What’s your why? The importance of finding meaning in your life

J.D. is on vacation. This is a guest post from Jeremy Martin.

You've heard the phrase, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” I've often wondered about that — should we really settle for half the return just to have a sure thing right now? It could be argued, and convincingly, that our love of immediate gratification is why so many people have so much debt now.

Of course, what are those “two birds”, so elusive off in the bush compared to something concrete in your hand now? How do you know you'll get them? In other words, as you're looking at that new LCD HDTV, what is competing for your money in your head? Without a solid goal, a vision of the future, there is no reason not to buy that latest toy with your credit card. What else are you going to use the money for?

The Power of Why

This is why each of us needs a convincing ‘Why'. We need to have a vision of the future so compelling that we can see it even more clearly than the new toys in front of us.

My Why is passive income that can support travel. My mantra is: “Financial Freedom is the ability to travel for a year and come back in a better financial situation than when I left.” That means I could travel another year and implies repeatability. It conjures visions of African safaris, Thai beaches, SCUBA diving, and hiking around the UK hand-in-hand with my family.

This knowledge helps to guide my financial choices. I assume that I could earn 12% on invested money. This means that every $100 I invest could bring $12 a year, or $1 a month. When I look at a $700 TV set, I think, “That could be $7 a month for the rest of my life.” I repeat my mantra — remember my Why — and I don't buy.

[J.D.'s note: Jeremy assumes a 12% investment return. I assume a 7% return. Your assumption may be different.]

Developing a Why

What's your Why? What compels you to get up and go to work each day, to do things you don't want to, and to put up with your boss? Everyone needs some motivation to keep on track, and it has to be a strong image. What is yours?

If you can't close your eyes and see your Why in detail, now is a good time to get clarity. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where have you been happiest?
  • What were you doing?
  • When you close your eyes and picture yourself incredibly happy, what do you see?
  • What makes you forget yourself for hours on end?
  • When do you feel best about yourself and your surroundings?
  • What do you talk about excitedly?

Desires can be subtle. Maybe you have fond memories of staying somewhere. But it might actually be the time with friends that made the place special. What aspect really touches you?

Find some quiet time to get clear on what moves you, and then visualize it until you can see this compelling future as clearly as your car. You'll know this is working when you look at something you thought you needed and instead see your Why.

The Next Step

This is a demanding, complicated world. It takes a lot of work to get good at something, or to get something you really want. Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else!” Why work hard when you could just watch TV? Why save for some undetermined future when you could watch it on a bigger TV?

Most successful people have spent thousands of hours perfecting what they do. They have a vision of the future and their place in it. Otherwise they wouldn't have bothered with all the work it took to get there. Yet most successful people would tell you that they loved the process — the challenge, the passion, the fun! They've found a vision of the future that compels and excites them, and that's the difference. That's why they are where they are.

In fact, that's why we all are where we are — our previous beliefs and vision of the future. Do what you've always done, and you'll have what you've always had. Create a vision that moves you to do things you've never done before, and you'll find yourself in new, wonderful places. Once you have a Why, no matter how unlikely, the How becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable.

What's your Why? What do you visualize in the morning to get yourself going? What motivates you to do everything you do?

Photo by René Ehrhardt, who has many amazing images on Flickr.

More about...Planning, Psychology

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brandon
brandon
11 years ago

Wow…awesome post. I just started read GRS and this one got me thinking..thanks for the guest post!

Plex
Plex
11 years ago

Honestly, my “why” for working is completely disassociated with anything that could earn some money. When people vaguely tell me to apply what I really enjoy and make money off of it, I just have to shake my head. I am sure it is like this for others. On the other hand, having a why for working itself is really important. If you find something you love, it really allows you to focus so that you can eventually enjoy it on a regular basis. Making money (usually) is not fun. At the very least, getting to the point where you… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

Hej Jeremy,

This is probably why I never had any debt until a few months ago when a house was bought. Being indebt was never a part of my vision of life and nothing could seduce me to make me think otherwise.

(For those who are wondering, I’m over 40)

I wish everyone a great and debtfree 2009.

