First, let’s agree that money is overrated.
Granted, in our capitalist system we all still need money and pursue it desperately. But as any chart of wealth inequity can show you, none of us will enter the top 1% anytime soon. Instead, we’re all fighting for scraps. (Not that this stops each of us from believing we’ll be rich.)
As a result, there’s new interest in commoditizing the one resource we all share equally: time.
Thousands of blogs and articles have been written about concepts like the attention economy, the influence economy, and how changes in perception affect the “market value” of your influence. And people are always devising new ways to monetize their influence.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. In a post-industrial economy, influence is one of the intangible resources we can each invest.
The problem is, optimizing for revenue only solves half the equation.
Instead, let’s look at how we can invest our time and influence using a more valuable data point: relevance.
Why > What
A new TV might cost $300. That’s a concrete price for a concrete item. The price may fluctuate due to supply and demand, but the price on the tag is the same for everybody, regardless of how much money they actually have.
But the relevance of that TV is different for each potential buyer.
If you’ve never owned a TV before, that $300 pricetag is your gateway to a lifestyle milestone. But to a person who already has a TV in every room, that same $300 TV is almost worthless. The price itself doesn’t change, but its context does.
How much you need (or want) something determines how relevant it is in your life, and that affects how much time and effort you should reasonably allocate toward obtaining it.
Now, pretend that TV is a reliable car. Or a healthy relationship. Or a job that fulfills you. Now how much is that goal worth, and how much of your time is worth investing in order to achieve it?
Why Mattering Matters
Too often, we spend the bulk of our time in pursuit of money, for the specific sake of possessing money.
We don’t necessarily know what we need it for, but we know that we do need it. Therefore, as long as we spend our time making money, we can forgive ourselves for not spending that time on anything else more relevant — mostly because we never ask ourselves what is relevant in the long term.
So, what happens when we ask ourselves what really matters?
If we identify our greater goals, and we redefine money as a means rather than an end, we’re left with a very different problem than “how do I make more money?”
Instead, we start asking, “How can I maximize my own relevance?”
This works both ways — by giving and receiving.
- By pursuing the ends we’ve determined to be most relevant to us, we minimize the resources we waste on irrelevant goals
- By helping others solve their most relevant problems, we feel better about ourselves and strengthen the communal bonds that are essential to greater life satisfaction for everyone involved
Also, unlike money, relevance is reciprocal. Reducing the wasted time and effort in your own life naturally means you’ll have more time and effort for what matters — and that increases the global demand for relevance.
So next time you’re reviewing your personal budget, or making a new life plan, be sure that what you’re optimizing for isn’t just more money for the sake of having it. Because while more money can make your life less bad, it doesn’t actually make it better.
Instead, make sure you’re aiming at a target you need to hit.
Then working on your aim won’t feel like work at all.
It’ll feel like a life. (And isn’t that the whole point?)