Will my life be rich?

There is a hopelessness in the air these days. We have, many believe, reached the point of no return when it comes to getting along with people who don’t see things our way. We speak the same language yet understand nothing. To quote a famous line from A Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers song: You say tomato, I say tomahto; let’s call the whole thing off.

Underneath this seeming impasse, however, there are profound similarities that transcend our declared differences and which make us kin. In short, most of us want the same thing: to make a contribution in the world and be rewarded for it in return. However you define it, we all want to attain a rich life.

(Don’t) sweat it.

Asking yourself whether your life will be rich is one of those questions that makes us sweat. Some people sweat from the anxiety that comes from simply not knowing the answer. Others sweat from the burning hope that, maybe someday, they will make it big, cash in, hit the jackpot. Any reference to “rich” instantly conjures up images of money and the things money can buy. These things can range from luxury cars and fancy homes, to fine educations for our children and, perhaps most of all, to the supposed freedom from worry being rich implies…

Still others sweat because they realize that if they stick to the course they’re on, the answer to the question, will my life be rich? will, probably, be no. Their well-meaning efforts to protect what they’ve accumulated, or to acquire more of it, have taken over their lives. Along with their jobs, their days are governed by “to-do” lists, mortgages, tuition payments, soccer games, lawn mowing, bake sales, dance recitals, church suppers, and on and on. Despite the satisfaction many of these experiences may bring, they have squeezed out any hope of giving voice to the deeper passions that keep us alive inside, as the individuals we are.

People are sweating the wrong things. For all the time you invest in trying to “know” how things will turn out in your life, what actually happens in the future remains a mystery. For all the effort you may put into getting rich in financial terms, unforeseen circumstances can derail your dream. For all the energy you invest in owning up to the fact that you’ve left no room in your life for you, regret will accomplish nothing.

What is worth sweating is whether you do right by yourself and others. This sequence – first, you and then other people – is deliberate. It is only when you build relationships that reflect who you are at your core that you can “do right” by others. Your identity — the unique contribution you’re capable of making — is the living lens through which you can most confidently make informed decisions, engage the world, and thereby, fashion a life that you and others can believe in.

It is also worth sweating how you define rich. There is nothing wrong with money. Yet, as much as wealth may be about money, it is equally about those things that, like a magnet, draw people to you — and you to them — over and over again. For instance, the love you share with family and friends, the heart-felt recognition you receive from co-workers that fuels your determination to redouble your efforts at whatever you did to win that recognition in the first place.

Here today, here tomorrow

The idea of attaining a “rich life” is an invitation for you to decide what truly matters. What are the things that, when combined, will add up to a life you will be proud to call your own? In this vein, it’s also worth sweating what your legacy will be. Will the commitments you make and the actions you take today leave people better off because you were here? The question, will my life be rich? isn’t just about today; it is equally about tomorrow. It is about how you will be remembered and what you will be remembered for.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to build a rich life through the lens of your identity:

Clarify what “rich” means to you. Consider every aspect of your life in terms of the relationships that frame it. Write down the “ideal state” for each of these relationships – how you envision each might change, if it were fully informed by your identity. What would be different? What would stay the same?

  • Your relationship with work — your job, your colleagues, your career
  • Your relationship with your partner, or spouse
  • Your relationship with your family
  • Your relationship with your friends
  • Your relationship with your community

It is intriguing to think about how our irreconcilable differences might fade, at least a bit, if we were to talk in terms of the rich lives we want to build, rather than the lives we want to tear down. We all work (or did). We all have, or seek a life partner. We all have families and friends whom we rely on, just as they rely on us. It would be no surprise if what we aspired to create in each of these vital relationships were uncannily similar.

We should start there.

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