The Earned Life: How To Align Your Work With Your Meaning

An ancient Japanese philosophy, “ikigai,” embodies a concept that is prominent in Western culture: follow your joy. Ikigai refers to your reason for being or your bliss. It occurs when roads collide – both personal and professional – to find your sense of purpose. By doing so, you live your life feeling free from regret. 

As you can imagine, achieving ikigai isn’t a straight path. Even the most successful people have regrets or feel unfulfilled because they don’t live according to their purpose. Most may not even know their purpose. 

The Concept of “Earned Life”

To expound on the idea of living through one’s purpose, business guru and leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith coined the term “earned life,” in which he demonstrates that living in our own lives requires a commitment to a habit of earning and connecting to something greater than the achievements of our personal ambition. Goldsmith believes that “we live an earned life when the choices, risks, and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives.” 

Today, “earned life” could not be more relevant—the pandemic has caused many of us to question our purpose, career, and things we once thought were important to us.

Live On A Path To Fulfillment, Not Regret

When we think about applying principles of an “earned life” to our careers, it can be challenging to align our day-to-day efforts with our envisioned meaning of life, especially if it’s not as concrete as it would be for, say, a physician. Doctors tend to practice medicine because they want to impact lives, promote healing, and help people, whereas it’s not so black and white with several other professions. 

It goes without saying, careers are not the only means to live an ”earned life.” When we align our successes, happiness, and passions, we can feel more fulfilled and build a more sustainable career. Here are steps you can take to begin to live an ”earned life:”

  1. Align your career and purpose in life: Consider how your professional accomplishments relate to your purpose and how they intersect. Is there an alignment? If there’s not, think about what you’re passionate about—how can you bring your passions into your day-to-day life? When you’re passionate, you’ll love what you do and consequently be more likely to succeed. Remember to stay open-minded and be bold enough to take a leap of faith. 
  2. Allow yourself time to reflect: Make it a goal to achieve an earned life by reflecting on what brings you a sense of joy and a feeling of accomplishment. Many of us get so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we get distracted from our true purpose.
  3. Alter your perspective on regret: Write a list of your past regrets and address them head-on. In many instances, the regret has already been incurred and cannot be changed, and consequently, you should not use it in consideration for future decisions.
  4. Follow your path: Do what fulfills you, whether helping others, driving innovation, or protecting the environment. As Goldsmith recommends: “Live your life, not someone else’s version of it.”
  5. Craft a personal mission statement: Write a personal mission statement, similar to a company’s mission statement, that embodies your core values and what’s important to you. Then, when you make decisions, think about how that decision aligns with your mission. After all, when you put it in writing, it builds a clearer roadmap.
  6. Focus on personal growth and professional development: Develop a growth mindset. When we grow and become a better version of ourselves, we also feel a stronger sense of purpose—Look at challenges as opportunities and failure as a step closer to fulfilling your accomplishments.

Be Engaged In the Process

Achieving an “earned life” can be difficult, especially when faced with adversity. But know that you can always take small steps toward getting on the path of fulfillment. You’ll soon look back and realize just how far you’ve come.

According to Goldsmith, “the reward of living an earned life is being engaged in the process of constantly earning such a life.” When you engage in the process, you’ll soon experience a greater sense of purpose.