April 21, 2022
As March turned to April, we completed the end of our company’s second financial year. It’s got me thinking about how to measure success, and the relationship between our financial earnings and my personal satisfaction.
Most things in life follow what my friend Paul Millerd calls “The Default Path.”
Here’s one typical life script:
"Study hard, get good grades, get a good job. Then put your head down and keep going, indefinitely."
In Paul’s book, “The Pathless Path”, he makes the case for reevaluating default paths and reconsidering our relationship to work. He’s a living example, having left a solid career in consulting to become an independent writer and creator.
One of the strongest defaults at play in our society is money.
There are advantages to having enough of it and there are definite disadvantages to not having enough.
But is money the only way to measure “success”? Surely not.
Yet when it comes to how we structure our lives, money plays a very powerful role.
It’s what author and founder of Kickstarter Yancey Strickler calls “financial maximization.”
He describes this money-based value system as:
"The belief that in any decision, the right choice is whichever option makes the most money. This is the default setting that runs much of our world."
Now we could argue about why money has become such a potent motivator in today’s world, but I think one reason is because it’s an easy metric.
If you “want to become a better friend” this year, how are you going to measure it?
If you want to “be a great parent” to your kids, how will you measure that?
As humans, we love to create certainty out of chaos. Life is chaotic, so we grasp at goal posts that can help us measure our achievements.
Get a good job. Get promoted. Buy a house. Sell that house and buy a bigger one!
You know how it goes.
When it comes to running a business, the easy option is to create a similar set of goalposts based on financial metrics to measure your progress.
Growth is the game. More is always the answer.
But what if it’s not?
What if you designed a business whose goal was to provide you “enough” and that allowed you to pursue non-financial goals, like learning, helping others, or enjoying more of life today?
Well, you’d have to start by defining what “enough” is to you.
A popular study done in 2012 by researchers Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton pegged that number at $75,000 for the average U.S. household.
Is this the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God?
Well, more recent research by Matthew Killingsworth suggests that the more we earn, the happier we become.
Who is right?
Hard to tell.
I think what’s most important is that we ask ourselves these questions.
How much money do we need?
How much do we want?
What would we do with our days once we’ve made enough?
By asking these questions, I’ve been able to find a little more clarity, and more clearly distinguish my values vs. the default values.
I’m able to reconsider the default to just earn more money, and potentially, do something else with my time.
Maybe it’s taking a longer morning hike in the Austin greenbelt, or maybe it’s giving some time to help someone else on their path.
Both of these activities generally leave me feeling much happier than earning a little bit more cash, but they can be hard to prioritize when the pull of profit is strong.
What are you working for? How much money will be enough? What would you be doing today if you weren’t selling your time for income?
These aren’t questions that are easy to ask, nor are they possible for everyone to even consider, but they’re important to dwell on.
Whether they help you confirm you’re on the right path, or they leave you feeling a little uncertain, either is okay.
They say the unexamined life is not worth living, which I hope is right.
“They” say a lot of things, some of which are right, but some are based on conventional wisdom that might not be the truth you want to live.
"This is the pathless path. Where the journey leads is to the deepest truth in you"
— Ram Dass
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