I Want Something, But I Don’t Know What It Is

Six years ago today, I wrote that in my personal journal.

It was the first sign that I was able to find that there was some level of serious unhappiness with my career, my financial state, and my spending choices.

Over the next two years, I spent a lot of my time – and a lot of my money – chasing things. I would throw myself into something I had discovered, toss a lot of money (and often a lot of time) at it, and then discover that it really didn’t bring me much happiness at all.

So I’d chase something else with my money and with my time.

Golf. Video games. Gadgets. Alcohol. Trading cards. Sports equipment. Audio equipment. Piles of new books. DVDs. Trips.

The list goes on and on.

I wanted something, but I didn’t know what it was.

It turns out, after digging myself into an even larger debt hole, that the very thing I was searching for was a simpler life, one with fewer debt responsibilities and with more career and personal freedom.

Many readers of The Simple Dollar stumble across this site because they’re in that very situation. They’re drowning in debt. They’ve got a job that they have to keep, putting them completely at the mercy of their boss. They’re unhappy with how things are, so they find themselves leaping from thing to thing, throwing money into fleeting interests. I see it over and over again in the emails I receive.

Here’s the solution. Sit down and figure out where you want your life to be in five years. Sketch it out in detail. Specify the things you really want from your life in that period. Focus on the core things that you truly want when you think about where you want your life to be in the future.

When you’ve set down those key things on paper, let everything else go (unless it’s a required responsibility). Stop spending money on things that don’t bring you closer to that goal. Every time you spend a dollar, look at it in terms of that big picture you want.

Nothing else matters.

When you start putting that kind of attitude front and central in your life, it becomes much easier to do things that might otherwise seem difficult. Instead of just jumping from thing to thing and feeling a lot of stress and unhappiness about the state of things in your life, you begin to feel a unity in your work, your financial choices, and your personal choices.

It took me two years to really figure this out, and it took a few more to really bring it to fruition.

But when I compare my life now to the way it was then, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I don’t really care about – or even remember most of – the things that seemed so important to me at the time. Instead, as I began to really figure out what my real goals were – what I really wanted in life – and put those goals front and center in every aspect of my life, all of the distractions and unnecessary spending just melted away.

Start today. Spend an hour thinking about exactly how you want your life to be in five years. Focus on the things that actually bring you happiness. Break it down to the real key elements, the biggest things that you’d like to have in your life then.

Then put those things at the center of your life and discard everything else. It’s surprisingly easy to do it if you sit down and start.

If you enjoyed reading this, sign up for free updates!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Trent,
    Thanks for the goal clarification reminder.
    This is the beginning step. Figuring out where you want to be. Sometimes this is can be even harder than figuring out how to get there.
    What do you really want? It’s surprising how tough taht question can be to answer. I know I’ve struggled with it.
    -Tyler

  2. Maureen says:

    “Instead, as I began to really figure out what my real goals were – what I really wanted in life – and put those goals front and center in every aspect of my life, all of the distractions and unnecessary spending just melted away.”

    This is really ‘My Definite Major Purpose’ as Napoleon Hill calls it in ‘Think and Grow Rich’.

  3. Rachel says:

    I think this feeling comes from having too much, too much money and too much free time. I read a lot of novels, and some non-fiction, about the depression era as well as the earlier years of americas history. every moment was spent on growing food, taking care of a farm, or for city dwellers, working long hours in stores or factories. I’m sure that by the time all the work was done, they fell into bed exhausted! No time to think about what do I want to do. My dad was telling me at Christmas that his fondest memory was receiving a cap gun from his aunt one Christmas. He said that he got excited when handed a new cotton picking bag! I find that as long as I am busy, this feeling stays away, so I try to have projects planned for every day.

  4. Benjamin says:

    Goals are great, and the 5 year plan you speak of is an excellent time period.

    If you think about it, you can make some amazing transformations in your life in “only” five years!

