The one question to keep asking yourself in 2023 (review of Marshall Goldsmith’s The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment)

Skip the usual New Year’s resolutions that you’ll break within weeks and instead spend 2023 asking yourself one question over and over again.

Am I being the person I want to be right now?

Write that question out on an index card.

Put the card in your wallet.

And take it out whenever you need a reminder of how to behave and what to say and do at work, home or out in the community.

“Do this once with an affirmative answer and you’ll discover that you have earned the moment,” says Marshall Goldsmith, executive coach and author of The Earned Life. “Do this habitually and continually and you will create a string of many earned moments, stretching from days into months into years, that add up to an earned life.”

So what’s an earned life?

“We are living an earned life when the choices, risks and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives, regardless of the eventual outcomes,” says Goldsmith. “In the end, an earned life doesn’t include a trophy ceremony. The reward of living an earned life is being engaged in the process of constantly earning such a life.”

Cover of The Earned Life by Marshall Goldsmith

The alternative is going through our careers and lives on autopilot. We’re focused on action and ambition and completely ignore aspiration. We make a pile of money and get every promotion but sacrifice everything else. Or we have big dreams to make the world a better place but accomplish little or nothing at all. We overestimate risks or rewards and make questionable short-term decisions with lousy long-term consequences. And then we’re surprised, angry and disheartened to find ourselves drowning in the regret of what we could’ve, should’ve and would’ve done differently.

Goldsmith has other suggestions for avoiding this fate and leading an earned life instead. We can go beyond the one question on our index card and start answering a half dozen more  that Goldsmith promises will improve our lives.

At the end of every day, ask if we did our best to set clear goals.

Did we make progress toward achieving our goals?

Did we do our best to find meaning?

Be happy?

Maintain and build positive relationships?

And be fully engaged?

Answer each question on a scale that measures effort but not results. Ten is maximum effort. One is next to no effort. “Segregating effort from results is critical because it forces you to acknowledge that you can’t always control your results (stuff happens) but you have no excuse for not trying,” says Goldsmith.

He also recommends sharing our results each week with a group. “Don’t do this alone. Common sense should tell you that reviewing your plan in the select company of others is vastly superior to reviewing your plan alone. Why would you try to adhere to an ambitious life plan and refuse to share the experience with anyone else, especially if you didn’t have to? What added value does going solo bring to the endeavor? It would be like baking a birthday cake to eat by yourself or giving a speech to an empty room.”  

Choose your group wisely and set some ground rules, says Goldsmith. Recruit a diverse group of five to eight people who are all committed to getting better. “It’s a gathering of successful people with shared goals for the future, not a gripe session for unsuccessful people with problems,” says Goldsmith. “You’re looking for people of any and every stripe who share the same optimism about getting better. They are not victims or martyrs.”

The rules are simple. Show up each week and steer clear of judgement, negativity and cynicism, especially when reporting on how much effort you put in during the past week. Don’t beat yourself up, says Goldsmith.

“Accomplishing something with the help of a chosen community resonates more resoundingly, affects more people and is often an improvement on the solo act because of the contributions of the many. Would you rather be the soloist or sing with a choir behind you?”.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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