Corey Wilks, Psy.D.

Helping Creators Reach Their Potential

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Life Units: The True Cost of Things

“The good things in life cost what they cost. The unnecessary things are not worth it at any price. The key is being aware of the difference.” — Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic

You’re walking through a magical bazaar, looking for interesting stuff to buy.

As you explore, you come across a merchant selling rare and exotic shoes.

One pair in particular catches your eye—and they’re only $100. At your current job, you make $10 an hour and have been saving up, so you can easily afford them.

You walk up to the merchant and hand them a $100 bill.

“We don’t take cash,” says the merchant.

“No problem,” you say as you whip out your credit card.

“We don’t take credit either,” they say.

“Well, then, what do you take?!” you ask, frustrated.

“The only currency we accept is Vitae.”

“What the hell is Vitae??” you ask, “I just want this damn pair of shoes!”

Vitae, or ‘Life Units,’” the merchant explains with a wicked grin, “is how much of your time—your life—it will cost you to afford my wares. But do not confuse price with cost. These shoes have a price of $100. So if you make $10 an hour at your job, it will cost you 10 Vitae10 hours of your life—to purchase them.”

Do you buy the shoes? Can you still afford them, given their true cost?

I remember hearing a version of this story in grad school and it completely changed my perspective of the true cost of things.

It’s easy to think in terms of dollars. Dollars (or whatever your local currency) are replenishable. No matter how much money you spend today, you can always make more tomorrow. But you can’t make more tomorrows.

Is this worth my Life Units?

Kevin Kelly, renowned entrepreneur and writer, once talked about a friend who arranged his life in blocks of 5 years:

“Five years is what he says any project worth doing will take.

From the moment of inception to the last good-riddance, a book, a campaign, a new job, a start-up will take 5 years to play through.

So, he asks himself, how many 5 years do I have left? He can count them on one hand even if he is lucky.

So this clarifies his choices. If he has less than 5 big things he can do, what will they be?”

This is a great exercise to clarify and prioritize what actually matters, so we can make the best decision for our present and future.

Before Kelly’s friend commits to anything, he deeply reflects on the question of:

“Is this worth my Life Units?”

Because Life Units are a currency. And just like every other kind of currency, we can convert Life Units to another currency.

  • Life Units convert to time.
  • Life Units convert to money.
  • Life Units convert to energy and attention.

We get so caught up in optimizing our time, energy, attention, and money, we forget that all of these are a proxy for what truly matters—our life and how we spend it.

  • It’s easy to waste time on ideas or opportunities that don’t align with our values.
  • It’s easy to waste money on superficial tchotchkes that don’t improve our quality of life.
  • It’s easy to waste energy and attention on things that ultimately lead to looking back with regret.

Is this worth my Life Units?

This is a question few people earnestly ask themselves.

This is why so many people are plagued by existential angst and feel chronically unfulfilled.

They spend their Life Units on things that don’t matter because they don’t understand the true cost of things.

Would you rather spend your Life Units making X amount more money so you can buy that new fancy thing that’ll give you a moment of happiness before hedonic adaptation kicks in? Or would you rather invest them into spending the weekend catching up with old friends at a bitchin’ cabin in the woods?

Which is worth your Life Units?

Would you rather spend your Life Units mindlessly scrolling social media? Or would you rather invest them into deeply devouring a book you love or that will help you see the world differently?

Which is worth your Life Units?

Would you rather spend your Life Units working way past your normal time even though you know you won’t make any more meaningful progress today? Or would you rather invest them into ending your work day on time (or early) to take your child to the park, having a date night with your spouse, or calling up a loved one you haven’t spoken to in a while?

Which is worth your Life Units?

And maybe the biggest (and most frequent) question I help creators navigate:

Would you rather spend your Life Units letting the Four Horsemen of Fear stop you from reaching your potential in life and business? Or would you rather invest them into putting yourself and your ideas out into the world, even if it means facing all the fear, uncertainty, and struggles of being a creator?

Which is worth your Life Units?

Our Vitae, our Life Units, are the most precious resource we have.

No matter how much you make, how famous you are, or how much you accomplish—you have the same amount of Life Units.

And once you spend them, they’re gone forever.

Are you spending yours on what actually matters?

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