In the dilemma of money or meaning, that third choice consists of bringing both of these qualities into our life.
Building a life on the basis of this third option usually does not happen overnight, but is instead a process. In this process, there is no simple cookie-cutter formula we can follow, as this third choice can look vastly different from person to person.
For one person, it can mean living one’s passion on the side while getting their income from doing other work. Some people may simply wish to make certain changes in their current career to have it be more fulfilling, whereas others may want to create a whole new career.
Here are some suggestions for beginning the process:
1. Identify where you are in the dilemma between money or meaning.
Whenever we want to change something in our life, we first need to determine exactly where we are. So if the dilemma I described above resonated with you, the first step for moving beyond it is to identify which side of the dilemma you currently find yourself on.
These questions can help with the exploration: Do you love what you are doing, but have less financial security than you would like? Do you feel okay with your finances but not passionate about what you do? Or do you feel you have neither money nor meaning in your life?
2. Identify what area you need to focus on when it comes to improving your life.
Once we have clearly identified the problem in our life, the next step is to figure out the road to change. So, if you have money but little meaning in your life, the key is to focus on anything that brings you more purpose
. One simple first step to doing this is to engage in weekly artist dates
—reserving two hours every week just to do something that feels like play. This exercise by author Julia Cameron helps one to reconnect with one’s inner creativity.
In contrast, if you do work you love but are financially insecure, focus on ways to create more money. This could mean exploring strategies to grow your business (if you are self-employed) or finding side hustles and different ways of generating income.
If you find yourself in a place where you have neither money nor meaning in your life, it can be difficult to work on both areas at the same time. In this situation, it is generally easier to focus on creating more money first and bringing in meaning later, because financial security is a more basic human need than self-actualization.
It can also be hard to give ourselves permission to really explore what lights us up if we are concerned about paying the bills. Focusing on bringing in money first gives us access to a range of resources we might otherwise not have, such as courses that allow us to explore our passion or other forms of support, such as coaching.
While there are ways to explore our passions for free or cheap (such as by getting books on them from a public library, borrowing musical instruments from friends, watching YouTube video topics that interest us), having more money gives us more options.
3. Commit to baby steps.
We are less likely to move forward in big kangaroo leaps than through consistent baby steps. Whenever we do not know what we should do to move closer toward our goal, we are likely thinking too big.
The habit of thinking too big without taking action tends to paralyze us. In this situation, the best thing we can do is to start taking baby steps. One small baby step that we take is better than a giant leap we never make.
As Paulo Coelho advises us, “When in doubt, just take the next small step.” That small step may be a phone call, an internet search, or an email.
So how do we find out what baby step we could take? The best thing to do is to simply ask ourselves the question “What is one small step I can take now?”
And to then take that step.
The inner realist’s perspective: “Don’t quit!”
Our inner realist is wary of advising anyone to hand in their notice unless they already have a better alternative at hand.
The inner realist points out that financial security is ever-important: We have to prepare for retirement, pay for health insurance and meet our basic needs. If other people are dependent on us, we also need to be able to provide for them. We have to be realistic about what to do with our lives because we have responsibilities.
To further complicate things, our current and future responsibilities exist alongside past decisions. Many times, the circumstances of our reality have been set in place a long time ago and do not adequately reflect who we are today.
Taking all this into account, our inner realist advises us that the best thing we might do for ourselves and for the ones we love is to do work we are not totally passionate about in order to have financial security. This can, according to the inner realist, lead to rewards further down the road.
The inner optimist’s perspective: “Take the plunge!”
Our inner optimist accurately points out that if we listen to the realist’s perspective, we might end up putting off our dreams indefinitely. Just as the time is often never right to have a child, our inner optimist explains, the time will never be right to make a drastic career change to follow our true passion.
Thus, our inner optimist advises people to make a radical change right away—to simply hand in their notice.
An adage the inner optimist strongly resonates with is: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” To back this up, our inner optimist has compiled an impressive list of people who successfully build their dream lives.
Unlike our inner realist, our inner optimist encourages people to follow their heart. But is there possibly a smarter, more effective way of doing it?
As is often the case in life, there is a middle way. To learn more about it, let us turn our attention to the inner sage.
The inner sage’s recommendation: “Find the middle way by making room for rationality and mystery.”
The inner sage advises us to be both prudent and daring. It asks us to find a way of following our dreams without taking excessive risks. Take, for instance, a business consultant who completes a coach certification program in his free time and starts building his new business on the side.
While the inner sage cares about making rational choices, it also asks us to be aware of an aspect that is rarely mentioned.
That missing aspect is the mystery-of-it-all.
Oftentimes, when we consider making any big change in our lives, we approach it with our rational minds.
However, as our inner sage points out, things are oftentimes less in our control than we think they are. The work we are meant to do is oftentimes referred to as our “calling.” Our inner sage likes this word because it symbolizes the extent to which things are outside our control.
Being “called” has a passive/receptive aspect to it. While parts of our journey require action taking, there is also a humbling aspect to it that asks us to get out of the driver’s seat.
The truth is that it is impossible to foresee what will happen once we start following our own path more.
Our inner sage reminds us that before we make a big change, we can only assume how things will develop. When we actually start doing what we feel called to do, there is oftentimes noticeable support for us.
The acknowledgment that this support exists is different from the inner optimist’s naïve assumption that success will surely come, an assumption based on entitlement.
How then, do we live this in reality? For this, let’s turn to the
The inner pathfinders’s recommendation: “Walk the path, one step at a time.”
The inner pathfinder asks us to pay attention to the signs we are receiving as they can help point us into the right direction. These signs can come in the form of positive support (great feedback and encouragement from others to move forward into your calling) or negative support (your current situation becomes intolerable, forcing you to move out of it).
For the inner pathfinder, it is obvious that there are no easy answers when someone asks: “Should I hand in my notice to follow my dreams?”
The inner pathfinder knows that this is not a question to be answered, but a path to be walked, one step at a time. By acknowleding that this is a path and not a singular event, the inner pathfinder alerts you that “taking the plunge” is but one potential step on your way.
The important thing, in the eyes of the inner pathfinder, is to start walking that path. A path that will become clearer as you walk it.
Thus, our inner pathfinder proposes to change the question to: “What is one step you can do today to pursue your dreams?”
And to take that one step.
One day at a time.