Review: The Pledge

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

The PledgeMichael Masterson is one of my favorite personal finance and career writers. In the past, I’ve reviewed four of his books – Seven Years to Seven Figures, Automatic Wealth, Automatic Wealth for Grads, and Ready, Fire, Aim – and enjoyed them all, particularly the latter three.

The Pledge, on the other hand, has a more general approach to success in life than Masterson’s other books, which largely focus on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Here, Masterson’s focus is on creating a “master plan” for your life that will guide you to what you want in each area of your life. This falls much more into the Dale Carnegie/Stephen Covey “self-improvement” arena than strictly in personal finance.

For me, such books are either hit or miss. Sometimes, they’ll offer up some tremendous ideas for putting your life on the right path. At other times, they’ll re-hash what’s already out there or just offer up things you can’t really take action on.

Which camp does The Pledge fall into?

Your Master Plan for an Abundant Life
Masterson’s idea of a “master plan” is not altogether different than my own idea for a “five year plan” that I’ve proposed before on The Simple Dollar. In my idea of a five year plan, you simply describe in detail what you want your life to ideally look like in five years (or ten years), and then you focus on assembling a plan to get there and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. This is largely what Masterson describes to open the book.

How to Turn Your Biggest Dreams Into Reality
What’s the difference between a goal and a dream? Masterson identifies four factors that separate them: goals are specific, actionable, time-oriented, and realistic, while dreams are not. Another key factor that’s necessary for goals to become reality is to write them down and carefully plan out (in writing) how you’re going to get there, a step that many people fail to take (and a step that causes many people to fail at approaching their goals). Masterson moves from there to tying goals to your core life values through looking at what you’d like people to say about you at your funeral and through other exercises that seek to tease out real goals from your life.

Your Abundant Life, Day by Day
So, how can you make those goals and plans happen? Masterson encourages people to set aside at least an hour (and preferably more) each day to make forward progress on the goal most important in your life. For example, if your key goal is to get into shape, you should be spending an hour at the gym each day, period. If you can’t set aside this time, you’re ensuring that you’ll never move forward on any of the goals you have. Success takes time that’s consistently invested.

Creating a Richer, More Enjoyable Life
Every choice we have in life has three possible outcomes. It can either lead us to a better life, lead us to a worse life, or have little consequence on our life at all. Building a richer and more enjoyable life requires making more of our choices lead us to a better life and fewer of our choices leading us to a worse life. This takes time and it also takes a fair amount of self-analysis, as it’s often unclear whether our choices lead us to an improved life or not.

The Push You Need to Succeed
You can’t wait until your life is “perfect” to embark on such a plan. If you wait for a “perfect” life, you’ll never get started. Stop waiting on that relationship to resolve itself or for your job to get better. Overcoming those obstacles should be a part of your life’s master plan, not something to prevent you from ever getting started on it. Part of the plan is being honest in assessing yourself and recognizing that building up certain skills should be part of the plan.

Skills of the Most Successful
Successful people read. Successful people have strong memories. Successful people speak well. Successful people seek out mentors. Successful people avoid relationships that will drag them down. Successful people master time management that works for them. If you can really hammer down these skills (and a few other secondary ones that Masterson talks about), then you’ll find yourself in a better place almost by default.

The Obstacles to Your Success – and How to Defeat Them
Handling disasters well. Breaking your information addiction. Getting out of a life “rut.” Defeating depression. These are solutions that Masterson offers to the key problems that keep people from succeeding in their lives. I have to agree with him on the “information addiction” part of this – the more time I spend tracking down relatively unimportant information and reading it, the less time I have for things genuinely important to me.

Building Your Wealth
Masterson argues that the best way to improve your financial situation is to focus on doing whatever it takes to increase your hourly worth. Your hourly worth is the amount you make in a year, divided by 50 weeks, then divided by 40 hours. This is roughly how much an hour of your time spent on income-earning tasks is worth. Masterson then goes down several interesting paths based on that number, including things you can do to improve it.

Is The Pledge Worth Reading?
Like many books of this type, The Pledge is a giant collection of good ideas that reward the person who reads through them and digs out the diamonds. Also like many books of this type, the value of this book depends heavily on the reader, because if you’re not willing to dig out those diamonds and put them to work in your life, this book won’t have much value.

For me, almost every page had some sort of insight. The book on a whole wasn’t life changing, but many of the ideas in it fit right at home on the path of improving my life that I find myself on.

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