The Earned Life, by the world’s best coach Marshall Goldsmith and his trusted co-author Mark Reiter, is a book for ambitious individuals seeking a higher purpose to live a happy life without regrets. His stories and lessons learned over the years as a coach are presented in a way that is both inspiring and practical, to help guide readers in creating their most fulfilling lives. As a bonus, he shares powerful tools and exercises that will assist readers in achieving that!
Book Title: The Earned Life
Authors: Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter
Date of Reading: Jul 2022
Table of Contents
What Is Being Said In Detail:
The Earned Life is an excellent book that offers strategies for living a fulfilling life of no regrets. As you read through each chapter, you’ll learn about his experience and how he and his clients achieved the level of fulfillment we all desire.
Through gentle guidance, it teaches you how to recognize and accept yourself for who you are, what your capabilities are, and how to pick and choose one purpose you should focus on.
A key element of the earned life is to commit to an earning habit, which means the things you do are linked to what you want to achieve and your overall purpose. There is something extremely satisfying about achieving goals when you have a higher purpose behind them, even when you do not know what the outcome of your actions will be.
Goldsmith is a master in the art of giving practical advice to help us overcome the lack of imagination and the tendency to get caught up in inertia which are two of the greatest obstacles to living a satisfying life.
There are two parts to this book: the first describes the ideas and concepts behind living a life of no regrets, while the second provides advice on how to implement them. There is an exercise at the end of every chapter to help you gain insight on your own.
Introduction explains what living an earned life means. Particularly when each decision, risk, and effort is aligned with an overarching purpose in life, regardless of results.
Every Breath Paradigm
Chapter 1 introduces the Every Breath Paradigm as a Buddha-inspired way to understand yourself and your place in the continuum of your life.
What’s Stopping You From Creating Your Own Life?
Chapter 2 offers a review of the many forces that compel us to live lives other than our own. More often than we’d like we are bound to be trapped by our programming, inertia, obligation to others, the inability to imagine, being unable to adapt to rapid change, vicarious living, and running out of runway.
The Earning Checklist
Chapter 3 offers a checklist of skills essential to living an earned life. Motivation, ability, understanding, confidence, support, and marketplace are some of the main points on that checklist.
The Agency of No Choice
Chapter 4 shows that it’s better to reduce the choices in our life from many to one because, if you only have one, you’ve got to make it work. You can only live your life to the fullest when you focus on what’s valuable to you and ignore what doesn’t affect your life’s outcome.
Aspiration: Privileging Your Future Over Your Present
Chapter 5 explains what is aspiration, noting that there’s a crucial difference between deciding what we want to be and who we want to become. You are living an earned life when the things you do today are aligned with what your goals are and what you want to achieve in life.
Opportunity or Risk: What Are You Overweighting for?
Chapter 6 examined how we determine the level of risk we’re willing to accept in our life. In order to minimize the risk of regret and to ensure the rewards of the earned life, the triple A’s checklist (action, ambition, aspiration) helps you decide what you should do today based on your ambitions and aspirations.
Slicing the Loaf To Find Your One-Trick Genius
Chapter 7 explains the importance of choosing a specialist when it’s time to resolve the eternal specialist-versus-generalist dichotomy.
How We Earn: The Five Building Blocks Of Discipline
In chapter 8, you learn what is the discipline required to achieve an earned life, and how it is an acquired skill, the product of our compliance, accountability, follow-up, measurement, and community.
An Origin Story
In chapter 9, you learn how to structure your life for meaningful change and living an earned life by following a weekly check-in schedule.
Chapter 10 introduces the Life Plan Review (LPR), a tool that helps you bridge the gap between what you plan and what you do. It reminds us to measure what’s important in our lives and addresses one of our most persistent human weaknesses-failure to follow through on the things we say we want to do on an everyday basis.
Lost Art of Asking For Help
Chapter 11 breaks the myth of the self-made person, reminds us of our need for help, and demonstrates the value of good community relations and mutual support among all members..
When Earning Becomes Your Habit
Chapter 12 focuses on the challenges women encounter in negotiations and when attempting to influence others. Here you will learn how to successfully negotiate with your employer to get what you want out of them and how to deal with the gender pay gap.
