THIS ARTICLE IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN AN AUDIO VERSION READ OUT BY ALEXANDER MICHAEL GITTENS.
Growing up, my family endured constant financial hardship. It’s incredible how money problems compound setbacks, multiply stress, and divide relationships. One step forward, two steps backwards: an unfortunate waltz. I yearned to be more. Better. Bigger. I saw money as the pathway to all my dreams – the answer to everything I lacked.
On the first day of university, we were taught the goal of a business is to maximize profit. Instant infatuation. My entire life, I wanted to be the maximum of something. Anything. Profit seemed like the perfect place to start. New creed: black is good; red is bad. I was all in.
I started countless business ventures, chasing shiny things and the validation I was sure would follow. I directed all my energy towards becoming accomplished and admired. But behind an appealing façade, my life was shoddy and shallow. There were cracks everywhere, and when the pressure increased, my entire structure collapsed. Worse still, after a decade in the real world, I had made no lasting positive difference. In that empty space between complete failure and the will to get back up, there is nowhere to hide.
There was a place, after my struggle and beyond the embarrassment, where I had to decide: what kind of man do I want to be? What do I want the sum of my time on earth to amount to? Letting go of my ill-conceived notions, I learned only two questions in life matter:
- What do you want?
- What are you willing to sacrifice for?
I seek harmony with the universe. I long to become the highest and best expression of my passions. I am determined to make the biggest constructive impact with my life producing value in legacy. In stillness, I realized, by answering these two questions, the beauty and mystery of life are revealed.
How do you know exactly where to invest your time and energy to become the best you can be? I had logged 10,000 hours learning the fundamentals of commerce, but I did not understand the building blocks of fulfillment. Where do you start? Clearly, financial success alone wasn’t the solution, but do you have to lose money to gain meaning? Questions: infinite. Answers: nil.
But I know one thing for certain: I will no longer calculate my worth externally. Making money and doing meaningful things are no longer enough. My ambition has not only evolved – it has deepened. I want to be the most me: creating the maximum positive impact imaginable, crafting a life of both wealth and purpose. Indivisible. Categorical. Absolute.
Mask of Money
There are those who think money is the only thing that matters, terminally ill with a disease called ‘more.’ Their conversations are selfish and one-dimensional, always trying to one-up those around them. And although we occasionally fantasize about having some of the toys they worship, we know there is much more to life.
“Focusing your life solely on making money shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled”
Some say money is the root of evil, condemning luxury items, labeling such consumers greedy and shameful. They praise the possessionless monk and glorify the starving artist who shuns unrefined materialism for virtuous creativity.
Another group believes money will bring them happiness – and they are not completely wrong. Psychologist Kahneman and economist Deaton famously concluded that happiness doesn’t really increase above incomes of $75,000 a year. Once your needs and some of your wants are met, money loses its ability to contribute positively to your happiness.
For most ambitious, well-balanced individuals, however, the concept of money is something different. Even though they rarely consider these nuances, money is simply a mask for what is important to them.
1. A Manifestation of Hard Work.
Not to be confused with bragging or showing off, accomplished people are proud of what they have achieved. Rather than an exhaustive measure of worth, money serves as concrete confirmation of their perseverance, a reward for providing value for others.
For entrepreneurs, this point is even more acute. After years of struggle, sacrifice, and well-meaning people telling them they won’t make it, money says they accomplished the seemingly impossible. In addition to a reward, money serves as confirmation, validation, and irrefutable evidence.
2. A Tool for Positive Change.
For some people, their ambition is not for themselves but for a cause they deeply believe in. For these individuals, money represents the altitude and access imperative to making the biggest difference.
3. A Conduit for the Life they want to Live.
Unlike those who believe money is the only pursuit that matters, many view financial gain as the avenue through which they will achieve admirable goals to see the world, bless loved ones, and freely go after their passions.
In these ways and more, money is a mask for what we desire:
- Freedom to do whatever we want.
- Opportunity to become the best we can be.
When people say they want money, what they really want is wealth – there is a key difference. The problem is, the principle of wealth is even more misunderstood than common misperceptions of money.
