Many people work hard their whole lives to achieve one goal after the other – only to realize that, despite all of their professional achievements, they feel unfulfilled and have regrets. In this episode of the Love in Action podcast, host Marcel Schwantes and New York Times best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith argue that the future of work isn’t just about maximizing shareholder value or accumulating achievements. For a fulfilling – or “earned” – life, they say, devote yourself to a higher purpose as well.
- To live an “earned life,” align your ambitions and everyday actions with a higher purpose.
- You can achieve a lot and still be unhappy.
- An earned life makes few demands on people.
- Living an earned life requires focusing on the right things.
To live an “earned life,” align your ambitions and everyday actions with a higher purpose.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many people found themselves in an existential crisis – feeling unfulfilled and full of regrets about what they have done with their lives. Often, people get trapped in life’s daily grind: They wake up, go to work, do their jobs, return home – and start over again the next day. They may not even know why they do what they do, having no sense of direction.
While dreamers and fantasists may have big ideas about what they want to achieve, they often lose themselves in those wild aspirations, not taking any concrete action to pursue their goals.
Others do set themselves specific goals – but they prioritize chasing results, while losing track of what makes life enjoyable in the first place.
“Never become attached to the results. Because what happens, it’s a fool’s game.” (Marshall Goldsmith)
Don’t grow overly attached to the results of your work. You don’t have a lot of control over them, and results often provide limited personal fulfillment. You risk ending up in a vicious cycle in which you seek ever more, bigger and better results.
To live a more meaningful and fulfilling life – an earned life – find a higher purpose, and align your ambitions and everyday actions with it.
You can achieve a lot and still be unhappy.
Many people often confuse achievement with happiness and fulfillment. They believe that just racking up accomplishments, whether that’s earning a lot of money or attaining high levels of power, will cause them to feel fulfilled and happy. Eventually, however, they realize that happiness, fulfillment and accomplishment are “independent variables” that don’t have ties to one another.
“You can achieve a lot and be miserable. You can achieve nothing and be happy, and you can achieve nothing and be miserable.” (Marshall Goldsmith)
Some people even become addicted to accomplishment. They push forward in search of more achievements, even if their hearts and consciences tell them that what they’re doing isn’t their life’s purpose. One man, for example, spent most of his life working some 80 hours a week. His goal was to make enough money so his children would never have to work that hard. He ended up becoming estranged from his wife and spoiling the kids, robbing them of the possibility to create their own ambitions and set their own goals. By themselves, money, power and respect don’t add up to a meaningful life.
An earned life makes few demands on people.
Living a meaningful or earned life can be surprisingly simple. First and foremost, you need to live your own life. Some American kids spend roughly 50 hours a week online, playing games or watching videos. They’re not living their own lives – they’re living the lives of the celebrities they follow.
Living your own life means stopping wanting to impress others, and doing something that is purposeful to you. For example, take the guy who was working countless hours at a prestigious investment bank, and earning lots of money, when he got a new job offer. It was for less money, but was for work that he loved and always wanted to do. He didn’t care what his peers or colleagues would think about this move. He didn’t care whether his financial status shrank or his social status changed. His ambition was to follow his purpose.
“We can get so lost in the concept I call reference group…[W]e get so lost trying to impress people in our reference group that we forget it’s our life.” (Marshall Goldsmith)
Many people convince themselves that doing one thing – earning lots of money or climbing the corporate ladder – will solve all their problems or make them happy. But life is about constant renewal. It’s an endless series of starts and restarts. Buddhist philosophy says you are a new person with every breath. Keep in mind that the person you will be in the future isn’t the same person you are now. In a way, this is the key to forgiving yourself and to healing from past trauma. You can choose whom you should be without the past tyrannizing you.
Living an earned life requires focusing on the right things.
Many people’s lives often lack a sense of proportion. They prioritize some factors, like achievements and financial success – and underemphasize others, like being present in the moment, forgiveness of self and others, and love. A happy and fulfilled life calls for rightsizing things to keep them at the appropriate scale.
“Creating an earned life is first and foremost a matter of scale, of going really big on the important things that keep you on message, and small on the things that do not influence the outcome. This is the secret of living an earned life. It is lived at the extremes. You are maximizing what you need to do, minimizing what you deem unnecessary.” (Marcel Schwantes)
The mental efforts people need to make decisions wear them out, so minimize decisions that don’t contribute to pursuing your purpose. For instance, former president Barack Obama had two suits, a gray and a blue suit, and a few shirts. He didn’t expend mental energy on a trivial question like what to wear each day.
Apply the same strategy to risk-taking. Don’t take big risks with matters that might not really be important to you or serve your purpose. Avoid temporary thrills. Instead, embrace delayed gratification. Valuable, personally fulfilling things often don’t come to fruition immediately. They take time – but will, eventually, contribute to a meaningful and happy life.
About the Podcast
Marshall Goldsmith is a US executive leadership coach and author. He is the co-author of Work Is Love Made Visible: A Collection of Essays About the Power of Finding Your Purpose from the World’s Greatest Thought Leaders. Marcel Schwantes is a leadership coach who helps organizations develop a high-performing work culture. He hosts the Love in Action podcast.