Is pursuing my calling actually selfish?!

A very honest friend said that his #1 question relating to purpose and direction in life was simply this: “How can I overcome the sense of responsibility to maximise wealth for my family?”

It’s a good question. Many books on finding your dream job or your ideal life treats the entire enterprise as an individualistic endeavour. It’s all about you, they assert. All about finding YOUR place in the intersection of what you love, what there is market for, and what you are good at.

But for those of us with a family to support, it’s clear there are other considerations – and my friend put his finger on a biggie. Might pursuing my calling be actually a selfish endeavour that puts the financial security of my family at risk?

It’s a difficult question that we all struggle with to some degree, and no one-size-fits-all answers. However, here are three specific actions you can take to address this concern – an “ABC” as we navigate this sensitive and important topic of family responsibilities

A – Analyse ‘how much is enough?’

The problem with the “sense of responsibility to maximise wealth for my family” is that is a ravenous monster, a bottomless pit. Nothing is ever going to be enough. Family wealth can always be increased: there is no maximum!

So ask yourself: how much is enough? Put a number on it.

B – Broaden your idea of legacy

Maximising wealth for family is a very one-dimensional goal, a very flat definition of a legacy. In reality of course there are other areas that are important to us all. It’s never all about wealth.

You don’t spend all hours working; you spend time with your family, your friends. You aren’t constantly looking for the next money-making scheme. So you do already tame that drive to maximise wealth and balance it with other responsibilities and outcomes.

So let’s broaden our idea of legacy. You want to give your family some financial comfort, but also strong relationships with you, deep personal values, and memorable times spent together (to name but three).

My wife taught me this brilliant quote: “In your quest to give your kids what you didn’t have, don’t forget to give them what you did have.”

It bears thinking about. What were the truly important things you received in your childhood? Are you passing those on to your kids?

C – Consider the greatest gift you can give

Author Kary Oberbrunner likes to quote Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who said, “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parent.” That is a sharp reminder to us all that we need to model the very lives we hope for our children.

If we want to see our kids growing into adventurous, hopeful leaders who make a difference in their generation, then we need to show them what that life looks like. And maximising wealth and security isn’t always the way to do that.

Again, inspired by Oberbrunner I read this sentence to myself every week. It serves as an encouragement and as a rebuke and challenge to me: I am father to two wonderful kids who need to see an example just as much as hear one.  I’m convinced that as we live a life of service and commitment to a worthy cause beyond our family, that our family actually benefits way more than if we purely focus inwards.  We need to give our family attention and focus, but also take them on a bigger and broader adventure.

How about you?

Do you feel a sense of responsibility to maximise wealth (or financial security) for your family? How does this fit with your desire to leave a purposeful life? Please contribute to the discussion by leaving a comment below.

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  • Ade A

    Interesting post Richard. Don’t have kids myself but some of my friends who do definitely feel torn between working as much as they can to provide for their family and to maximise the wealth they can pass on to their children.

    How much is enough is a great question, but these friends also feel the peer pressure from how much their contemporaries are earning. One friend, let’s call him Peter, only started questioning this after having a breakdown as he became increasingly isolated, unfulfilled and trapped in the bread-winner role, even though he was very successful in his job. 5 years later, Peter still works hard but has a much better connection with his children and makes a bit of time to do other things such as working for a charity dealing with depression.

    • Richard Medcalf

      Thanks for your observations and anecdotes Ade. Agree the peer pressure is there – but then again I think people are actually really impressed when they see someone get off the rat race and live according to different priorities. They often wish they could summon up the courage to do it themselves!

  • Esteban

    Great article Richard, profound topic indeed. This must be one of the most difficult balancing acts of manhood, and one we will always keep asking ourselves questions about. How good is good enough? That’s a key one. Thank you for posting!

    • Richard Medcalf

      Thanks Esteban. Another interesting question is: how much is too much?…

  • Jacqueline Wales

    Richard, I have been reading your posts for some time and really enjoy them. They are thought provoking and considerate, and I always appreciate that. This post speaks loudly to me. My kids were born in L.A and we took them to live in Europe when they were 5 and 9 for the next ten years as part of our grand adventure called life. It was the most life-affirming experience we could give them, and it gave them a value system that is beyond money. As young adults they are living successful lives with purpose and they are both clear it is not just about the money but about living the kind of life that makes a difference. This is worth every dollar we didn’t earn! As parents we are the role models for our children. It sounds like you’re a great one for your kids. Jacqueline Wales, author of The Fearless Factor.

    • Richard Medcalf

      Hi Jacqueline. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your encouraging words – made my day! I love the adventure you took your kids on… modelling curiosity and courage. Those kind of experiences are worth so much! Thanks again, Richard.