Why do you do what you do?

I ask people this all the time as part of my process. You see a lot of people, an unreasonable number of people, don’t actually know why they’re doing what they do.

A lot of people do what they do because they’re good at doing it. That seems like a pretty reasonable concept, right? As a kid we did aptitude tests and skill tests to figure out what we were good at and while some people asked us, “what do you want to be when you grow up,” there was still this idea that we could do the things that we could do.

There’s a very good chance that this is why you do what you do.

We’re focused, from a young age, on focusing on the things that we do well and pursuing them. Kids are asked to choose between one sport and another with the fulcrum point of that decision often being potential for success.

We tend to stick with these decisions as we get older. We hone in on university majors based on success in different courses. We look at job opening and average wage and use this information as the data points for our decision-making processes.

Does that sound good?

Look, bills need to be paid. You need a roof over your head. You may have children and you need to provide for them or others that depend on you. So how do you balance these things? There is a way.

Track Your Spending

What’s truly amazing is the number of decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis without paying any attention to things like “data” and “information”. If you want to know how much you need to make in order to “survive” then you need to know how much money you’re going to spend in order to “survive”.

Don’t just think about your big bills. It’s not just about mortgages and car payments and student loans. It’s about Netflix and coffee and toothpaste as well. Get micro. Track every cent you spend. If you can, track it for a year. This will allow you to account for things like winter heating expenses and summer beer expenses (let’s be honest here). But if you can’t, try to capture at least three months.

Pad Your Stats

So now you know how much you NEED. But how much do you WANT? You need to include a cushion for unforeseen expenses for things like emergencies. You also need to include a cushion for the things you might want. Do you want to start cycling? Do you want to start yoga? Do you want to go on a trip? Do you want a brand new giant big screen 3D TV? (Yeah, that’s ok too).

Having this cushion means that you do not have to worry about money. We worry about money all the time. But in most cases we’re not actually worrying about money. We’re worrying about the unexpected. We worry about the unknown. So if we can limit the unknown, we can limit our worry. And having a cushion in place will help with that.

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

What do you do when you have an influx of money? If you’re like most people, you try to figure out the quickest and most fun way to get rid of it. You immediately try to figure out what you can use that money for.

My wife and I are currently working our way through Grey’s Anatomy. My wife likes to watch some RELATIVELY mindless dramas in the evening after a long day at work and this fits the bill quite well. SPOILER ALERT FROM LIKE 20 YEARS AGO: On the show, a doctor is given a cheque for $8.7 million after her fiancée passes away. And she doesn’t cash the cheque. For a significant period of time the cheque is held on her fridge by a simple magnet because she wants to use it for something worthwhile.

If Izzy Stevens can do that with $8.7 million, you can do that with your $200 Christmas bonus. You don’t have to wait around for something altruistic, but you do need to think consciously about how you spend that money.

Wait…Isn’t This A Post About Following Your Dreams

Sure it is. But following your dreams is often about planning for your future. It’s about setting up a scenario where you can win. It’s about creating an atmosphere that allows you to feel comfortable following your dreams.

We need to stop doing things we’re good at that make us lots of money. Wait. What?

That’s right, I said it. And your first reaction is probably going to be what we say all the time when someone gives us advice; that’s easy for you to say. And you’re right. It’s very easy for me to say. It’s easy for me to say because I’ve experienced the full spectrum of wealth, from poverty to comfort and most stops in between. And the most happy I’ve ever been was when I was making a little less money, had planned properly for that income and was doing something that I was passionate about.

I’ve had corporate jobs that paid me a lot of money for things I was really good at. And during that same time in my life I had higher than normal blood pressure, regular panic attacks and poor relationships with my friends and family.

Follow your dreams. Sure. But don’t close your eyes. Follow your dreams purposefully and intentionally and with some data in your back pocket.