    From getting a degree, to starting a family, paying off your debt. Set your goals, and work out a plan to complete them in a realistic time frame! If your passionate about your goals you’ll have a good chance of success!

    If not, then maybe you need to consider your goals!

  5. liv says:

    Comes with the territory of growing up :)

  6. Carmen says:

    I agree with Rachel that this type of conscious thinking has come with our generation. My Mum has always said that “thinking” equals “having far too much time on your hands.” I’m not sure it’s that black and white; I think some people are much more ‘what if…’ than others.

    But whenever I follow this exercise, or anything similar, I just can’t get beyond visualising myself on holiday: relaxed and happy, without a care in the world. That is my ultimate goal, but short of winning the lottery, it really isn’t within my grasp (admittedly because I have children and don’t want them to be nomadic gypsies!) How does one overcome that?

  7. Carmen says:

    Now that I’m contemplating my life, I realise that all my dreams are about running away from everything that is my currently reality; totally escaping the rat race.

    It’s actually horribly depressing that there isn’t a single job in the world that I know of, that I could get remotely excited about.

    In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am fortunately very high up the triangle. Self actualisation is incredibly difficult, maybe impossible for the majority.

    God I feel depressed now!;)

  8. Carmen says:

    I lied; being a pop star would be great.

  9. stella says:

    It is genuinely disturbing to see comments here that seem to say, “Don’t think” or keep busy, so you don’t have to think or address your feelings.

    That is on a par with mindless actions, behavior and spending, whether or not they put you in financial or emotional jeopardy.

    One of the things that impresses me the most about Trent’s blog and posts, even when I strongly disagree with him, is that I believe he has given reflection and serious thought to his choices and his behavior and has, more importantly sought to get to the root of his actions to ensure that his life is in harmony with his beliefs and goals. Folks, it takes courage and thought and then ACTION to create a life. It takes digging, exploring and focusing on options, choices, etc. before you can make a plan and more course-correction to adjust it as needed.

    There’s a reason that so many people find themselves miserable in their lives and it’s not just because they lost jobs or have financial challenges. It’s becuase they have not paid attention to their deepest selves and desires. If you don’t know who you are and what you want (and it changes), you can’t plan to “run” your life in harmony with that. THIS lack of thought and focus is what causes all sorts of pain in life, much of it unnecessary.

    To be clear, when I speak of reflection and thought, I don’t mean idle navel-gazing. Or thinking solely about yourself, but your whole life including those you care about, in context.

    What may have worked for other generations no longer works and not thinking and not living mindfully is simply in my opinion a true waste of your life.

    You know why people become dissatisfied? They lose their connection to themselves. They try to end their pain and frustration through “toys” and mindless activity–and sometimes, addictions of one kind or another. When, finally, as usually happens at some point, they hit bottom, they realize that denial and lack of introspection won’t work.

    Yea, people can get paralyzed by too much analysis. But you can waste a life by NEVER really thinking about where you are, where you want to be and how to change.

    Life is too short to be mindless and simply “busy.” Which is what happens to most of us, especially if things appear to work.

    For some of us, like Trent, it’s when things don’t work that life becomes really interesting and we start really finding out why we’re here.

    Oh, and the idea that it comes from “having too much”? Plenty of people who have very little feel the same way but simply don’t have the time to think it let alone verbalize it. But the problems still exist.

    I’ve interviewed million-dollar income execs and line workers in factories. You would be very surprised to learn that they share a lot of the same concerns about issues in their lives.

    But the folks with higher incomes have far more options. But we always have options.

    And we always have the chance to reinvent ourselves and our lives.

    Trent, this post was brilliant in so many ways. Your words: “I want something, but I don’t know what it is” are familiar to many, who are honest enough–where many are not–to admit that their lives aren’t “working” regardless of their circumstances.

    You get one shot at life. You may not get to live your wildest dreams BUT that doesn’t mean you cannot create a meaningful life that works for you and those you love.

