I love finding financial wisdom in unlikely places, like in art and music. These opportunities are more abundant than you might expect. For instance, the punk-Americana outfit, The Avett Brothers, dedicated an entire tune, aptly titled “Ill With Want,” to the scourge of greed and Mumford & Sons taught us that “where you invest your love, you invest your life.”
The newest melodic metaphor to catch my ear comes from singer-songwriter Jason Isbell. He expresses his appreciation for having work in the title track of his newest album, “Something More Than Free,” but it’s the pair of questions he poses in another song, “The Life You Chose,” that really got me thinking.
“Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?” asks Isbell.
I fear it is the latter for many, if not most, of us. Perhaps we are stuck living a life that has grown into a web of circumstances driven more by external compulsions than autonomous impulsions. For too many, life is lived at the behest of someone else’s priorities and goals, in pursuit of someone else’s calling.
No, I’m not a Big Brother conspiracy theorist. It just seems to be the natural way of things. After all, it can be more expedient to perform the task that someone else has delegated, to attend the meeting that someone else has set, to pick up the ringing phone or to respond to that incoming email than it is to initiate in life and work.
It’s easier to consume than it is to create.
But you don’t have to be a “creative” to create. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to lead. You don’t have to be a maverick to innovate. You don’t have to be a minister to minister, nor an advocate to advocate.
I’m not promoting self-service, but instead encouraging self-selection.
In his take on the science of motivation, Daniel Pink suggests that true motivation comes not via the carrot and stick, but through autonomy, mastery and purpose. In my book, Simple Money, I translate Pink’s observations into a practical application for goal setting, suggesting that our personal goals should have the following attributes:
Your goals should be:
- Self-selected—yours, not someone else’s.
- Authentic—consistent with your personal gifts and attributes.
- Others-oriented—a cause that is bigger than you alone.
Meeting these criteria helps ensure that our goals in life will stick, because we’ll be properly motivated. Then, we can get to the more practical work of applying the effort and money necessary for making them a reality.
So, which is it: Are you living the life you chose or the life that chose you?
If the latter, you may sympathize with Pearl Jam front-man, Eddie Vedder, who laments: “If I had known then what I know now….” But also keep in mind his encouragement that it “makes more sense to live in the present tense.”
This commentary originally appeared March 12 on Forbes.com
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