You labor to fill the day with activities; you create more tasks for tomorrow than the ones you have completed today; you hyper-intentionally force productivity (yet you have not defined what it is that you are trying to produce); you make plans to make more money; you make career plans; you make retirement plans; and you make plans to make more plans….

But where are you going and what are you becoming?  Are you merely surviving the day or are you living it?

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

If you are normal (and normal is not healthy), you are struggling with the tension between who you are and the silent pressures of social conventions. As a Chinese Proverb says, “Tension is who you think you should be.  Relaxation is who you are.”  This may not be a conscious struggle but it is certainly one that is being fought; all at the expense of your self.

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Your authentic self is slowly and quietly being covered by outside influences. Social conventions tell you to study business (not the arts), find a career that pays well, buy things, make more money, buy more things, save for retirement, stop working, and die at age 74. Sounds depressing and deterministic doesn’t it?

But this is not you… Or is it? Surely this is not a description of The Change Blog reader, or the blogger who writes about personal development, or the person who lives and breathes the habits of Zen… Or is it?

Social conventions need not be those of your parents!

There are plenty of modern behaviors and distractions, including social media, for example, taking you farther away from your self every day:  You seek to be inspired — you seek to make some kind of change — or perhaps you seek to inspire others to change. Do blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn help you to find yourself or do they provide short bursts of inspiration that are consumed quickly, leaving you hungry for more?  They may help you to harness the power of now, but do they carry you forward to the next moment?

There is an ever-present deluge of information and messages telling you to “be somebody;” but is this somebody you?  Are you perpetuating this message by telling others to be somebody?

“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.” ~ Ramana Maharishi

We are all told (and often believe) that happiness is manufactured and productivity is created; but happiness and productivity are not creations — they are results:  Like happiness, productivity “happens” and each is a natural byproduct of being and becoming the authentic self.  If, for example, you enjoy what you do, you are naturally willing to spend more time and energy on the particular activity… and be quite good at it! You therefore become self-fulfilled and contented; thus you spend even more time and energy on the activity.  This is true, radiating and self-feeding happiness and productivity… and it all begins with self-knowledge and self-awareness — not from the study of others’ habits.

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” ~ Ayn Rand

Another silent and distracting message coming from social conventions occurs and recurs in the world of personal finance.  For example, the ultimate financial illusion (I mean objective!) is financial freedom. The abstract meaning of financial freedom is the acquisition of a sum of money large enough to replace income earned during your working years. This idea of freedom is that your accumulated money will enable you to stop working and begin acting as your self.  But why must you stop working?  Why must you wait decades to become your self?  Why not be your self and work?  Is this not true freedom, being the self?

Conflicted, myself, between the financial and the philosopher, I began to ask myself questions: Can freedom be procured by financial means? Are there not people who consider themselves rich and free, yet they are in financial poverty? In contrast, are there not those who are financially wealthy but enslaved by physical world pursuits? Why must one sacrifice two-thirds of their life working in a career they do not love to reach a monetary goal, then discover that money is not the answer to life’s questions?  I stopped using financial planning software for clients and prospective clients last year because all it did was generate dozens of pages of reports that implicitly stated that the client must use their life as a tool for a money plan.  This is backwards!  Money is a tool for a life plan!

“A human being is a deciding being.” ~ Viktor Frankl

I discovered that all planning, whether it is financial, retirement, career or even for a vacation or holiday, is not about planning or plans — it is about being, knowing, acting as, and becoming the authentic self…

Here are a few other discoveries to help you form your own path (actually these are not really discoveries — they are truths that already existed — truths that I uncovered once I removed the covers of social conventions, media noise and language):

There is no such thing as Financial Freedom

Money is a tool, not a goal. Too many people make their life a tool for a money plan, whereas money should be made a tool for a life plan. How many of your goals are money-centered? If you want to stop surviving and begin living, you must never make any goal centered upon money. This is what makes the conventional idea of financial freedom such the paradox: People think that money buys freedom. Actually, the pursuit of money creates a form of slavery; and once this financial goal is reached, if it ever is reached, the tragic realization that freedom has not been obtained drains (and slowly kills) the authentic self.

Freedom, if properly defined, cannot be procured by financial means. Form your own definition of freedom without any reference to money.

Define Words for Yourself

What is success? What is wealth? What is happiness? If the meanings of words are not defined by you, then you are following the paved road of social conventions. If the path already exists, it is not yours. A few years ago, I followed my own advice to define words for myself: I defined retirement, for example, as “doing what I want, when I want, within reason.” At that moment, at age 37, I realized I was already retired by my definition! Of course, the key phrase is “within reason;” but the realization that I was already retired, that my freedom was not defined by monetary means, was extremely liberating. I discovered I was free, but not by monetary means!

Stop Planning and Start Discovering Yourself

If you spend your time and energy on aligning who you are with what you do, you will be on your way to true freedom. The path to self-discovery never really ends but it is the producer of meaning and purpose; therefore the persistent effort and long duration of the journey is actually welcomed, rather than disdained. There is no hurry or proper entry point, just jump in! Like career planning and financial planning, prudent self-discovery is a process of “get rich slow.” In this case, however, “rich” is not a financial term — it is the state and trait of being and becoming the authentic self.

There is no career planning; there is no retirement planning; there is only life planning.  If there is something you would do for little or no money, what would it be?  Do this thing as much as possible and be the best you can be at it.  Your honesty and self-feeding fulfillment will enable opportunities you can’t see at this moment.  There is no secret formula to life, and often the discovery of who you are is a process of discovering who you are not.

This is all the plan you need:  Make a slow and deliberate effort to find a career that is YOU.

“I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.” ~ Rene Descartes

I could go on but I do not want to distract you any further from beginning (or continuing) your own path to a meaningful existence — of discovering, being and becoming your authentic self.

I also would love to hear about your path.  Who are you, where are you now and where are you going?  Are you surviving or are you living each day.

Photo by alicepopkorn

Kent Thune

Kent Thune is the blog author of The Financial Philosopher, where he urges readers to place meaning before money and purpose before planning.

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