Paying the price and eating the marshmallows
Chapter 13 illustrates that an earned life, particularly a fulfilling one, does come with a price, otherwise you could regret your choices despite the legitimate reasons you had for making them.
Credibility Must Be Earned Twice
Chapter 14 discusses the two aspects of credibility – competence and recognition – that should both be achieved in order to live the earned life.
Chapter 15 defines different types of empathy and shows that singular empathy is the most effective way to help people without harming yourself.
After the Victory Lap
Coda ends on a profound insight: an earned life doesn’t include a trophy ceremony. One of the greatest rewards of living an earned life is being able to engage in the process of continually earning a life that can meet your needs.
Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:
“We invest enormous resources of time and energy to find purpose and meaning in our lives, to be recognized for our achievement, to maintain our relationships, to be engaged in whatever we do, and to be happy.”
“ […] I wanted it, I worked for it, and my reward was equal to my effort. In other words, I earned it. It is a simple dynamic that describes much of our striving in life. But as we shall see, it offers us an incomplete picture of an earned life.”
“Regret is the polar opposite of fulfillment.”
“Regret is a devilish cocktail of agency (our regrets are ours to create, they’re not foisted upon us by others) and imagination (we have to visualize making a different choice in our past that delivers a more appealing outcome now).”
“Being open to opportunities that come our way can help us avoid regret, even when we believe we’re already happy and fulfilled where we are. The simplest tool I know to finding fulfillment is being open to fulfillment.”
“[…] our lives reside on a continuum that roams between Regret and Fulfillment, as illustrated below.”
“Red Hayes, the man who wrote the 1950s country music classic “Satisfied Mind,” explained that the idea for the song came from his father in-law, who one day asked him who he thought the richest man in the world was. Red ventured a few names. His father-in-law said, “You’re wrong; it is the man with a satisfied mind.””
“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 outcome.”
“The deliverable from this magical brew of choice, risk, and maximal effort is the glorious notion of “an earned reward.” It’s a perfectly valid term—as far as it goes. An earned reward is the ideal solution to every goal we pursue and every desirable behavior we try to perfect in ourselves.
We are said to “earn” an income, and a college degree, and other people’s trust. We must earn our physical fitness. We must earn respect; it is not given to us freely. And so on with the long menu of human striving: from a corner office to the affection of our children to a good night’s sleep to our reputation and character, all must be earned via choice, risk, and maximal effort.
This is why we valorize the merited success; there’s something heroic about applying maximum energy, wit, and will to get what we think we want”
“[…] an earned life makes only a few demands of us: Live your own life, not someone else’s version of it. Commit yourself to “earning” every day. Make it a habit. Attach your earning moments to something greater than mere personal ambition.”
“The reward of living an earned life is being engaged in the process of constantly earning such a life.”
“[…] it’s never too late to reflect, because as long as you’re breathing, you have more time. But it’s never too early either—and early is better”
PART I – CHOOSING YOUR LIFE
CHAPTER ONE – THE “EVERY BREATH” PARADIGM
“the emotions, thoughts, and material possessions we hold now do not last. They can vanish in an instant—as brief as the time we need to take our next breath.”
“[…] we are not a unitary mass of flesh and bone and emotions and memories but rather a steadily expanding multitude of individuals, each one time-stamped in the moment of our most recent breath — and reborn with every breath.”
“[…] the person you have been is not a life sentence to remain that person today or in the future. You can let past transgressions go — and move on.”
CHAPTER TWO – What’s Stopping You From Creating Your Own Life?
“Not only is it hard to sift through the myriad choices, but even when we know what we want, we don’t always know how to follow our dreams.”
“Inertia is the most resolute and determinative opponent of change.”
“Inertia is an active event in which we are persisting in the state we’re already in rather than switching to something else.”
“Being inertia’s victim or escaping its malign gravitational pull is a choice that’s solely ours to make. When people discover that they have a choice, they are usually empowered to change”
“The most reliable predictor of who you’ll be five years from now is who you are now.”
“From our early days in the crib—before we can crawl, walk, or speak—they’re forensically studying our behavior for clues about our talents and potential. This is most obvious when siblings are involved.