Reality of Wealth
When defining wealth, most people circle areas of money, power, fame, a luxurious lifestyle, and being successful. The reality of wealth goes far beyond that and is a lot simpler.
“Wealth is stuff we want: food, clothes, houses, cars, gadgets, travel to interesting places, and so on. You can have wealth without having money. If you had a magic machine that could on command make you a car or cook you dinner or do your laundry, or do anything else you wanted, you wouldn’t need money. Whereas if you were in the middle of Antarctica, where there is nothing to buy, it wouldn’t matter how much money you had.”
Wealth is what you want, nothing more or less. If what you want is tons of cash, authority, and celebrity status, then that is your definition of wealth. Interestingly, however, when you change the question from ‘what is wealth’ to ‘what do you want’, the same group who described wealth as ‘being successful’ change their answers considerably.
The list is not chronological, hierarchical, or exhaustive, but it illuminates a critical point: wealth and money are two different things. Just as ‘price is what you pay and value is what you receive,’ money is just one tool we use to get what we want.
“Making money is fantastic. Money feels good, and earning money feels really good. There’s something particularly great when you earn it directly. I’m proud to have proved ‘my worth.’ And I’m still desperate to do something with my life.”
Further elucidating the distinction between money and wealth is the priority many places on making a unique contribution to knowledge, society, and the happiness of others. These people aspire to give more than they take. They view winning by what they can create, not solely by what they accumulate.
What We Desperately Want the Most
There is fascinating polarity to the phenomenon of what we want. While people fundamentally want the same things, what we desperately desire is wholly linked to who we are at the very core of our beings.
- Clarity about who we are and our purpose.
- Knowledge of how to make the most of our time and energy.
- Resources to accomplish the things we want to do.
- Freedom to find personal fulfillment.
- Confidence we have something to offer now, rather than feeling like a constant work-in-progress.
- Wisdom to find the right role or position that will bring us satisfaction.
- Opportunity to use our potential in the best way possible for ourselves and others.
Given that wealth is what we want, conscientious people will measure their lives, not by material possessions alone, but in their ability to make an impact reflective of their highest values. Transcending a perfunctory wish to strike it rich, these desires constitute the very molecules of fulfillment, the basic fibers of meaning.
Removing the mask of money reveals the reality of wealth and exposes our hunger for meaning. It is what we want the most. It is what frustrates us the most. It seems so rare and elusive. And when popular beliefs reinforce destructive myths, the pursuit gets even harder.
Myth of Meaning
In quiet moments of introspection, we contemplate the reason for our existence; it’s a search for significance, and we need not look far. Advice on finding meaning in life is everywhere: a simple function of supply meeting demand. Predominant literature encourages us to:
- Discover our passion
- Set huge “10x” goals.
- Search for a big problem and solve it
- Find our “why”
While the ideas behind these statements are well-founded, the language perpetuates a troubling myth: the mistaken belief that meaning is somewhere out there, distant and undercover.
Myth: Meaning Is External
The myth of meaning as external follows the straightforward logic: If meaning is out there and not currently in front of us, then it must be hidden and need to be discovered.
Myth: Meaning Is Far Away
Compounding this dilemma is the supernatural theory of meaning arising only in the perfect environment at an unknown time.
When combined, these two myths present meaning as a mapless search for buried treasure, a magical quest, equal parts mystery and luck.
Myth: Meaning Is Sequential
Another myth is that meaning is unveiled at the conclusion of a series of events. It’s a ‘once I do this, then I will get that’ fallacy:
- Get money
- Give money
- Get fulfillment
An additional symptom of this myth is the belief that excess money or time is necessary to create meaning.
Myth: Meaning Is Found in Meaningful Activities
It makes sense you would find abiding meaning by doing things that are meaningful, yet this is widely not the case. Doing good things is an important and necessary aspect to being a healthy human – just like nutrition and exercise – giving back is a basic part of wellness. Altruism alone, however, rarely leads to deep passion and an ultimate sense of consummation.