Elizabeth

her every cent counts
her every cent counts
11 years ago

I answered the questions over at my blog: http://www.hereverycentcounts.com/2008/12/hecc-approved-self-improvement-hippie.html Here’s the first 2 answers… ***Where have you been happiest? / What were you doing? I’ve been happiest when I’m entertaining people. The two times in my life that I’ve been happiest, albeit very different, have included a form of performance that others have responded positively to. One was when I was performing in The Vagina Monologues in college. All of the monologues in that show are great, but there’s one show stopper that requires the actor to perform a variety of orgasmic noises on stage. The monologue is about a… Read more »

her every cent counts
her every cent counts
11 years ago

I think also in these why questions, it’s important to ask yourself the opposite for clarity. What have you been least happiest doing? It’s sometimes hard for our “Why” to make sense financially, as Plex pointed out. But what does make sense financially is to figure out what isn’t our “Why.” What is it that makes us miserable, and to avoid that. For instance, I used to think my “why” was to prove to other people that I was intelligent by semi traditional means. I worked for a while as a business reporter interviewing CEOs and VCs, and felt really… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

The problem I seem to have with this, is that I don’t have a really concrete goal for the future. I know, this post suggests that I should try to find one, but I always have *some* set of future goals that I’m working towards. These change though, over time. I’m 27 years old right now, and I realize that in the past seven years that I’ve been responsible for my own life, my focus, interests, and direction have all changed several times. Making a plan focusing on a single goal five or ten years from now seems a bit… Read more »

Natalie
Natalie
11 years ago

I totally agree. When I have a “why” for doing things like working — I’m much more motivated.

Million Dollar Journey
Million Dollar Journey
11 years ago

Does Jeremy have a website/blog of his own?

Aileen Journey
Aileen Journey
11 years ago

I think it’s harder to have specific goals when you’re younger just because there’s so much out there that might be great. Sometimes I tell people that the twenties are for figuring out what you DON’T want to do. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to set some good goals for myself, although they change over time. Even having some minor goals that you’re not even all that committed to at least gets you somewhere. I find that many people don’t have deep-seated passions, but even passionless goals can help you set your sights on something and keep you… Read more »

Tom Melancon
Tom Melancon
11 years ago

I liked this article a lot, it makes sense to me to have a more focused approach to financial independence. I’m curious, where can you get 7% to 12% income in today’s market from a safe investment?

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Tom Melancon
I’m not aware of any place you can get a 7% to 12% income from a “safe” investment. The word “safe” wasn’t used in this article. But both Jeremy and I (and many other people) use particular numbers as rules-of-thumbs when calculating long-term investment returns. Each of us needs to find a number that we’re comfortable using in our calculations.

jegan
jegan
11 years ago

I’m not particularly convinced that people need to or should necessarily ‘plan’ their lives like this. It has the odor of ‘guided tours’, ‘fast food’, ‘organized religion’ and ‘career goals’. Might work for some, but not everyone.. jegan

HollyP
HollyP
11 years ago

I have to admit, I’m starting to get turned off by talk of financial independence. Every time I read about someone striving for FI, I think they are either childless, or their kids are through with college. FI by itself seems an impossible goal in the face of saving for college tuition in 2018. And I second Tyler, there are some things in life which cannot be put off. One of my goals is to strategically enjoy life now. (And bah on the client who scheduled an important meeting on inauguration day, or I’d be one of the 5 million… Read more »

The Happy Rock
The Happy Rock
11 years ago

Jeremy great article. I couldn’t agree more. Passion and meaning are the core. These are the things that are true fuel to out lives, the things that carry us through thick and thin.

@HollyP – You don’t have to save for college tuition, it’s a choice. A choice many parents are willing to make, but not one that has to be made. Personally a parent’s dreams, motivation and passion will be more important to creating a wonderful strong confident giving caring child than a bunch of money in the bank for college. Just my opinion.

Geoff
Geoff
11 years ago

A good article, and valuable even if you don’t adopt it whole heartedly. Even if you define a bit more your dreams, or plan a bit more toward them, you’re probably going to improve the quality of your life in the long term.

Plex
Plex
11 years ago

@HollyP: I know it may seem like most people who become FI/wealthy seem like they would have no real lives beyond work, no children, and a spouse they rarely ever see, but you may find that reality isn’t the way you would think. I would suggest reading “The Millionaire Next Door,” which is that contains a lot of information about the characteristics of the wealthy (though it is somewhat old, 13 years, but that isn’t that old). The number of wealthy who were found to be married (and never divorced either)? 95%. Those that had children too? 93%. Another interesting… Read more »

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

Can’t disagree with you at all. I’ve been saving for a long time and doing fine, but I recently started saving my extra income for a new computer and that’s a totally different beast–I know exactly how much I need and exactly what it’s for. It’s much more motivating when it’s such a concrete goal.

