We’re all just so damn busy.
We’re striving to finish degrees. Pushing for promotions. Single and mingling. House hunting. Moving cities, moving countries. Speeding towards marriage and kids. Online and networking, 24/7.
And surely that means we’re progressing, right?
Perhaps — but not necessarily in the right ways.
Ask yourself — has all that exertion of your valuable time, energy and financial resources led you to a place where you’re confident in your decisions, and clear on where you’re heading next?
Your honest answer could be confronting.
Facing the facts
As a financial coach to young professionals, I hear too often: ‘Bec, I’m 35, I’m so busy, I’ve been working so hard. I earn good money but I’ve got nothing! I’m not doing the things that I want.’
They’ve started one degree and hated it, rushed into another that’s also not right, building up debt. They’ve busted their guts for a promotion, leading them down a career path that sucks their happiness. They’ve saved madly for a house, but sacrificed travel to do it, and have no adventure in sight.
So, all the busyness hasn’t been the ‘right’ progress, leading towards a sense of achievement and contentment.
Milestones versus accomplishments
Maybe it’s because we’re so focused on hitting ‘milestones’, rather than focusing on ‘accomplishments’ that are aligned to our values.
I see milestones as the things that tick life along. Finishing school, getting a job, getting a promotion, buying a car, buying a house, getting married, having kids, buying a bigger car, a bigger house, retiring.
All great things to do, but not always right for everyone.
I see accomplishments as things you aim for that add something special to your life, and are really unique to you.
It could be education (done with purpose, not because it’s what we’re ‘meant to do’), travel, learning a new skill, or focusing on self-improvement.
These have a longer-term impact (than say the buzz of buying a car), and lead to a better sense of fulfilment. They spark joy, excitement and pride when you reflect on them.
Challenging the social norms
The tough news is that making accomplishments happen can be bloody hard work! It can be hard to step aside from the milestones and instead go for accomplishments that have personal meaning.
For example — everyone in your profession might say that a Masters degree is a must have, and your employer offers a pay rise when you’ve finished one. So you think, I really should do one, at a cost of around $100,000 and two years of effort.
But when you dig deeper you might realise that study time plus debt repayments is really a seven-year commitment. And while you stay in your job waiting for that extra cash, you could be missing opportunities that excite you more elsewhere — without the Masters.
This realisation might mean you change tact. Maybe you won’t do the full Masters, but target a few subjects to quickly upskill, then apply for those more rewarding roles sooner.
Or, you might realise you’re better off spending your spare time on another area of study altogether, so in a few years you’re ready for a complete career change instead!
Ask the five ‘whys’
To think that way, you have to get sceptical, which might sound negative. But scepticism can actually help you be curious about your motivations.
Being sceptical means you’ll later be really confident of why you’re doing something, the impact it’s going to have, and what it’s going to give you. This means you won’t turn around and wonder, ‘what did I do that for?’
To think sceptically I ask five ‘whys’ of big decisions:
I’m thinking of quitting my job to start my own business. Why?
Because I’m sick of working for other people. Why?
I have great ideas and I want to make them happen under my own steam? Why?
I’m passionate about my industry and I know there’s room for my ideas. Why?
Because I get called at least once a week outside of my job asking for help. Why?
(Note: I’m not leaving WE any time soon :P )
The five whys make you think hard about if you're making a decision for the right reasons.
No progress versus the wrong progress
I’m not normally a fan of Professor Umbridge, but to quote Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix:
"Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected, and prune practices that ought to be prohibited.”
I take this as — if you don’t know the answer to a ‘why?’, SLOW DOWN your progress until you do.
One of the best things we can do is practice being uncomfortable — and sometimes that means ‘not progressing’ until you’re clear something’s right for you.
It comes back to financial wellbeing
Getting to the guts of what you really want not only helps you focus your time and energy — but also your financial resources.
You might say, I have cash saved, and I want to travel. I could use all my cash tomorrow and get a round-the-world ticket.
But knowing what you want to accomplish helps you see it will compromise one of your other goals — to be able to pay for that yoga teaching course. So, instead, you could save more money for travel, go a year later, and still do that course.
Another person could be pushing for a pay rise. But without a clear intention for that extra money, it could get absorbed into their daily spending, and that hard work won’t help them progress in any meaningful way.
In fact if they really understood what mattered to them, they might realise they could live their ideal life on the wage they have — without the extra work!
It’s all connected to the idea of ‘conscious living’, and for a long time that all seemed too ‘woo woo’ for me. But now I love it! The woo woo makes a difference, as it’s all about being true to yourself and setting intentions — so that you're always on track to accomplishments.
Remember, not all progress is the right progress
If there’s one thing that sticks, I hope it’s that not all progress is the right progress.
When you look to the next phase of your life, try to challenge social norms, ask yourself ‘why?’ at least five times before making decisions. If you’re not ready to commit your time, energy and finances to something, wait until you are.
It’s ultimately about taking ownership of your life, so that when you reflect or look forward, you feel confident that you’re making decisions that lead to the accomplishments you want.
You won’t have regret, you’ll be in control of what you can control, and proud of how you’ve used your time. And the bonus — you will wind up financially better off!