  10. guinness416 says:

    Carmen – start planning your week around friday night karaoke then :)

  11. Carmen says:

    Guinness – very funny and good suggestion, although sadly I can’t sing to save my life!

    Stella – great post and very true.

  12. Rachel says:

    Stella, I think that I am in touch with who I am and what I want in life. But at the same time I have responsibilities to others. I have been interested in a medical career for some time. I just recently completed a course to become a certified pharmacy tech. But my dr. has advised me that this is not a good career choice for me, that it is too stressful and tiring. I have fibromyalgia and possibly chronic fatigue syndrome. I need 8-10 hours of sleep to get the same amount of rest that others get from 6-7 hours. Dr’s and nurses work grueling hours as well.
    So I choose to live my life being the best me I can be. My husband works long hours. His 8 hour shift can turn into a 14 hour shift if something goes wrong. our teenage son is busy with school and karate. My elderly parents are starting to have health problems. It will fall on me to care for them since my sister has a special needs child and cannot give the same amount of time. I could really be mad about this, but this is the life God gave me. Yes, I dream of living on St. Simons Island, Ga., driving down to Jacksonville, Fl for concerts and art exhibits, having friends over for wine and cheese parties. But I am not there. I am here. I am George Bailey. Sure I could leave, I could turn my back on all these lovely people. So, you see I do think and make plans and goals, and maybe someday my dear husband and I will have that little cottage on St. Simoms, take long walks on the beach and host those wine and cheese parties. Maybe some day my health will improve and I will have some type of medical career, but not right now. The timing is just not there.

  13. Shevy says:

    @Carmen
    You wouldn’t really want to be a pop star anyway, even if you were a good singer. You said that your ideal revolves around living as though you were on holiday, with not a care in the world. A music career is rough. Long hours, late nights, struggling to write songs, practicing, finding the right people to represent you, etc. Never sure if the people who hang around really like you or if they’re just there for the money.

    What you want is a traditional retirement. Stay home, putter around in the garden, play golf or tennis if you like them (cards or mah jong if you’re not athletic), have lunch at cute cafes or bistros, read the paper out on the patio with a cup of coffee. Now, how do you do that when you have car pool, parent-teacher conference, the mess the kids left in the front hall and the kitchen (not to mention where will the money come from if you don’t go to work)?

  14. Kim says:

    @stella – Interestingly, I think there is a point on the circular continuum of life-work where your viewpoint of mindfulness and others’ critique of overthinking meet. One of my goals that leapt to the paper was to learn to be happy in doing the things I do, to not always be looking for the next thing. So if one of my 5 year goals is to be an RN, then another one is to understand how to feel pleasure in going to hospital, doing my job, and coming home and doing whatever I choose to do with my time then. There might be some ways that this is similar to doing the work and falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day. I think you might both be right.

    @Rachel I just want to say as someone who wants very badly to be in a health field and who is on the verge of a major life change in going to nursing school, that I hope you don’t entirely count yourself out. There are many types of jobs in nursing, for instance, and not all of them are long hours & high stress. There is occupational health jobs where you might work with an insurance company to man the phones. There is home health care on a contract basis where you might only have to work part time. Since the RN can be achieved through community college, it is an affordable route to a satisfying career – don’t listen only to the naysayers! Yes, the classes are hard but you can take them one at a time to start – that’s what I did. And elderly relatives might benefit from your learning and experience. I just want to give you positive thoughts in that direction.

    I love this post and I just now finally made my list, which might help change my thinking. Though I still frivolously want to buy a guitar right now. *sigh* (One of my goals is musical practice though! So…)

  15. SLCCOM says:

    Stella, have you considered working as a consultant to seniors and people with disabilities on medications, billing, insurance, and such things using the training you have.

    My husband has CFS too. Hang in there!

  16. Ariel Garner says:

    i want somthing but dont know what its wierd i cant under stand it i think im not were im sopost to be im only 12 i a needy person but i dont know at least any more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>