Last night, I had dinner with a long-time Get Rich Slowly reader. Amy is traveling the West Coast with her mother, and they’ve made their way to Portland after stopping at San Francisco, Yosemite, and Crater Lake.
Amy and I spent two hours chatting about her life and about mine. As we talked, we realized we have a lot in common. We’re both divorced, comfortable in our own skins, make decent livings, and have ample free time to explore the things we enjoy in life. Though we’re both content, we’ve each been trying to find a bit of direction.
“I feel lucky to have started my ADHD meds,” I told Amy. “They’ve allowed me to focus. And they’ve helped me rediscover my passion for writing. I love to write. I feel like that’s what I’m called to do. Over the past few weeks, it’s been awesome to throw myself back into my work. For instance, I spent five hours writing that short article about how to live a life you love, but it came out almost perfect. It’s exactly what I wanted. I love when that happens.”
Amy sighed. “I wish I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “I haven’t found my passion. I like to read and I like to garden and I like to travel, but that’s not the same as liking to write. I love my job, but I’m not passionate about the work. I don’t feel called to do it. I wish I could figure out what I should be doing.”
I have this conversation over and over again with folks my age. People are dissatisfied. Maybe they’re content in their jobs, but they don’t find them fulfilling. They crave a greater sense of purpose, an alignment of work and values. We reach age forty, and we still don’t know what we want to be when we grow up.
“You know,” I said to Amy, “I think I have some resources that could help you as you’re thinking about what you want to do with your life. I’ll send them to you.”
The first resource is What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson, which explores how people find meaning in life. The book features dozens of interviews and stories with people searching for a greater purpose. From what I gather — I haven’t read the book yet — Bronson poses more questions than he answers. Still, I think this book could provide fodder for Amy (and other folks) as she tries to figure out what her future holds.
The next resource I recommend is the work of George Kinder, who explores what he calls “life planning”, a more holistic approach to financial planning.
I’ve argued before that the road to wealth is paved with goals. Kinder doesn’t ask us to set goals; he asks us to examine our values, and to decide what’s important. To help clients discover the deeper values in their lives, Kinder poses three questions:
- Imagine you’re financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. How would you live your life? Would you change anything?
- Now imagine that you visit your doctor, who tells you that you have only 5-10 years to live. You won’t ever feel sick, but you’ll have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining? Will you change your life and how will you do it? (Note that this question does not assume unlimited funds.)
- Finally, imagine that your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have 24 hours to live. Ask yourself: What did you miss in life? Who did you not get to be? What did you not get to do?
Kinder says that answering the first question is easy. There are lots of things we’d do if money were no object. But as the questions progress, there’s a sort of funnel. They become more difficult to answer, and there are fewer possible responses. Life planning is all about answering the third question.
According to Kinder, the third question usually generates responses that follow five general themes:
- Family or relationships — 90% of the responses to the final question contain this topic.
- Authenticity or spirituality. Many responses involve leading a more meaningful life.
- Creativity. Surprisingly, a large number of respondents express a desire to do something creative: to write a science-fiction novel, or to play guitar like Eric Clapton.
- Giving back. Further down the list are themes about giving back to the community, about leaving a meaningful positive impact.
- A “sense of place”. A fifth common theme (though nowhere near as prominent as the top three) is a desire to have some connection with place: a desire to be in nature, to live someplace different, or to help the environment.
I’m reminded of Bronnie Ware’s article about the regrets of the dying. Ware spent many years working in palliative care, and she noted that at the end of their lives, people tended to express five common regrets:
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
- “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
- “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”
- “I wish I’d let myself be happier.”
So, readers, here’s a question for you: It’s great if you know your passion — mine is writing — but what if there’s nothing you feel called to do? What then? How do you find a calling? How do you know what you ought to do?