Money vs. Meaning

Leadership Excellence

February 22, 2011

by Marshall Goldsmith

How can you create a great rest of your life? Obviously you start with today. That’s why I only engage in ‘feed forward’ (not feedback). There is nothing you or I can do about the past, except to apologize for our mistakes, ask forgiveness, and invite suggestions on ways we might improve in one or two development areas.

I find that fewer people today want to retire, at least in the sense of a life of leisure. Instead, they want to rehire themselves and keep pursuing their hopes and dreams. They still have the ambition and energy to achieve great success. The prospects of sleeping late, living on the beach, improving their golf scores, going on cruises, and playing all day hold little allure for them.

The Big Six
When preparing for your next transition, address six themes:

1. Wealth. While some people have more wealth than others, none believe money is a key factor in ‘creating a great rest of my life.’ Everyone agrees that while money can be used to pay for nice homes, fast cars, and fine dining, it can’t be used to purchase meaning. Beyond a middle-income level, the amount of money you have bears little correlation to how happy you are.

2. Health. Health is critically important to enjoying life. With good luck, a healthy lifestyle, and medical care, you might well live another 20 or 30 years after ‘retirement.’

3. Relationships. Everyone clearly values relationships with friends and family members and sees that these relationships are keys to their future wellbeing. In spite of busy schedules and demanding lives, you can have positive, stable relationships with friends and family.

4. Contribution. Realize how blessed you are and seek to give back, make a positive contribution to the world, and leave a legacy. Seek to help others in the same way that mentors, teachers, parents, or friends have helped you.

5. Meaning. People want to continue doing work that has true meaning. No one wants to become a ‘used to be,’ in the sense of ‘Didn’t you used to be a big CEO?’ or ‘Didn’t you used to be an important person?’ No one wants to rest on their laurels while reviewing their scrapbooks and awards for 20 or 30 years–they all want to continue making a real difference in the world.

6. Happiness. Everybody wants to be happy. Just realize that true happiness can’t be bought–it has to be lived. At a deeper level, happiness can’t be separated from meaning and contribution–it comes from meaning and contribution.

Of the six themes, three are most common: contribution, meaning, and happiness.

As you contemplate these themes, you might choose to work exclusively on projects that make the world a better place. You might choose to change jobs or career where you have more opportunity to serve. You might still teach, but advise people on how to have a great life–not just make more money.

Reflecting on life’s purpose should start when you’re young–and never stop. I served on the board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for 10 years and observed Peter personally. He worked until his death at age 95. He was never interested in retiring. Through his example, I learned that making a difference means more than making a living.

Think about your life. Now’s the time to start planning the rest of your life. How can you make a contribution? How can you find meaning? What will make you happy? You may well have 20 or 30 years to live after your present work is finished.

How can you make this time count–for yourself and the people around you. PE

Marshall Goldsmith is the author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There Visit

ACTION: Start creating the rest of your life.