Then I ask,
- “Who would I want to visit or talk to?”
- “What do I want to achieve?”
- “What would I regret not doing before I died?”
The fear of mortality helps drive my hazy ideas into clear focus. If I knew my time was up I wouldn’t want to waste a single moment of it. Would you?
Find a quiet place and reflect on these questions.
Where Should You Focus Your Energy
If these were your last days where would you want to expend your energy? On your spouse, children, religion, health, philanthropy or something else entirely? Are you spending your time on those things now? If not, why not?
Okay, let’s pause here. You are probably thinking I can’t spend all that time and energy on the things I love. I have to go to work. I have a job. Remember all of those bills I have to pay?
Hopefully when you reflect on the questions above you recognize that life is not about giant houses, fancy cars and a bank account full of extra commas. Many of us step through the motions of life mindlessly earning and spending. We waste our precious hours on this Earth trying to make more money and then quickly spend nearly every cent we make.
Money impacts our day-to-day transactions, our jobs, our focus, quite frankly our lives, but we don’t need material possessions or even a lifetime of exciting experiences. At the root of it all most of us yearn for quality relationships, time with our loved ones and passionate projects to pursue.
A life well lived focuses on friendships, family, meaning, purpose and love. You know all those things money can’t buy.
That may be true, but we still need to earn money to keep the lights turned on and ensure the garbage gets taken away.
So how can we make the most of our time right now? How do we live our best life if we have to keep working?
Carving Out Time
Before I had children I was convinced that I had absolutely zero time to spare in a day. How could I spend any time on the things that mattered when I was spending all of my time working, commuting, eating three meals, hitting the gym and sleeping? There was little to no time left for anything else.
But you know what? It wasn’t true. Most of us have spare time. Many of us simply choose to fritter it away. According to the American Time Use Survey women spend 4.9 hours on leisure activities per day. While men spent 5.7 hours. The average American spends 2.8 hours watching television.
Now we inherently know that life shouldn’t be all work and no play. We need time to decompress and relax, but we can also use this as an excuse to waste our precious hours.
An Example of Wasted Time
Let me give you an example from my own life. For years my husband and I sat side by side on the couch after work watching television.
During this time we stared straight ahead watching the Discovery channel or some nerdy documentary. When the show was over I went back upstairs to work on my computer and he went downstairs to work on his. We spent time in the same room but we may as well have been miles apart.
Then it got worse. We stopped watching television together after our first son was born. We lived in separate parts of the house and slowly, over time, we began to fail one another.
A simple shift in our behavior dramatically improved our relationship. Rather than coming home, vacating to our separate rooms or sitting side by side watching TV we began to sit down, grab a drink and talk to one another.
Sometimes we do this on the couch, out on the stoop in front of our house or in the thirty-year-old hot tub that came with the house we bought over two decades ago.
I knew my relationship was important, yet I did absolutely nothing to strengthen it. I am ashamed to say I ignored the things I most valued.
Escaping the 9-to-5
Many of us think we have to quit our jobs to pursue our passions and find time for the things we love. While it’s great if you can escape the 9-to-5 quitting isn’t a requirement to living a better life. In fact, in some ways the race to FI (financial independence) and FIRE (financial independence retire early) may be the worst thing you can do.
You can make a miserable life even more miserable by inundating your life with money-making side hustles and extreme frugality.
At FinCon I met a few individuals who were working themselves ragged. One guy I met sat in his basement typing up three posts a week. It took him eight hours to write a post and a few more hours to edit it. This poor guy was running out of ideas for new content, suffering from writer’s block and frustrated by his lack of website traffic.
Now in addition to working his 9-to-5 job he was miserable working at his side-hustle too.
How Can You Live Your Best Life Now?
Instead of trying to escape from the pain points of our lives, what if we embraced the good parts and focused on the things we truly valued?
Read through the questions in this post and figure out how to carve out time for the people and things that matter. It’s nice to have a month off to travel the globe, but it’s just as important to find peace, love and understanding on a daily basis.
In fact, I would argue that it’s more important to find contentment every day in the simplest of ways. That’s much more valuable than believing you need big trips and adventures to make life worthwhile.
If you cannot quit our day job what can you do to live your best life right now? How can you live without money, (at least without tons of it), and still feel joyful and fulfilled?
1. Do something you love.
Carve out a few minutes each day to do something you truly love. Sit on your front porch and drink tea. Spend five minutes meditating or stretching. Go for a short run. Paint, write, sing or dance in your living room.
2. Reach out to someone you love.
Snuggle your children before bedtime. Give your kids a giant hug before they head to school. Sit with your partner and really listen to the best parts of his or her day. Call your mom. Text your best friend.
3. Live in the moment.
Be present in your life. Step outside, feel the way the wind blows or the way the newly cut grass smells. Put your phone away when you are talking to your children, partner, parents and co-workers.
4. Show your appreciation.
Tell your parents, partner and children how much you love them. Thank your coworker for completing a project on time. Thank your child’s teacher for being there on a particularly hard day.
5. Be the best version of yourself.
Imagine today was your last day on Earth. Would you want to spend it fighting with someone you love? Try your best to mend broken bridges and be sure not to burn new ones. Forgive to the best of your ability. How do you want to be remembered? Live each day that way.
6. Spend your time wisely.
Don’t waste your most limited resource, (time), on TV and social media. Carve out time in advance for the things that matter like reading, learning a new skill, volunteering, exercising and spending quality time with the ones you love.
7. Find your passion, but don’t feel pressured to do it for money.
If you love to write then begin writing. If you love to paint buy yourself a canvas and start painting. You don’t have to turn your passion into a business. First, find the joy in creating. If you succeed you can always monetize it later.
Wealth Beyond Money
Now don’t get me wrong, if you can afford to save a good portion of your income and work towards financial independence by all means start your journey. Just remember not to sacrifice the things that matter right now.
You don’t need a lot of money to live your best life. In fact, refocusing your time is much more important than money ever will be. Remember your success will not be defined by the number of investments in your bank accounts.
Time will always be more valuable than money. Make the most of your moments. Learn how to live a happy life without money, because there will never be another now.