I used to work with a guy, let’s call him Jeff, who made $500K a year.
Sounds great, right?
Who wouldn’t want his life?
Every decision Jeff made revolved around optimizing his bank account.
- He chose his wife because she came from a wealthy family (so they’d get a hefty inheritance) and was a financial shark when it came to saving and investing.
- He chose his job because of the insanely high salary.
- He had kids so he’d have someone to bequeath his dragon’s hoard to when he died.
But when you talked to Jeff, you quickly realized he absolutely fucking hated his life.
- A loveless marriage.
- Superficial relationship with his kids.
- Completely unfulfilled by the work he did.
He was one of the unhappiest people I’ve ever met, and he spent every waking hour outside his job jumping from one distraction to the next to avoid the painful truth:
He’d chosen the path of lucrative misery.
The scary thing? You might already be on the path to lucrative misery and don’t even realize it.
Here’s what causes us to build a life that makes us fucking miserable, and how to avoid it…
What Causes So Many of Us to Choose the Path of Lucrative Misery?
You might think, lucrative misery doesn’t sound so bad—at least I’d be rich, Corey.
But lucrative misery doesn’t necessarily mean being rich and unhappy—you can just as easily be broke and unhappy.
Because lucrative misery is when you chase money to the exclusion of meaning and end up miserable.
Sometimes this path leads to making $500K like Jeff, but sometimes it leads to making $50K, or less. But the common factor is making money in a way that means sacrificing a meaningful life.
So how do we end up on the path to lucrative misery?
Because of something we think is helping us: our goals. Specifically, we lack clarity on where our goals are ultimately leading us.
Most people create goals—and optimize them through all the SMART-inspired frameworks out there—but never consider the one question that matters:
Does achieving this goal get me one step closer to, or further away from, a fulfilling life?
Just because people tell you a goal is worthwhile, and just because you can achieve that goal—doesn’t actually mean that goal takes your life, or business, in the direction you want it to.
Every goal Jeff made revolved around making more money. There’s nothing wrong with money. But chasing money to the exclusion of meaning leads to a life of misery every single time.
Jeff thought he knew what he wanted, but he never took the time to clarify what truly mattered to him—so he spent his life chasing the wrong thing, feeling like he was meant for more, and slowly growing more and more miserable.
But what could Jeff have done differently? What can you do differently if you’re on a similar trajectory? How can we all avoid the path that leads to lucrative misery and, instead, make money doing meaningful work?
How to Avoid the Path of Lucrative Misery
Every decision, goal, or opportunity has the potential to take us in one of two directions: closer to a fulfilling life, or further away from it (toward a life of lucrative misery).
Here’s the simplest strategy I’ve found to help me clarify which path I’m on, and stay on the path that leads toward fulfillment and away from lucrative misery…
It starts by clarifying your Core Value.
I define a fulfilling life as a life aligned with your Core Value, which is the one underlying value that unites everything you stand for. It’s the running theme across the times you felt most alive, what matters most to you, and the fundamental piece of what a well-lived life must include for you–however you define it.
It acts as a golden compass pointing you in the right direction toward your true north, where you spend every day doing meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfills you (and yes, make money doing it).
Check out this article for some ideas to help you clarify yours.
After you clarify your Core Value, the rest comes down to following the GOLD framework.
I wrote a more in-depth article about this framework, but here’s the tl;dr version:
- Create Goals that act as stepping stones that progressively move you closer to a life aligned with your Core Value (a fulfilling life). This is why most goals pave the way to lucrative misery instead of fulfillment—we don’t have clarity on where we ultimately want to go with our life or business.
- Identify and anticipate Obstacles that could get in your way.
- Identify and build Leverage to overcome those obstacles.
- Ensure you’re heading in the right Direction by developing a plan to stay on track and adapt along the way.
It’s a deceptively simple framework, but it will help you get incredible results.
This is where Jeff went wrong. He didn’t clarify his Core Value and never pursued goals that moved him closer to a life aligned with it. Instead, he did what most people do—he chased what everyone told him he should chase and stayed on the path to lucrative misery.
Ted (not his real name) was on the path to lucrative misery like Jeff. He’d built several businesses. He was financially secure and controlled his schedule. By most metrics, he was successful.
But no matter how much he made, no matter how much he bought or how often he took a vacation, he felt trapped and uninspired. He didn’t want to spend the next chapter of his life this way.
He knew there had to be a better way.
Through coaching, I helped Ted dig deep to clarify his Core Value—authenticity. He realized his current business didn’t allow him to be authentic—he felt he had to keep up a façade to stay “on brand.”
With this realization, everything in his life fell into place. He finally had clarity on what a fulfilling life looked like and how to build it.
He decided to move away from his old business and created a new one aligned with authenticity.
He and I worked together 2 years ago.
Last year, he cleared $700k by building his life and business aligned with his Core Value of authenticity.
But more importantly, he’s making money doing meaningful work. He’s pursuing his potential and building a fulfilling life.
Am I saying I’m responsible for that $700K? Absolutely not—he took action and built that himself. All I did was help him clarify what he wanted and develop a strategy to make it happen (that’s my role as a coach). But a little clarity, strategy, and accountability go a long fucking way.
You might be thinking, But Corey, Jeff chased money. So how did Ted, who didn’t chase money, end up making so much more than Jeff?
Ted built his life and business around doing meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfilled him. When you do this, you love the process of what you’re doing so much, you’re so passionate about the work and its impact, and you get so energized by the day-to-day of what you’re doing, everything about your thoughts and actions are aligned. That’s a powerful combination. Is $700K normal? Not necessarily. Ted’s a fucking wizard when it comes to the work he does.
But even if you could just make “enough” money to support yourself and your loved ones doing work that energizes you every day and is deeply fulfilling, wouldn’t that be worth pursuing?
Since December 4th, 2020 (the day I lost my job and decided to become an entrepreneur) I’ve worked my ass off everyday, 7 days a week. But not a single day has felt like a “job,” because every day I get to explore my creativity, create value that positively impacts people’s lives, and reach my potential by doing meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfills me.
I’ve said no to plenty of seemingly great opportunities (that would’ve led me toward lucrative misery in the long run). But my worst days as an entrepreneur still feel better than the best days at my old job—because everything I do now is aligned with my Core Value of freedom.
Many of us became creators because we wanted the freedom and flexibility to build a fulfilling life and business that makes the world a better place, but so many of us end up walking the path that leads to lucrative misery without realizing it.
Jeff, and the path I was walking with him, is a distant memory that reminds me of how my life could have turned out.
I escaped the path that was leading me to lucrative misery.
You can, too.
You just need the clarity, strategy, and accountability to get there.
Clarifying your Core Value and using the GOLD framework are a solid start toward building a fulfilling life and avoiding the path of lucrative misery.
If you want to go deeper into these strategies, and many more, check out Build an Intentional Life. It’s a convenient self-paced course that distills the best strategies I’ve developed over the last 15 years to help you build a fulfilling life and thriving business.