How do you define success? What do you value most in life? What fears do you have about making a living?
We’re taught that prioritizing work is the best or only viable life path. But, Paul Millerd says there’s a better way. To make a change, you must first unlearn convention and open your mind to alternatives. He recommends the “pathless path” of freelancing, but his advice about work attitude is widely applicable.
Keep reading to learn how to reset your attitude toward work by reinventing success, facing your fears, and discovering new values.
#1: Reinvent Success
Your attitude toward work is tied up with your attitude toward success. Millerd explains that most people hold two mistaken beliefs about success: First, they believe that they’ll only be judged as successful if they meet certain socially determined benchmarks, which usually represent the accumulation of wealth or social status (for example, some people define success as becoming debt-free). This is mistaken because studies suggest that most people care more about living their values to the best of their ability than adhering to social standards.
Millerd says the second mistaken belief people have is the “arrival fallacy”—the belief that once you achieve a given benchmark, like buying a house, you’ll be happy once and for all. When they inevitably find that it doesn’t make them permanently happy, they apply the same thinking to another, loftier goal. Millerd says this is mistaken because nothing can give you permanent happiness.
Instead of falling for these mistaken beliefs, reinvent success for yourself. Millerd recommends measuring success in terms of contributing something important to the world and living according to your values. He explains that this dynamic process will naturally bring recurrent joy to your daily life, whereas static achievements like home ownership happen one time only and are innately less fulfilling.
#2: Face Your Fears
Reinventing success can often provoke fear—for example, you might worry that deprioritizing work will make you go broke. When you’re afraid of the consequences of reinventing success, Millerd recommends the following practice.
First, write down the worst possible scenario and some steps you could take to recover from it. (for example, if you became homeless, one step toward recovery might be accessing a shelter). This step makes your fear more manageable by transforming vague anxiety into tangible concerns and instilling confidence that you can handle setbacks. Then, write about what could go right—the opposite of the worst possible scenario—and what you might lose out on if you don’t take this risk. This step makes your fear more manageable by shifting your focus from risks to benefits.
(Shortform note: In Courage Is Calling, philosopher Ryan Holiday offers more advice about facing your fears as you make risky decisions. First, he recommends that you embrace uncertainty. He explains that even if you make the safest choices possible (like staying in the traditional workforce), there’s still a chance that something could go wrong, so you might as well take the leap and pursue the option you truly desire instead of prioritizing security. Second, he says you should make a bold decision and stick with it. If you spend a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of your choice to deprioritize work, you’re really choosing to stay stuck in your rut, which robs you of time you could be devoting to a better way of life.)
#3: Discover New Values
When you let go of society’s definition of what’s important, you must replace it with a new set of personal values. Millerd says the best way to discover your new values is by noticing what draws your attention. He explains that, when you begin to question what makes life worth living, you’re naturally drawn to seek out new experiences—and he says the experiences that hold your attention are typically what’s most important to you. You may also return to experiences that held your attention during childhood—for example, maybe you used to love making music but stopped when you became an adult and got a traditional job that sucked the life out of you. In that case, it may be time to explore making music again.
Millerd also suggests that you graciously accept differences of opinion. Many people in your life will still define success in traditional ways, which means they might not understand or approve of your decision to design your life around different values. That’s OK—they don’t have to. What matters is that you understand and approve of your new values.
Exercise: Deprioritize Work
Come up with a plan for deprioritizing work in your life.
- Think of a time when you prioritized work over other parts of your life. How did that impact your overall life satisfaction?
- List some concepts from this book that you think could help you deprioritize work. For example, if you have a tendency to spend your excess money, you might take Millerd’s advice to live more frugally so as to decrease the amount of hours you have to work.
- Consider how you can apply those concepts to your life: What can you do differently in the future to make work less of a priority? For example, maybe living more frugally means not going out to eat very often, if at all.