“The key is to find a match between our gifts and passions on the inside, and [a] way to [create social value] for the outside – in such a way that there is a net gain to the human environment. For most people, that’s what they mean by meaning”
Gregg Fairbrothers and Catalina Gorla
It is no wonder there is so much published material on finding meaning: if it is hidden, we must have a guide; if it is far away, we need a map; if meaning is found at the end of a set of steps, then we require clear instructions, and if it is not produced by meaningful activities, then what are we supposed to do?
Truth of Purpose
Occasionally, people determined to be their best become stuck. Counterintuitively, it is not a lack of motivation but because they are so ambitious. When you want to accomplish big things, you become hypersensitive to how you spend your time and where you place your energy. The question becomes not, should I take action, but what do I do to create the biggest impact?
Purpose clarifies your focus. Purpose guides every one of your decisions. Understanding the truth of purpose is imperative to gaining prosperity and attaining fulfillment.
Truth: Purpose Is 100% Up to You
Purpose is not dependent on what people think of you or the exclusive circle you belong to. It is formed through your actions. Even when things go wrong, you alone control how you react to each challenge in life.
Truth: Purpose Is Cultivated
Purpose is not found. It is revealed through the constant struggle to nurture your interests. It’s a question of sacrifice, not how badly you want it or how carefully you plan.
Truth: Purpose Cannot Be Put Off
Purpose cannot be put on hold; with every choice, you either spur or spurn it. With each action, you move towards or away from your purpose.
Truth: Purpose Is Not a Singular Event
Purpose is not unveiled in a perfect instant where everything just comes together. It is created moment-by-moment. There are no big or little choices. Purpose is manifested through the cumulative stock of your actions.
The truth is, there is only one purpose in life: to become the best human you can become. Your purpose is to dedicate your time and energy towards developing unique talents, fostering deep passions, and aligning all your actions with your highest values.
“When a man pursues purpose; fulfilment is inevitable. It is only people that are driven by purpose that will ultimately be relevant in life”
Purpose begins with you; however, it is not only about you. Greatness is achieved by applying the best of all that you are to generate the biggest positive impact for yourself, the people you love, and the world around you. You add action to your values, advance your talents, and refine your passions to create the greatest positive outcome imaginable. It is the song of aspiration, an imperial duet:
- Become the best human being you can.
- Make the greatest positive impact.
This is the only goal in life that matters. There is nothing else of consequence. Growing into the best possible you and creating the biggest positive impact is your ultimate opportunity and uppermost responsibility. There is a sincere truth of purpose – it is your north star: unshaken of motion, vibrant, and on high. There is a clear process of greatness – it is your compass: tested and proven, leading you ever onward.
Process of Greatness
Recall the only two questions in life that matter:
- What do you want?
- What are you willing to sacrifice for?
The answer to ‘what do you want’ is your purpose: become the best human possible. The second question calls for a graceful motion beyond purpose and towards impact.
“Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for. This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes”
Top performers are accustomed to working hard and staying focused. Greatness requires discipline and diligence, but not in the way most overachievers are used to. The process of greatness is a ballad of sacrifice; it commands a complete overhaul in your approach to life. Are you prepared to elevate your worldview? Equipped with perspective, will you recalibrate your beliefs, priorities, and behaviours? What pain will you endure to realize greatness?
Setting Big Goals
People buy into purpose as a destination because it allows us to function in our comfortable mode of goal setting:
- Decide what I want.
- Figure out the steps to get it.
Greatness is not linear or sequential. It is not determined by where you plan to go, but rather by the total of your actions.
Auditing Every Step
When your goal is greatness the deadline no longer occurs in the future. The evaluation period happens instantly and continuously. Each choice is important; every action matters. Greatness is equally in how you react to challenges. It is just as strong when you turn a knee-jerk reaction into a mindful response.
Doing Your Best
Doing your best is not the answer. It narrows your perspective, focussing on the task at hand and the desired outcome. It ignores the most elementary question: how do you know that what you are doing your best at is the best thing to do?