Over time, with enough “evidence,” our parents subdivide us into distinct personalities: the smart one, pretty one, strong one, nice one, responsible one—whichever of the many descriptors seems to apply at the time. It’s as if they’re unwittingly trying to turn us into an archetype of a human being, erasing all the nuance.”
“Our programming is only a problem when it becomes a life blocker.”
“Until we (or someone else) challenge the validity of our excuses (“Says who?”), we cannot imagine imposing our will upon beliefs that we’ve come to accept as gospel.”
“Our programming’s biggest impact is how proficiently it blinds us to our need to reject it.”
“The beauty of obligation is that it directs us to keep our promises to others, implied or explicit. The misery of obligation is how often those promises conflict with the ones we’ve made to ourselves. In those moments, we tend to overcorrect, choosing between the extremes of selfless and selfish—and end up disappointing either ourselves or those who depend on us.”
“[…] sometimes it’s okay to put ourselves first, in spite of what others think.”
“I used to think creativity was a matter of taking two slightly dissimilar ideas and merging them into something original, e.g. serving lobster with steak and calling it Surf ’n’ Turf. You add A and B and come up with D. Then a successful artist told me I was setting the bar too low.
Creativity is more like taking A and F and L and coming up with Z. The greater the distance between the parts, the greater the imagination required to make them whole. Only a precious few of us are A-plus-F-plus-L-equals-Z creative. Some of us are A-plus-B-equals-D creative.
And, sadly, some of us can’t even imagine a world where A and B are in the same room.”
“In other words, slow is today, fast is tomorrow. You’re deluding yourself in pointless nostalgia if you think that, no matter the situation, at some point in the near future—when you finish the “rush” project or when the kids get older and your domestic life calms down—you can revert to a slower time when the pace of life and the speed at which it changed was more relaxed and gentle. It is not going to happen.”
“Our failure to adapt to the quickening pace of change blocks us in the same ways that a failure of imagination does. We cannot interpret what’s happening around us. If we cannot keep up, we get winded and fall behind. And when we fall behind, we are living in everyone else’s past.”
“Anyone or anything can pull our focus from doing what we should be doing and coax us into doing what others want us to do. That’s one definition of not living your own life”
“Adults are capable of miscalculating their personal runway at any age, from twenty-five to seventy and beyond. […] First, they treat their early disappointment as a catastrophe rather than the blessing it actually is (after all, they’re escaping a job that bores them); second, they cannot imagine a next step; and third, they don’t appreciate that they have two-thirds of their adult life ahead of them. That’s a lot of runway, which some people find daunting. I suggest it is a lifeline.”
CHAPTER THREE – The Earning Checklist
“Motivation is a strategy, not a tactic. Motive is the reason we act in a certain way. Motivation is the reason we continue acting that way.”
“[…] there is at least one universal baseline motivation guaranteed to clarify our desire to live an earned life, and it is this: I want to live a life that will increase fulfillment and minimize regret.”
“Our ability is not one isolated talent; it’s a portfolio of skills and personality traits that have to match up with the life we want to lead.”
“[…] customers will forgive any problem if they can see that you care enough to correct it swiftly”
“Part of Understanding is knowing the difference between good and not good enough—and accepting that in any situation, we can be one or the other.”
“Confidence is your belief that you can succeed. You acquire confidence through an imprecise alchemy of training, repetition, steady improvement, and a string of successful results, each one feeding the other.”
“As a general rule, if you have motivation, ability, and understanding, lacking confidence is unfortunate, almost inexcusable. You have earned the right to be confident.”
“Here’s a not-so-dirty secret of super-successful people: The smartest, most accomplished people I know are the most avid builders of their own support group and the most reliant on their group for help (and they’re not shy about admitting it).
[…] My only caveat: Never be the most admired or successful person in your group (you’re seeking help, not a fan base), nor the least accomplished. Somewhere in the middle is right.”
“The fact is, not only do the vast majority of us need to earn a living, if only to pay our bills and provide for our families, but through rearing or inclination, most of us can’t help linking our sense of fulfillment and self-esteem to our material compensation.”
“If there is no market for what you’re offering (and you don’t happen to be the rare visionary who creates a new industry out of thin air), all your skill, confidence, and support will not overcome that hurdle.”
