What I want to do next is work on my ‘have-do-be’ list. I know I’ve brought this up
Find a little quiet time, and think about your life. Not your debts, not your income, not how much you hate those curtains or how much you wish your mom would quit comparing you to your Perfect Sibling.
Think about your life. Yourself. Your own individual groove.
What makes you happy? What specific things give you joy and fulfillment? What are the things that you dream of? What keeps you up at night that you’d like to change? What are the things that keep coming back to you again and again?
In your quiet time, write it down. Don’t worry about whether or not it is “meaningful” or “cosmic” or “deep”. You’re not going for a Nobel Peace Prize, here. There’s no right or wrong answer. You are your own person, and if a big bag of pretzels and a football game is what gives your life meaning, more power to you.
This isn’t about anybody else. This is not subject to the approval of anybody else. This is only and purely about you, looking for your perfect life.
Write down things as they occur to you, then walk away and ignore it for a little while. Overnight is usually pretty good. Then, come back and look at the list again. There will likely be things you forgot, and things that on second (third, fourth) thought really aren’t that important.
Tweak it. Then leave it alone again.
Once you’ve got a fairly stable list, the real work begins: Figure out where each thing falls in relation to each other thing. It’s like your vision test: Better 1, or 2? Better 2, or 3? OK, how about 3, or 1?
Again, don’t worry about which goals are ‘loftier’ and which ones are ‘mundane’. Don’t think about how expensive, impossible, or otherwise crazy your list is. There are no limitations right now. Money, time, background…none of that is important right now. It's OK to be more interested in what others might consider a lower-priority thing.
Remember: It's all about YOU, baby. Only YOU can decide where things fall in your personal priority scale.
Where are going with all this?
Simple. Think about your money for a second. What do you do to earn it? No, no, not “I’m an accountant”.
You trade your life for it. Instead of living that time for you, you live it for your employer, right? Those are hours you didn’t spend with your friends or family, painting, knitting, reading, doing the things that you love to do, right?
Our cash is a physical manifestation of our life-energy.
I know. That’s, like, deep and some junk.
We often don’t give it the respect it deserves. We complain about how little of it we have, we whine about how we can’t do this, or that, or the other. We spend it like water on random things at the mall or the supermarket, without stopping for even a second to think about what we’re doing.
We obsess about it, and yet fail to understand just how bottom-line important it really is.
With a clearly defined list of what we really want in hand, and more importantly, in mind, it is far easier to look at each of the thousands of spending opportunities we are confronted by each and every day and compare it to the dream life.
Just because you can get the shiny whatnot, should you? Is it what you really want? Are you trading all your fondest hopes and dreams for some new thing that happened to cross your path when you were bored or tired or down and feeling the need for just a little something to perk you up again?
The most powerful tool we have for managing our lives is not our net worth, our credit scores, who we know or where we live.
It’s our intelligence, our unique human ability to stop before we do something, even something pleasurable, and think about where it will end up. Our ability to say, “Yeah, that would feel good right now, but it is not good for me in the long run”, and close up our wallets and just walk away.
Am I saying I’m OK with not going to Rome next year, I’d rather have the shoes? Suddenly I’m more interested in a cruise this summer than sending my kids to college, ever? Since when is a Blackberry more important than retiring comfortably and early? I need a mocha right now, more than I need financial stability tomorrow?
Stopping to think is what makes the difference. You can make a million bucks a year and still have nothing if you can’t stop and think; you can make a pittance and retire a millionaire if you can.
And that is way more than enough sermonizing for one day. Now that I’ve blistered you with fire and brimstone, go relax and have fun with it. It’s a neat exercise, and sometimes the answers can kind of surprise you.