Giving Your All
Greatness requires more than ambition and commitment. The net energy created by each action is more important than the final result. It is above doing your best; it is about giving your all. It is not a simple sum of your talents and passions, but instead, the product of purpose and impact.
Greatness in Action
This is how greatness appears as an equation:
Greatness = Best Possible You + Biggest Positive Impact
Adding variables displays greatness as a formula:
Greatness = [Actions (Talents x Passions x Values)] x [Outcome (Yourself x Loved Ones x World)]
Fulfilling greatness is merely “solving” this equation through your choices. You are essentially combining all your actions with your purpose and your legacy.
The power of the greatness equation lies in its simplicity. It doesn’t matter how important or mundane the action is, it doesn’t matter if people are watching you or not, it doesn’t matter if the decision is personal or professional – the direction is clear:
- Apply the whole of your talents, passions, and values to every action you make.
- Guide each action by your purpose to become the best person you can be.
- Define greatness by creating a unique positive impact in every action.
The course of greatness is to proceed with purpose, instantaneously aligning your actions with your destiny. In everything you do, even when things happen beyond your control, ask yourself:
I. Am I allowing anything external to influence my actions or justify my choices?
This will give you clarity and control.
II. Am I 100% comfortable in my values, but very uncomfortable in my actions?
Here, you will find courage and build resiliency.
III. Am I ok with this singular action representing all that I will ever be in legacy?
This adds perspective and purpose to all that you do.
There is nothing small about incremental actions towards greatness – they are more powerful than the best-laid plans, more reliable than compound interest. Neither lament the past, nor worry about the future. Own each moment. Bring everything you have learned and all that you ever will be to the here and now. Radiate the completeness of who you are everlastingly.
The most reliable of equations will be in balance for you. The most predictable of outcomes will be your experience. Life will give you a metaphysical magnet drawing in individuals with complimentary abilities that fortify your greatness. Operating in your purpose, the universe will naturally filter out people and things that impede your greatness. Trust the magnet. Rely on the filter. Let go of everything that does not line up with your unique expressions of greatness. Knowledge is admirable. Wisdom is eternal. But there is more. Better. Bigger. Greatness in action: divinity here on earth.
“The greater challenge in any life isn’t merely extracting the highest price for your soul; nor safeguarding your soul while opportunities pass you by — but earning a life that has counted in the terms that make us not merely “rich”, but whole, worthy of the privilege of having lived.”
What is this force pulling us towards temporary monetary gain at the expense of true wealth? Is it not our own values in aggregate? Why would we ever search externally for fleeting meaningful moments? Should not purpose inhabit each action every moment of our lives?
Accept the time-honored challenge of life to forge your utmost place in the universe. A mosaic adorned with every element of your being, a wonderwall for all time. You simply cannot fail when you choose to align every action with your purpose. It is impossible to lose when you have all of creation on your side.
Wealth and Purpose
I found this wonderful thing, so precious, so real. Better than tangible: actionable. The opposite of rare: it is everywhere I go, in everything I do. Right at hand. The perfect balance of beauty and functionality. My questions were legion, yet a stirring peace has gladdened my anxious mind.
I will generate the most value possible inside of my highest values, and I expect to become wealthy because of it. I will wield power through self-leadership and emotional intelligence, never by coercion or intimidation. I will be famous, not on a grand stage under blinding lights, but in a collection of ordinary moments, where my determination to add value defeats my wish to be heard.
There is a higher definition of wealth. One where the desire to be of means and the commitment to be of service are not two different things, they are not mutually exclusive concepts. That is a false choice and a tired narrative.
Lo, the most exciting revelation. Behold a most glorious truth: the answer to creating both wealth and purpose is real and accessible, reliable and predictable. A challenge deserving of my energy. A pursuit worthy of my existence. Clear and present. Personal and complete. Developed in concert with my mind, body, and soul. Deployed in real time via my talents, passions, and values. All for the singular joy of creating the biggest positive impact possible through the maximum expression of everything I am.
That is true wealth. That is what I want. It is not dependent on anybody else’s opinions or behaviors. And it is not some far away flag on a distant hill. It is me. And it is now.