“[…] before taking on any challenge that matters to you. Candidly test yourself: Am I motivated to do this? And able? Do I understand how to harness my ability to get the job done? Do my past achievements make me confident that I can do this? Do I have support? Is there a marketplace that will appreciate the effort?”
CHAPTER FOUR – The Agency of No Choice
“To live any life, you have to make choices. To achieve an earned life, you have to make choices with an expanded sense of scale, discipline, and sacrifice.”
“When you have only one choice, the only acceptable response is to make that choice work.”
“Creating an earned life is first and foremost a matter of scale—of going really big on the important things that keep you on message, small on the things that do not influence the outcome. This is the secret of living an earned life: It is lived at the extremes. You are maximizing what you need to do, minimizing what you deem unnecessary.”
CHAPTER FIVE – Aspiration: Privileging Your Future Over Your Present
“Deciding what you do each day is not the same as who you want to be right now is not the same as who you want to become.”
“It is tempting to treat Ambition and Aspiration as synonyms. But to me they are not the same. Ambition is the pursuit of a specific goal with a finish line; we are X, we want to achieve Y. When we hit Y, our specific ambition ends, until we come up with our next ambitious goal. Aspiration, on the other hand, is a continuing act of self-creation and self-validation. It is not X turning into Y. It is X evolving into Y, then Y plus, then possibly Y squared.”
“Ambition and Aspiration are not a duopoly governing our ability to live an earned life. They cannot function properly without the third variable, Action. […] Any positive, lasting self improvement we earn in life derives from Action working in concert with Ambition and Aspiration. When these three independent variables become interdependent, serving one another, we are unstoppable.”
“Ambition, when we achieve it, delivers a feeling of happiness that we cannot hold on to and protect.”
“Aspiration is your best friend, whether it motivates you or tells you to stop wasting your time.”
“At its core, Aspiration is an act of privileging your future over your present. Think of it as a transfer of power from old to new.
No matter how risk-averse you think you are, when you aspire, you are choosing to be a little bit of a gambler. Using the currency of your time and energy, you are betting that the future you will be an improvement on the current you.
Don’t be surprised how tenaciously and creatively you try to win that wager. It is how a life is earned.”
CHAPTER SIX – Opportunity or Risk: What Are Your Overweighting for?
“The risks we take in life should be the most informed decisions we make— because so much is at stake and the consequences can be life-changing.”
“When we overfocus on Action at the expense of our Aspiration and Ambition, we tend to make very poor opportunity-versus-risk decisions.”
“When Ambition and Aspiration are in the mix, there are no minor decisions.”
CHAPTER SEVEN – Slicing the Loaf To Find Your One-Trick Genius
“You need years, not months, of experience to develop the knowledge base, the work habits, and the relationships that will enable you to slice the loaf down to a single sliver of expertise that is yours to own. And, to further torture the metaphor, you have to let the loaf bake fully before you can slice it”
“No amount of talent can overcome an inappropriate role.”
“The specific talent—your one trick—doesn’t matter as much as the sincere attempt to perfect it does. In that sense, anyone can be a one-trick genius”
“A special talent can elevate or torment you. You can let it be your ally or your nemesis. It’s your choice.”
PART II – EARNING YOUR LIFE
CHAPTER EIGHT – How We Earn: The Five Building Blocks Of Discipline
“We’re more likely to comply with a recommended course of action when failure to do so results in extreme pain or punishment, either physical, financial, or emotional.”
“When your intentions are out in the open, the stakes are automatically higher (people are watching) and so, hopefully, is your performance. The specter of a public setback, coupled with your private disappointment, is a powerful motivator.”
“Compliance and accountability are two sides of the same coin. They’re both burdens that we bear alone as individuals, one imposed on us by others, the other self-imposed.”
“[…] follow-up is a valuable process that heightens our self-awareness. It forces us to assess our progress honestly. Without followup we may never take the time to ask how we’re doing.”
“Measurement is the truest indicator of our priorities—because what we measure drives out what we don’t.”
“Not every measurement that matters to us has to be a hard, objective number. Soft, subjective numbers can be just as meaningful.”
“This is how discipline and willpower gradually settle into your life. They’re not bequeathed to you at birth. You earn them every day.”
“Much of the good that you do for others without expectation of payback— comforting them, following up with them, connecting them to someone, or simply being present and hearing them—comes back to you whether you seek it or not, because reciprocity is a defining feature of community.”
