My last article addressed how to map out a path to a better life.
In it, I recommended systematically going through every area of your life and analyzing each individually. Where are you right now in your financial life? Where do you want to go? Where are you in your relationship with your spouse? In your career? In your hobbies? In you physical health? Mental health and intellectual endeavors?
If you are trying to learn to be successful by looking at what people at the very top of their fields have done, my approach may seem counter-intuitive.
As someone who has read a lot of biographies of successful people, I have found that one of the defining factors of these characters is a singular focus and drive. They are obsessively focused on one aspect of their life and they use that focus to push them to the top.
I’m not going to tell you that that won’t work for you.
I’m going to tell you that it might, but you shouldn’t do it anyway.
Career Success and Failed Relationships
I have long been fascinated with people that achieve massive success. People that reach the very top of their chosen field. People that change the course of history.
One recurring theme that I find is that an inordinate number of these people seem to have major problems in other areas of their lives.
I don’t have statistics to back this up, but the rate of divorce, or at least marital infidelity, seems ridiculously high in the population of people that achieve enough success that a biography is written about them.
From Donald Trump to Bill Clinton to Ronald Reagan to John F. Kennedy. Elon Musk. Warren Buffett. Michael Jordan. Paul McCartney. Tiger Woods. Tom Cruise. I could go on all day spanning all sorts of different industries.
(As a side note, I recognize that everyone that I just listed is male. I don’t know if that is because women are drastically underrepresented at the top because they haven’t been given a fair shot or if it is because they are better than men at living balanced lives. Or both. Or something else entirely.)
I’ve interviewed for jobs in big law firms. One of the things that turned me off about that line of work is that every partner that I interviewed with was on at least his second wife.
You have to be very good at your job to become a partner at a big firm. You’ve got to have incredible work ethic and drive and social skills. These are very smart and talented people. And yet…
I Want to be Happy
I don’t want to make this all about cheating and divorce and failed relationships. This is about a lack of balance. Failed relationships are just the most visible sign of a lack of balance.
It is harder to see how fulfilled someone is with their social life or hobbies. There’s no real measure for us to look to for spiritual success.
But these failed relationships show us that people are not living balanced lives.
Personally, I don’t want to achieve success in one area of my life at the expense of everything else.
I want to be happy.
And happiness requires balance.
Focus Less on Money
I first really immersed myself in the world of blogs through the personal finance space.
I discovered Mr. Money Mustache’s Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and wanted to learn more. The first blog that I read regularly and eagerly awaited new posts from was the Mad Fientist.
At the Mad Fientist site, Brandon regularly dove into the nitty gritty details of how to maximize your investment returns, minimize your tax burden, and get to financial independence (FI) as soon as possible. He even had an ongoing experiment where he had a theoretical average investor racing to FI against someone that was practicing all of the little tricks that Brandon uncovered.
When Brandon retired at the age of 34, I felt oddly proud for someone that I had never actually met or interacted with. (Side note: I did get to chat with him at FinCon this year and nerded out a bit.)
After retiring, Brandon did the rounds of personal finance podcasts. The prevailing message?
He shouldn’t have focused so intently on money to the detriment of the rest of his life.
Money is only one aspect of life. Having a lot of it can make a lot of life better. But it can’t make you happy if you aren’t living a balanced life.
Why We Want More Money
A lot of us in the personal finance space place a lot of emphasis on money. Which makes sense, because, well, it’s the personal finance space.
But let’s think this through for a minute.
Whether you’re reading articles on frugality or investing or side hustling, the goal is ultimately to have more money. So why do we want to have more money?
We want to eliminate stresses. We want to have more options. We want to be comfortable and secure. Hell, maybe we just want to buy nicer things.
And why do we want all of those things?
Ultimately, we are on a quest to live a happier life.
A Happy Life is a Balanced Life
A happy life is a balanced life.
Financial success is great! But is it worth it if it comes at the expense of everything else?
This goes for any single area of your life. It’s hard to live a happy life if you’ve achieved enormous success in your career, but have no friends. Or if you are the most fit person that you know, but have no sense of meaning. Or if you have fulfilling habits, but poor health.
You get the picture.
A single-minded focus on one area of your life may be the fast track to success, but it is also an easy way to abandon the path to happiness.
Join the Conversation!
When setting your goals for the new year and beyond, make sure to include goals from multiple areas of your life. Don’t look for success at all costs. Look for a balanced, happy life.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? How do you approach balance in your life and in your goal setting? Join us in the comments!
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