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

Hey, thanks for all the feedback. At the moment I don’t have a website/blog of my own, but am seriously looking into it… @jegan “If you don’t have a plan for your money/future/life, someone else does.” For example, people complain about credit cards, but they just have a different plan for your money than you do (or should). I didn’t have a plan until I got married. Then suddenly my money plan changed. Then again when I had a child. I think Tyler points out an interesting thought – this is kind of like dating. When you’re younger, you date… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

@HECC
I don’t see a big difference between knowing what motivates you and what doesn’t. They seem to be two sides of the same coin (of Awareness).

If I know that you are a vegetarian, will you order meat? If you know that human interaction is what you need, will you work in a job with none?

My point is that in the process of determining what IS important for you, you’ll get a lot of experience on what isn’t important. It’s good to figure that out and be aware of it too.

Plex
Plex
11 years ago

While I would love to make money from the aspects of MMORPG’s that I enjoy, the developer/marketer side (which is where you can get paid) isn’t really the aspect of the game from which I would expect to get much enjoyment. I think Seth Godin’s most popular blog post also made a good point that when you work doing something you normally love doing for leisure, it can take a lot of the enjoyment out of it: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/10/maybe-you-cant.html On the other hand, it would be horrible to do a job that I hate. Instead, I spent a long time exploring… Read more »

Battra92
Battra92
11 years ago

I agree with Tyler (well mostly, I wouldn’t want to go to Disneyland, Woodstock and I wouldn’t walk across the street to see Obama.) What I do agree with is that the whole $7 a month doesn’t seem all that interesting to me. I mean, in theory I could go work at a gas station for an hour a month and have a TV. I guess the biggest issue I have with money is that many think it’s a zero sum game. I don’t feel that if I buy something that I will truly enjoy In fact, if health and… Read more »

E
E
11 years ago

The point of the “why” is that it’s personal. It’s whatever you want. That’s what makes it useful. For me, financial independence is not a goal. For me personally, the focus and sacrifice it would require are not worth it, and it’s not inspiring to my family – because of the sacrifice and also because it looks impossible. On the other hand, saving money for a trip to New Zealand is exciting, inspiring, and reachable. If we think about buying something we don’t really need, we then think about how much better it would be to spend that money on… Read more »

sk-reader
sk-reader
11 years ago

I agree w/ Tom @ 10 – 12% return or even 7% return on a “safe” investment is IMHO unrealistically high.

I think more like 3% to 5%, if you don’t figure in inflation.

PizzaForADream.com
PizzaForADream.com
11 years ago

Can’t agree more with this post!! Most of us are so caught up in today’s “pleasures” that we lose sight of the future. Our mantra is “Why give up what we can have today for what we can have tomorrow?” It’s all about delayed gratification. Like Dave Ramsey says, “Live today like no one else, so in the future you can live like no one else!”

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

I’m not too sure about your return rate, at least through ‘traditional’ investments, 12% sounds a little unrealistic. Beyond that though, I like the article. Just find what makes you happy, and do it, no questions asked.

Slinky
Slinky
11 years ago

I’ve never really thought about it this way, but yes, very true. I weigh every expense that’s not in my budget against my long term goals and dreams and ask whether it’s worth it. Which is why I still have that old awful dull potato peeler that mostly works.

JKC
JKC
10 years ago

In my humble opinion, this is THE most important question about personal finance. All of the rest is just fleshing out the details. Thank you for an inspiring post, and the follow ups in the comments. I love your thoughts and you write well. Please let me know where I can read more of Jeremy Martin’s writing. Jeremy, where are you now?

Kathy
Kathy
10 years ago

I agree and disagree. I know people in my family and out of my family who lived “for the future” — died with a fortune in their portfolio and they were waiting for the right time to travel, or scuba dive or buy gifts for their kids. It happens all the time. I see this more than I see people who are sorry they lived a fun life – while being responsible enough to have money to retire on. Oh, I also know lots of people who waited till they could “afford” a trip – only to find their poor… Read more »

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