CHAPTER NINE – An Origin Story
“Structure is how we tame the unruly impulses that lure us away from achieving our goals. Structure is the most effective tool we have to repair and renew our lives, and unlike deciding what life path to take, structure can easily be adopted or inspired thanks to others.”
“A customer could be someone you never meet, such as the end consumer of your product or service, or the decision maker who approves the buy, or a private citizen engaged in refining and repurposing your product for his own purposes, or a public figure who can influence other future customers.”
“[…] when leaders become inured to stakeholder-centered thinking at work, that thoughtfulness eventually seeps into their personal life as well. They’re nicer to the people they love—their stakeholders at home. Everyone in their life has become a “customer”.”
CHAPTER NINE – The LPR
“Goal setting, goal achievement, meaning, happiness, relationships, and engagement are fairly broad terms, but they are sufficiently roomy to accommodate all of the details, however extraordinary or eccentric, in each of our lives.”
“When you measure effort, you are monitoring the quality of your trying. But from time to time you should also review the purpose of your trying. Are you making a meaningful effort to achieve a now meaningless goal?”
“Trying is a relative value, neither fixed nor objective nor precise. It’s an opinion by the only qualified person to have that opinion—you. And it changes over time in the course of pursuing a goal.”
“Reviewing your effort is one way to reconsider the value of your goals. If you want to keep the goal, maybe it’s time to recalibrate your effort upward. If you’re no longer willing to make the required effort, maybe it’s time for a new goal.”
“When successful people are challenged to grade themselves on effort and then must face their inadequacy in the simple act of trying to achieve a goal they chose, they often give up after two or three weeks. […] if you can get through the early weeks without giving up, some level of success is inevitable.”
CHAPTER ELEVEN – The Lost Art of Asking For Help
“The myth of the self-made individual is one of the more sacred fictions of modern life. It endures because it promises us a just and happy reward that is equal to our persistence, resourcefulness, and hard work. Like most irresistible promises, it deserves our skepticism.”
“It’s not impossible to achieve success on your own to the point where it could be accurately described as self-made. The more salient question is: Why would you want to when you could surely achieve a better result by enlisting people’s help along the way?”
“When had seeking approval or recognition become a bad thing, a synonym for phoniness and sycophancy and tactical dissembling? How had seeking approval or recognition been demoted to neediness?”
“[…] one piece of advice to increase your probability of creating an earned life, it is this: Ask for help. You need it more than you know.”
“How have you felt when you have helped others? I think we can agree that’s one of the great feelings, right? Why would you deprive others of the same feeling?”
CHAPTER TWELVE – When Earning Becomes Your Habit
“Earning your life is a long game. Check that: It’s the long game. You need a strategy anchored in both self-awareness and situational awareness to sustain the urgency and avoid burnout—until earning has become your habit.”
“You cannot know if you’ve begun to earn your next beginning until you know you’re in transition. You cannot appreciate your transitions until you have a method for marking off your turning points.”
“Before you can effectively earn the next phase of your life, you have to disengage from the old phase you claim to have left behind. You not only have to let go of past achievements (you are not the person who earned those achievements), you also have to relinquish your old identity and way of doing things.”
“When we are able to disengage from our previous selves, letting go of all the patterns from our past to create a new self becomes as easy as turning off the lights when we leave a room.”
“When we fail to play the shot in front of us, we are failing at transition. We are failing to see that something in our world, big or small, has changed irrevocably and we have to deal with the new reality.”
“Earning ends when we accomplish what we set out to do, or when changing circumstances in the world or in ourselves make it unnecessary to continue what we’ve been doing. Earning begins when we decide we need to re-create our life, making it our own even if it’s someone else’s idea, in order to redefine who we are.
‘In between the beginning and end, we must let go of many things—our role, our identity, our allegiance to the past, our expectations—and then scratch and claw to find our next new thing. This is how we earn each new beginning in our life. We must close the door on one part of our life and open a new door.”
CHAPTER THIRTEEN – Paying the Price And Eating Marshmallows
“To pursue any kind of fulfilling life, especially an earned life, you have to pay a price. […] Some of us are willing to pay that price. Others are not, for reasons that are compelling but also, when all is said and done, regrettable. […] Some people can pay that price, foreseeing the future gratitude they’ll feel toward their former self who sacrificed in their interest. Some people can’t see that far ahead.”
