“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” ~Unknown
Five years ago, in a move I wasn't sure was so brilliant at the time, I quit my career at a rapidly growing ASX-listed financial services organization, packed up my life, and flew to Thailand to pursue my love of scuba diving.
I thought I was just going for twelve months, that I'd get it out of my system then return to Melbourne and settle down—get a job in the not-for-profit industry, buy a house, maybe get married and have kids, save for my retirement…the usual rite of passage. My unleashed spirit had different ideas.
When you answer the call to adventure, you never know where you will end up.
I fell in love with an Italian man, completed my Scuba Diving Instructor course, and spent the next few years splitting my time between Australia and Thailand.
When our relationship ended, I returned to Melbourne “to be sensible,” to try and put down some roots and figure out, once and for all, what I was meant to do with my life.
I returned to work with my former employer, but fifteen months later, when I was still trying to figure things out, the universe gave me a divine kick up the bum; I was suddenly and unexpectedly made redundant.
Instead of finding another job, again I answered the call to adventure. Ten weeks later I was in Canterbury, England following the 2,000-kilometer Via Francigena pilgrimage route to Rome, living a dream.
When I returned to Melbourne to integrate all that I had learned on my pilgrimage, my bank account had dropped way below my comfort level and the job market was really slow; employers didn't seem to appreciate my unconventional life that appeared as (well-explained) gaps in my CV.
Living in suburbia, I started to compare my life to my friends who were getting married, having kids, and buying houses. I looked at my dwindling bank account balance, ten-year-old car, and unpacked bags of clothes—the sum total of my life. I began to panic.
From my economic studies, I know the opportunity cost of walking away from my career five years ago to follow my heart into adventure is close to a million.
As a financial planning professional, I know that the longer you delay buying a house, the more you have to pay and the less achievable it becomes. And the longer you delay saving for retirement, the more you have to save or the longer you need to work.
These are the realities of living in our modern world, where money is the common form of value exchange and it costs to live—to put shelter over your head, food in your belly, and clothes on your back.
Acutely aware of this, I promised myself I would never ruin myself financially by living unconventionally. I feared that was exactly what I had done.
As I walked those 2,000 kilometers alone, I discovered the quiet voice of wisdom that speaks up when I ask it for guidance, or it decides there is something I need to hear. In that moment of panic, it told me this:
“Your net worth is not your life's worth—don't confuse the two.”
Your net worth is not your life's worth. There was instant relief in those words.
My choices may have “cost” me a million, and my net worth may be a small fraction of that, but the real value of my experiences over the last five years transcends physical currency. The sights I have seen. The blessings I have received. The moments I have witnessed.
Diving in the ocean with sharks and manta rays, watching a volcano erupt, crossing the Alps and the Apennines alone on foot, dancing ecstatically in the rain at a dance party in India, caring for street dogs and orphans, muddling through French and Italian conversations with locals, and watching the sun die a vibrant death hundreds of times.
These experiences have transformed me and, because I am changed, affect the lives of those whose paths I cross like ripples on a pond.
In a world that requires us to earn money, the popular pursuit of purpose these days is by offering your skills, talents, and abilities to earn money doing what you love—that is, to create a business outside of the traditional corporate environment and make that your purpose.
But what if your dreams are not the type that will earn you money? And what if following your dreams requires that you walk away from a high-paying career, or that you spend your savings or forego buying a house so that you can live your dream?
Often misconceived as selfishness, honoring and doing what transforms our inner selves is a way of being of service too; everyone who comes into contact with your ripples will benefit from that change, directly or indirectly, known or unknown.
In this way, the return on investment from following your dreams is infinite, larger than you can ever quantify or know while you are in human form.
But what about the cost of not following your dreams?
How will you feel at the end of your life if you don't give your dream a go? How will you feel living in a big ole house with plenty of cash in your bank account and very healthy retirement savings, but with your neglected dreams fading away in the corner?
I know that one day, when I am old and dying, I won't regret the things I never had, but I will regret the moments I didn't seize and the adventures and growth I never experienced.
I know that every time I have followed my heart and answered the call to adventure, even when I wasn’t sure where the money was going to come from or how it was all going to turn out, life has shown me that it will support me. It will support you, too.
Although it might never be reflected in your net assets, follow your heart and your dreams, focus on growing your life’s worth, not just your net worth, and no matter where your life takes you or what your external wealth looks like, you will be truly en-riched.
Child pilot image via Shutterstock