Money is a metric, albeit not a terribly good one.
By Lisa St. Claire
“Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” or so they say. Until recently, I was fond of that metaphor. I like the emphasis on distance over speed, of pushing through obstacles at a measured and steady pace. The trouble is, while a marathon may be more about grit and endurance than a solitary burst of speed, they’re still both races. In each, you leave from Point A and arrive at Point B. The analogy is hardly reflective of a varied and multifaceted life. And let’s not forget that Pheidippides, the Greek messenger who ran the original marathon, is said to have died upon reaching Athens.
After a certain age, birthdays have a way of waking us up. As we blow out the candles, we wonder if we’re hitting all of the mile markers society sets for us: good grades, graduation with honors, well-rounded resume, job, promotion, marriage, family, house with all the trappings, second home, luxuries, bragging rights and a triumphant retirement before we shuffle off this mortal coil.
Like age, money is a metric. Unlike age, an increase in your portfolio is applauded and welcomed rather than dreaded or denied. Too often, wealth is used as a benchmark to gauge our success. And it’s really no coincidence that our capitalist mindset tends to foster the idea that by certain ages we should reach certain financial milestones. In the 80s, it was “make your first million by 30.” Now—especially in tech—a million by 30 is too little, too late.
Here’s some advice on balancing the dance of money and meaning in your life:
Don’t confuse net worth with self-worth. From my experience, the people who are most content and healthy in their relationships with money acknowledge financial success but are not defined by it. In other words, they see the power and value of money but they do not make it a goal in and of itself. Their identities are not closely linked to their wealth.
When that little voice says, “Is this all there is?” make sure you listen. Despite our societal emphasis on financial success, many of us experience a psychological break from the pursuit of status and wealth along the way. This could arrive as a full-blown epiphany (leaving your career to do relief work, for instance), or as a quiet moment of reflection and introspection. Sometimes wealth can actually be a barrier to exploring something far more important: purpose. Pay attention to your inner voice and find a way to integrate this search for meaning into your day-to-day life.
Bring on your second (or third) act: We are all living longer, and more and more people are shunning the traditional idea of retirement. Don’t let age dissuade you from starting a new business, pursuing an ambitious goal, beginning a spiritual practice, or finding a completely impractical but joyous pursuit—these are all ways to spark new energy and leverage the wisdom that comes with age.
When it comes to birthdays, some are harder than others. It’s no coincidence that the words “midlife” and “crisis” go so well together. I’m discovering this firsthand as I approach the half-century mark next month. Time for me to take my own advice, stop and smell the roses, embrace what’s ahead and reflect on bringing more joy and purpose into my life. But first, I think I’ll take a nap.
Lisa St. Claire is a Certified Financial Planner and a frequent contributor to the Nob Hill Gazette.