“[…] the most persuasive reason for paying the price is that anytime you sacrifice for something, you are compelled to value it more. Adding value to your life is a goal worth earning.”
“Regret is the price you pay for not paying the price.”
“In creating a great life for yourself, accept the fact that long-term achievement requires short-term sacrifice. But don’t go overboard on delayed gratification. Stop to enjoy the journey.”
CHAPTER FOURTEEN – Credibility Must Be Earned Twice
“To understand the kind of positive impact you want to make in your life, you need to come to terms with two deeply personal qualities. The first is credibility, the other is empathy. You need both to make a positive difference.”
“It’s one thing to be competent, it’s another thing to be recognized for it. It’s not enough to gain credibility with one but not the other. You have to earn it twice. Otherwise, you’re diminishing your ability to make a positive difference—and lessening the impact of your life.”
CHAPTER FIFTEEN – Singular Empathy
“[…] the risk that comes with the empathy of feeling. We can feel too much, to the point where we get lost in another’s pain and are hurting rather than helping ourselves as well as the object of our concern.”
“The most effective empathic gesture is the empathy of doing—when you go beyond understanding, feeling, and caring and actually take action to make a difference. It’s the extra step, always exacting a cost in some way, that few of us are willing to take. And even when we do act on our empathic feelings, our well-intended actions can be excessive rather than a positive difference maker.
“Empathy’s greatest utility is how effectively it reminds us to be present.”
“Singular empathy is unique to the moment; it changes with each situation. Sometimes it resembles the empathy of understanding, other times the empathy of feeling, caring, or doing. The only constant with singular empathy is how it concentrates our attention on a single moment and therefore makes it singular for all involved.”
CODA – After the Victory Lap
“In the end, an earned life doesn’t include a trophy ceremony or permit an extended victory lap. The reward of living an earned life is being engaged in the process of constantly earning such a life.”
Book Review (Personal Opinion):
It’s a book that has done a great job of explaining earned life in a way that makes sense through the synergy of what we are doing right now, what we desire to achieve and what we want to do with our lives.
The cherry on top was illustrating how even the most successful people can lose sight of themselves in achieving their goals and regret the decisions they make.
I was surprised at how much wisdom I was able to get from this book; in addition to tips on how to succeed, there are revelations about the complexity of life as well, which are applicable to mediocre and high achievers alike.
I would also like to mention the Life Plan Review system, which helps you to gain fulfillment on a personal and professional level by developing discipline and acknowledging your weaknesses in a safe environment in front of a community of trusted individuals.
It’s a brilliant tool that’s flawlessly structured, but it’s even more powerful because it doesn’t hide the weaknesses of those who are most talented and successful, but empowers them to deal with them without feeling shame or guilt.
You couldn’t have asked for a better book in terms of information, writing style, and practical advice you can use every day.
This Book Is For:
- Leaders and managers looking for ways to create a happier work environment for their teams
- Those who feel burned out or regret their choices and wish to live a more fulfilling life
- Anybody who wants to achieve more, but feels no satisfaction in doing so
If You Want To Learn More
Marshall Goldsmith discusses his book The Earned Life and how to overcome regret to find higher aspiration in this insightful podcast
How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book
For those who like to reflect on themselves and find practical ways to improve their quality of life, this book is a treasure trove of exercises. In the course of reading the book, I did almost every exercise it offers, and I’d love to do it again to gain a deeper understanding of myself.
My favorite idea is to think of everyone in your life as a potential customer, including your family, co-workers, and potentially your prospective customers, so you should display your best behavior to let them know you value them. As a matter of fact, it is important to keep in mind that a customer is not just the one who pays you for your product or service.
One Small Actionable Step You Can Do
Discover your best self by doing the “Find your adjacency” exercise. Think about the twenty people you admire most and contact most often in your career, and find one thing they all have in common with you. Would you be able to use this skill or characteristic in a totally different field from where you currently work? In the end, reflect on who you are now and ask yourself: does what you want to become match who you are now? If not, then let your imagination lead you to the place where you will be happiest.