Three Questions Toward a Life Well-Led

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Time management gurus urge that you first write your personal mission statement. I believe there’s an invaluable preceding step: getting clear on your guiding principles.

I hope that the following three questions will help you identify yours. It may help to provide a sample answer, including the rationale for the answer. I’ll use myself as the basis for my sample answer because I know myself better than I know anyone else and I’ve spent considerable time having developed and refined my life’s guiding principles.

Where should you most devote your time and money?

Sample answer: I don’t quite understand why family should trump all. After all, we’re thrust into our family of origin at random. And while we do choose our friends and romantic partners, if their needs or potential to profit from our efforts aren’t the greatest, shouldn’t we devote our efforts to people and causes that are greater?

Hence, my guiding principle is to spend as much time as possible making the biggest difference. For example, this is the 1,301st article I’ve written for Psychology Today, which have had more than 7 million views. I’m very grateful for the latter because it greatly enhances my sense of worthiness. That leads to a corollary of my “make the biggest difference” guiding principle: My worth as a human being depends largely on how big a difference I’ve made. That view stands in contrast to the oft-made assertion that we are worthy mainly by being, not doing. I couldn’t disagree more.

What do you most believe in?

Sample answer: I’d predict that most people would say "God" but I most believe in the power of the best-and-brightest (including kind) people. I spend as much time with such people as possible. For example, I invited seven such people to form a Board of Advisors. We meet on monthly for one hour. The format is simple: I ask, “Who has a problem or idea they’d like to share on which they’d like the group’s reaction?” It’s four years later, and that group is still going strong. . It seems clear that we’ve all derived far more benefit and thus can be more contributory than if the group consisted of a less select group.

Similarly, I invest in companies that attract the best and brightest and that I believe make the world, net, a much better place. Perhaps surprising, my largest investment is in Amazon. I am well aware that the media focuses on how hard Amazoners work but I value hard work. More important, as a utilitarian, I’m always thinking about the net impact of a company, a policy, whatever. And Amazon makes available to the world, nearly every product imaginable, easily curatable, and deliverable, at the lowest possible price. It also enables small sellers, from Accra to Zululand to sell their products, for example, from artwork to flower seeds to the 12 books I’ve written, to an enormous audience.

How do you want to spend your time?

In light of my previous answer, it may surprise you that I care very, very little about making money. I care much more about spending as much time using my best abilities to make the biggest difference possible, whether it pays me or not. Hence, for writing these articles, I get paid less per hour than I could have made flipping burgers. I don’t get paid at all for hosting my KALW (NPR-San Francisco) radio program, Work with Marty Nemko, even though I’m in my 30th year doing it and I’m not shy about negotiating. Indeed, I’ve written a number of article on the subject, for example, Compensation Negotiation for Employees.

What socio-political-economic system do you most believe in?

Society’s mind-molders—the schools, colleges, and media—have been largely appropriated by the Left. So the current generation, almost with one voice, believes in more redistribution from Society’s Haves to its Have-Nots with less regard to whether that’s wresting from the pool with the greatest potential to contribute to society.

I believe in providing a truly basic safety net for everyone. I define basic as what is provided for college students: dorm living and clinic-style health care provided mainly by physician assistants with no choice of provider. Beyond that, I believe resources should be allocated to those with the greatest potential to contribute to society, where possible, leaving that to the free market, which tends to do that with, as Adam Smith called it, “The Invisible Hand on the market.” People voting with their feet.” I believe in small government because of its tendency to be inefficient, for example, the $2 million bathroom in a little-used park, when private contractors insisted they could have built it for $70,000.

The takeaway

As 2019 begins, it’s not a bad time to develop your foundational guiding principles. Perhaps this article will help you identify yours.

Ethics and Morality
Identifying your guiding principles.
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