Several years ago as a young single urban professional in my home country’s financial district, I started my journey to financial independence. While doing the usual accounting and drafting of financial goals, I came across a blog that talked about how a book paved the way to the blogger’s financial independence. The book is called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.
In the book, Dominguez and Robin explain how to discriminate between making a living and making a life and demonstrate how to re-examine one’s relationship with money. The book attempts to redefine work which is to say the least a crucial theme so much so that writing a short book review does not give justice to the transformative impact the body of work brings. For now, I will pick a section within the book and expand on it.
Developing an Internal Yardstick for Fulfillment
This section asks the reader how much is enough and what the nature of fulfillment is. Much can be said about “dreams of becoming” in the naivety of our younger years. Often, we outgrow these as we push into adulthood, conform and fit into standard boxes laid out for us. As we take on jobs, we eventually discover that it is hard enough to meet everyday needs and demands, let alone nurture our wild childhood dreams to fruition.
“So many of us whittled away at our uniqueness so that we could be square pegs in square holes that it seems slightly self-indulgent to wonder what kind of hole we would be inclined to carve for ourselves.”
What is fulfillment? It can be found in big and small things. The authors mention in the context of gastronomy, a fulfilling meal is one where we can take pleasure in the taste and the provision of nutrients to our body without the discomfort of having overeaten. How about in terms of purchases? What does it mean to be fulfilled when we spend our hard-earned money?
In the context of spending, do we acquire a car as a status symbol or one that fits our transportation needs adequately, no more and no less? Do we spend as soon as the next gadget is released with built-in obsolescence of a couple of years to be up to date with digital trends or do we live with our older no-frills models that still function to the level of our actual necessity? In other words, do we own our things or do they own us? Do we accumulate objects and find less and less time to enjoy them and less space to store them in?
In terms of experience, do we buy into a vacation as unwitting participants in a subtle competition among peers with selfies in fabricated perfection thrust into the social media sphere? Or do we have a strong sense of what is important for us, at least for how to spend our holidays regardless of what our well-meaning friends and acquaintances vouch for, or how celebrities and advertisement package and sell experiences to the gullible public?
This section invites the reader to examine by which metric he measures his fulfillment or lack thereof, and as always the case, the first step is awareness. The book states that an internal yardstick for fulfillment is a part of financial integrity. The authors added that: “you learn to make your financial choices independently of what advertising and industry have decided would be good for their business. You are free of the humiliation of being manipulated into spending your life energy on things that don’t bring you fulfillment”.
Why is this so important? The section makes a case for conscious spending when buying our own pockets of fulfillment—from the smallest detail as whether to buy or borrow a book from the library to huge expenditures. Driving home the point that the money that allows for these comes from a limited source such as our wages for example and as is often the case with jobs that pay wages, they take a huge part of our time and efforts that wasting the monetary value we get out of them should be inconceivable.
The practice of mindful spending stayed with me since the start of my journey to financial independence. I shifted from buying material things to spending on experiences as the latter brings lasting fulfillment. Ultimately, it allowed me to leave a long-term highly satisfying job that pays very well to answer the call of a new adventure that involves uprooting myself from my home country to finance my study in an entirely different culture, to pursue growth and chase after new experiences. I left my big apartment, donated the objects I have accumulated over the years and brought only 30 kilos of belongings with me.
Fast forward to now, this experience taught me that it is liberating to live with much less possessions, ornaments, even titles and status that I was happier for going through the trouble of discarding what is non-essential. Life became simpler and I was at peace knowing that everything I really needed is with me while the rest is just noise. Moreover, frugality has become second nature. This habit of mindful consuming has since been a part of who I am even as I embarked on a new role in a different environment in a new life chapter.
I have become discerning when purchasing, not only of what I am buying but also of my motivations for consuming, hence my expected level of fulfillment, and the eventual impact it brings to the environment. Finite resources and the nature and process by which objects come into being and end their life cycle bear more weight than personal preferences and financial capacity. If manufactured articles account for the hidden cost of the irreversible impact to the environment as well as the rightful cost of labor, these objects would have been far more expensive than they are now. These issues compel me to go through a long and exhaustive mental process before buying into anything.
We are free to expand this internal yardstick of fulfillment from expenditures and financial decisions to defining our own metric for job satisfaction, or for the vocation we devote ourselves into or in more encompassing terms, for how to live our life which brings me to the commencement address delivered by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes to end this piece. He said:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential—as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
At this point, I invite the readers to reflect on what brings you fulfillment. You may start with simple things such as what brings you joy in the morning, what activities drives you to a state of flow. In terms of articles and objects, what do you really need and what can you live without? What experiences enriched you that you are glad to have made them? Think of something solid and unwavering that will have longstanding impression and meaning, that will stand disapproval coming from cultural programming and criticism from abstract social constructs. When you find something, you are on your way to defining your internal yardstick of fulfillment.