If you’re among the fortunate few, you not only have a job you love, but one that will earn you at least a decent living over a sustained period of time.
For all too many Americans, however, that’s a pipedream. Many of them toil away at jobs they detest, but that pay the bills. After a lifetime of drudgery, they’ve funded their lives, but never experienced the joy of a labor of love.
Others follow their passions, and savor pursuits they adore, but that don’t afford a living wage. Their jobs are more hobby than vocation. And it’s not long before they realize that while they’re enjoying living, they can’t make a living.
Two guys who avoided those extremes and found the sweet spot are Randy Garn and Ethan Willis, co-founders of a Salt Lake City company called Prosper, which coaches students to make key financial changes in their lives.
Their book, Prosper: Create the Life You Really Want, which just hit the New York Times Bestseller List, may help you align happiness with the income you need over a sustained period. That equation, they argue, equals prosperity.
All about balance
“There are a lot of books just written about money, and a lot of books just written about happiness, ” Willis told me. “But from our research, there are very few written about prosperity, which is the balance between money and happiness and sustainability, and deciding what role money will play in your life.”
Garn and Willis launched Prosper a dozen years ago with four employees, and grew the company to more than 400 employees, based on the idea of helping people not just think about greater prosperity in their lives, but go out and get it. Prosper has 75, 000 students in more than 80 countries, its offices conducting more than 1, 500 one-on-one coaching sessions every week.
Prosperity, Garn and Willis argue, isn’t about making a ton of money, it’s about making enough money, and making it consistently over time. Too many people get obsessed with making tons of money, and wind up on what’s known as the hedonic treadmill. They just keep on going, but never gain a sense of satisfaction or a sense of fulfillment. “People focus all their financial hopes on tomorrow, and wind up with a lot of broke yesterdays, ” Willis says.
The Polaris Point
When those seeking to prosper find what Garn and Willis call their “Polaris Point, ” named for the North Star that has guided explorers for eons, they have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish by the end of their lives.
“When you’re climbing that mountain, you’ll know you’re in the prosperity zone when you’re making the money you need, when you’re completely fulfilled and passionate about what you’re doing, and there’s a sense of sustainability in doing what you love, ” Garn says. “You’ll know you’re not when you feel frustrated, anxious, depressed and distracted, or you can’t make ends meet.”
If that sounds like a bunch of nice words, rest assured there are specific strategies, a concrete plan and tactical action steps to create the life you want.
“The book has great case studies of some of our students, ” Willis says. “There’s also a prosperity assessment that allows you to find out where you are personally in that prosperity equation. Where are your prosperity gaps? Where do you need to go? And how can you define the Polaris Point? Everyone has their own Polaris Point, which is what you want to achieve in your life. After all the scores have been tallied, and you’re looking back on your life, what do you want to be known for? And then how much money will that take to support you? The irony is sometimes it takes less than what you’re currently making.”
Another irony is that the economic train wreck we’ve all dealt with the last few years may be making people less willing to spend their entire lives in jobs that do nothing for them but deliver a long string of paychecks.
Garn and Willis used to hear people ask, “How do I find the job that can pay me the most money?” After the financial markets meltdown, though, folks seemed to change. “They said, ‘What can I do that will be satisfying in the end?'” Willis relates. “What can I do to not just make a living, but make a life?”
Making a life, the authors emphasize, involves understanding joy is truly found in the journey, not just the destination. “From the happiness standpoint, there’s a lot of power in the pursuit, ” Willis says. “It’s not just about the trophy, it’s about giving yourself a few blue ribbons along the way.”
After I hung up with Garn and Willis, I recalled the story about legendary author Joseph Heller, recounted in a book by John C. Bogle. Told a hedge fund manager had made more in a day than Heller had made in his entire career, the latter famously said, “Yes, but I have something he will never have. Enough.”
I’d bet he was one guy who knew his Polaris Point.