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Making a Living? Or, Making a Life?

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The following is a guest post by Gary Bonner. I email Gary after he left a poignant comment on my Devil’s Advocate post “Don’t Pay Your Dues,” and I asked that he elaborate on it – thankfully, he agreed. What follows is the first in what I hope is a well-received series of retrospective posts where Gary shares with us some hard earned lessons.

‘We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”. – Sir Winston Churchill

It is so easy in today’s mad rush of activity and millions of information bytes speeding by demanding attention from our brains for us to lose sight of why we are chasing so hard. We are programmed by our schools and advertising to value certain things, demand certain expectations not only of ourselves, but of those around us; whether they be a life partner, a co-worker, employer, employee, parent, or sibling. Hollywood and Wall Street stream at us 24/7 with unrelenting goading to rise to the challenge of success and hitting it big. The lifestyles of the rich and famous are set before us. Will it happen to you?

Chances are they won’t. That is why the rich and famous stand out. There aren’t that many of them. If we step back and examine our lives can we see our inner motivations? Do we know why we do the things we do? What is our reference point? How do we define it?

There are really only 2 kinds of people in the world: those who work to live, and those who live to work. Let me explain.

Many people see their occupation as something they enjoy doing but it is not their preoccupation. They may have family responsibilities, hobbies, activity groups or goals that extend beyond the workplace. They may have wanted to achieve more material well being in their lives, or perhaps they already are achieving what they want. Either way, they have come to terms with whatever limitations or successes they achieve in life.

Other people are more focused on their profession or their goals. They have a thirst and a drive that motivates them to work hard and very long hours to meet their deadlines or standards. These individuals desire the progress, achievement, and/or recognition that their work develops. They may be creators, builders, healers, mission-oriented individuals who give their life to their end purpose. These people may be more incentive and material motivated. Or, they may be guided by a desire to persuade or to discover. They draw strength from and have come to terms with their focus in life.

Obviously, these are examples of both sides of an equation. We all seem to be playing on a teeter totter of “keeping things in balance” to meet the needs of our families and also our responsibilities to the working world. We want to work hard so we will have security when we are old. We want to have fun while we are young enough to physically and mentally enjoy life. But at the end, what do we really have?

I said in a posting to a Devil’s Advocate column on “Paying Your Dues” that “no one has ever laid on their death bed saying “I wish I had spent more time at the office”. We all have tasks to achieve each day. They can be as big as our capacity allows us, within our capability or tasks that stretch us to be bigger. At least half of our years are spent learning how far we can stretch and how willing we are to stretch. How far is based on on our abilities, how willing is based on our priorities. Sometimes we are not aware if ability to learn or willingness to learn is the driving force behind our actions.

Don’t buy into vague promises, winks and nods from employers that only bait you so they can see if you will take the hook. Make sure that the choices you make today are based on solid ground. Don’t “bet on the come” on a promise that doesn’t exist. If you work for an employer, think of yourself as a contract consultant providing goods and services to your customer. The only difference is that the employer withholds your taxes and provides benefits. If you are supplying value above expectations and the customer doesn’t give you more business (money or benefits), then find another customer.

The important achievements of life are what we accomplish with other people. Those that we love, those that we work and cooperate with, those we compete with, and those we learn to co-exist with. At the end of life there are only people, and our lives are extended in this world by other people’s memories of us. What you do today will form the memories of what you mean to others. Make each day count.

Gary Bonner has spent the last 35 years in commercial & consumer finance, equipment leasing and factoring for 4 of the largest financial organizations world-wide. He served as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 manufacturer and also started and operated a successful small business. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma and now resides in San Diego, CA.

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3 Responses to “Making a Living? Or, Making a Life?”

  1. James says:

    wow, this is just what I needed to read this morning. I have been constantly getting the gut check lately, to stay out of corporate America. Thankfully the loved ones in my life continue prodding me to keep on keepin’ on in my entrepreneurial ventures. I love how Gary places emphasis on the fact that in the end, all that truly matters is how we coexist with others. The impact we have on others, whether we die rich or poor is far more important the any type of monetary wealth we ever achieve. After all, money is only a tool, that can come and go in the blink of an eye. Relationships, and love are the only substance that have any real meaning in the end.

  2. Maria says:

    This article was a very good “reality check.” My husband and I literally had this exact discussion yesterday. We were talking about “making the most of the lives we have” and we specifically talked about what we feel there are two groups of people in the world, like the article mentioned. Those who work so they can go live the rest of their life and those whose live to work. It is sometimes hard to balance what can be a thin line between these two approaches to living your life, but hopefully we tend to lean towards working so we can live. Those relationships you build with people far out weigh the importance of working yourself to death, because after all, if that job was gone tomorrow, it would be those very friends and family helping you cope and move on to the next chapter. Perhaps we were only discussing this because we are expecting a baby soon and our lives as a childless couple with less responsiblity are about to change, but perhaps, even if we weren’t expecting, I would like to think we were doing just a random “reality check” of our own, without having an article as a reminder. Perhaps it is the relationship we have built with each other that prompted us to look at our life, accomplishments, without the context of work.

  3. While I am purely a work to live individual, I have to disagree a little bit with the comment “no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time in the office.”

    While I whole heartedly agree with this comment, there are plenty of people working past the age of 62 and even those who are retired that say to themselves “if I had only gotten that promotion.”

    One must strike a good balance between working to live for the now and working to live for when you aren’t working anymore.


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