Warren Buffett once said:
“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.”
The scorecard he’s talking about is how you measure success in any given endeavor. Are you playing your game or someone else’s? Do you compare yourself to others and try to win based on what they or the rest of the world think of you? Or do you focus on the things that matter to you and judge your success based on the goals and metrics that you’ve set for yourself (i.e. your internal scorecard)?
You can “succeed” with either scorecard. It’s just a question of whether or not that success is likely to bring you happiness and fulfillment. Most people use a combination of both scorecards, but during the first two-thirds of life the external scorecard often wins. As a student, you had a literal scorecard and it measured how well you did compared to the other students and whether you reached the milestones of success set by the school. You likely focused on that scorecard to please your parents or gain acceptance into college or a career.
During your working years there’s pressure to focus on the external scorecard as well. Are you the top salesman? How much money do you make? What is your job title? How much is in your 401k? What professional designations do you have? What industry awards have you won?
And since we use the external scorecard at work, we often use it in our personal life as well. How big is your house? What kind of car do you drive? What brand of clothes do you wear? Where do you vacation? Are your kids in private school?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, but if the only reason you want them is to please others or win some foolish game of status or achievement, then you’re winning at the wrong game. It’s possible to look totally successful on the outside and be a mess on the inside.
The internal scorecard and retirement
When you retire, you buy yourself the freedom to design your own game and set your own rules. You get to decide what constitutes a success. This is a much more rewarding game to play and it is more likely to result in happiness and fulfillment, because the metrics you’re focusing on are the things that are important to you. It takes work, however, because you need to create the game and set the rules. That means deciding what you really want out of life and then holding yourself accountable to achieve it using your internal scorecard. Your scorecard will look different than mine, so I can’t tell you what to do, but I can give you some general ideas on how to do it. Below are a few resources that can help.
- Methods vs. Principles
- 10 Questions that can help you decide what to do during retirement.
- Do I really want this or do I just think I want it?
For lasting happiness, get off the hedonic treadmill.
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