It's time you decided what you REALLY want.
And so another year begins, and already you're seeing the mountain in front of you: 50-60-hour work weeks, paying bills, fixing things around the house, and running kids around to concerts, parties and other activities.
It's around this time we tend to question our lives and the meaning that's accrued so far. Some will greet it with excitement; others with dread – mostly because we believe things won't change, even though we want them to.
I've walked this path many times. As a younger man, the arrival of a freshly minted year filled me with unassailable optimism and hope, such that I'd struggle even to sleep. I'd fully expect to conquer the world every time January arrived.
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 with each passing year, it took all my strength to even muster a smile.
But everything has an end, both good and bad.
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 this 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 we say we want is often just a thin veneer covering something deeper. And much simpler.
I can't tell you what you want. But I can tell you how I make decisions today, and why this process has turned my life around.
One phrase I've adopted is, “So that…”
In other words, when a decision comes before me, I always carry it through to its conclusion with a series of brutally honest ‘so thats'.
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 earn more money
- So that I pay off our house sooner
- So that we can eat out more often
- So that my wife can drive a new car
- So that we look impressive to others
- So that I feel like I'm winning
- So that all those years of work amount to something
- So that I fulfil my dream of ‘living the good life'
Then there's a second phrase I deploy, which is this question: “Will this deliver the final outcome I'm seeking?”
If the outcome of the above example is, ‘living the good life,' then the answer to my question, “Will this deliver the outcome I seek?” might actually be ‘No'. I'll explain why in a minute.
As I've said before, we're taught, mostly through the thousands of marketing messages we see every day, that the only path to the life we want is to buy our way there. And few of us question this because we're all drinking the same Kool-Aid.
But you and I know it's bullsh*t.
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 of the bigger ones.
- 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 (or fancier jobs).
Sure, I've made a lot less money than I could have, but I was always there for my kids (still am), and that's worth a lot more to me than a fancy but restrictive job with a fancy title and more money.
However, like most things, 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 for 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.
Okay, only a bit of that is true, but the offer did come with an immediate 50% pay rise, a new car and a dose of extra status.
The trouble was, the location was an extra hour from home and as I soon discovered, the owner was a complete 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.
And yes, I did sh*t myself.
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 working arrangements.
What I learned from all this, and through the 10 years that followed (I'm a slow learner), is that the things I want all have a price. 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 others would have me believe. I didn't have to pay as many prices.
And now this is where you come in. Like I said, I don't know exactly what you want, but I reckon I can guess a few of them.
Tell me how close I am. 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
Am I right? 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 knocking on 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?
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 think of 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 remaining days, 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.
Decide what you truly want for your life, and be honest with yourself for a change. Then make tomorrow Day One. Click To Tweet
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
Breathe Again – Debt Free in 3 Simple Steps – by Peter Fritz
Side Hustle – by Chris Guillebeau
New to Midlife Tribe? Start Here.
Why are you here? What is your purpose?
Comparing Yourself to Others is Pointless
Midlife Crisis or Chance to Reinvent Yourself?
What's the point of it all? Define your MITs.
Also published on Medium.