guest post: who am I?

Today’s offering is a guest post from frequent commentator Curmudgeon.  I’ve enjoyed his comments over the last year, and if you don’t read them then you’re missing out on some excellent thoughts and writing.  He’s provided some food for thought on many of my posts and I always look forward to reading his comments, and invited him to write a post sometime… so here it is!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alun Salt

I’d like to thank Steve for letting me post on his blog. I’ve been reading him for about a year, and I find him a compelling and unconventional thinker on anything he cares to write on.

But I respectfully disagree with him on some important points. Here, for instance, he talks about writing down concrete financial goals and reviewing those goals on a regular basis to determine your progress. Here he relates specific, actionable ways to make more money. I disagree with these approaches. I tried lists of goals many years ago, but the necessary concreteness of those goals made me feel obsessive and grubby. They focused on the income or expenditure or savings, whereas I felt I should focus on my character.

At best, lists of goals are a poor substitute for what you really should be doing – figuring out who you are. Once you know that, and live as who you are, you internalize the goals and live them daily. You’re not dependent on any lists, and you don’t look over your shoulder in envy at the material goods of your neighbors. Most important, you don’t define yourself by what you own; instead, your definition is internal, and you don’t need the trappings of material goods to act in a way that doesn’t reflect your true self.

As young adults, we try on various persona, defined by our behaviors and job roles. Not surprisingly, some fit better than others. Hopefully, we gravitate into the roles that fit, gaining an understanding of our own preferences and character in doing so. In doing so, we’ll likely find that we don’t have a true taste for large and fancy homes, luxury automobiles, fine clothes, and corporate ladder-climbing. But many people engage in these behaviors, perhaps because others around them do so, or because of some ill-conceived notions of the meaning of success and belonging.

Once we know what behaviors and roles fit us best, we adopt them as a reflection of our own character. You will be surprised at how many of those roles don’t involve McMansions or BMWs or vacations to Provence. Fiscal responsibility flows naturally from that awareness, because material goods for the sake of our own image no longer make sense. We know who we are, and we don’t need an Armani suit to tell us or anyone else that.

I think Steve understands the need for self-awareness; here, for example, he takes on the roles of Morpheus and Trinity and Neo to tell us to shun the false material world all around us. But lists of goals don’t necessarily lead you to learning about yourself. Ways to earn money are simply ingredients in a larger cookbook. They focus you on dates and numbers, rather than on insights about yourself.

If figuring out who you are sounds more difficult than making a list of goals, recall Socrates’ words to the jury at his trial for heresy: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It’s not only your responsibility to do so; it is an essential fact of your being. A nice side effect is that it is the only thing that can bring long-term fiscal sanity to our lives.