Medium | How to Live a Rich Life in Today’s Rapidly Changing World: Revisiting Values and Vocation

May 12, 2024

Have you heard the quote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”? Or the more widely shared variation: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”?  This quote comes from Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden, specifically, from Chapter 1 titled “Economy”. Thoreau wrote this book in 1854, yet this quote is still relevant today. To understand its relevance, is to understand its meaning.

Thoreau’s quote captures an observation that most people live unfulfilling lives, because of misplaced values and meaningless work. What’s more, misplaced values often mobilize meaningless work, and meaningless work often mobilizes misplaced values. Here’s an example: someone might pursue (and stay at) a meaningless job because it pays well. This money is then spent on designer clothes for purposes of pursuing superficial, social status. This cycle is (often) perpetual. The value, or premium, placed on these pursuits ultimately leads to unfulfillment and unhappiness. Both the means and the end are corrosive. This is relevant today, just the same as it was relevant in 1854. But here’s what’s different today…

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” - Thoreau

The world is changing at warp speed, due to technological advancements and societal shifts and these invisible (intangible) forces are creating visible (tangible) changes around us. As a result, people are revisiting and redefining much of their lives, taking into consideration this emergent shape of reality. These outside changes are encouraging inside changes; encouraging us to turn inward and to reflect. And this reflection enables revision, thoughtful revision.

Thoughtfully revising your values and vocation is no small feat, but leading a life of quiet desperation can feel like a substantial defeat. For this reason, it’s worth flying into abstract stratospheres to gain perspective for your desired destination in life. Otherwise, you may find yourself taxying your way through life; never truly getting off the ground. Sometimes you have to soar to great heights, to arrive at great destinations.

Let’s fly into abstraction and explore how your values and concept of wealth define the richness of your life: first stop, values; second stop, wealth; and final destination, life.


There’s a shift going, a shift that’s inviting us to revisit what we value. What we value is often a reflection of our values. The question then becomes: what are values? Here’s a definition to draw a constellation amidst this abstract concept: values are individual, subjective truths that are changeable and malleable. Therefore, values are specific to the individual and can change over time. What you value today may be different than what you valued two, five, or ten years ago, because of the changeable and malleable nature of personal values. This is normal, particularly nowadays, given the velocity of change underway. This is also why it’s advisable to frequently and thoughtfully revisit your values. This self-discovery may feel unapproachable, but there are frameworks and tools available to help you along the way (ex: the Personal Wealth Algorithm™ detailed in my book Invisible Wealth).

Your values function as rules, the rules you use in the game of life. In other words, your values inform what you value and therefore what you prioritize in life. Your values constrain your attention to that which is valuable to you—the opposite of misplaced values.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” – Thoreau


To reiterate, there’s a shift going, a shift that’s inviting us to revisit what we value. And when we revisit value, we inherently revisit wealth because we are wealthy when we have an abundance of what we value. Therefore, wealth is a derivative of value—to put this in financial speak.

Speaking of finances, there’s no denying the kinship between wealth, money, and work. Our vocation is often a means to an end for making money; an asset we all value. But whether the means is meaningful or meaningless, matters. True wealth creation is a matter of quantity and quality, of value and values. Living a life of quiet desperation is often a result of meaningless work, which ultimately doesn’t work—to support a rich life.

Fortunately, technological advancements and societal shifts are inspiring us to redefine the ways and why’s of work (and wealth). These advancements and shifts are empowering the pursuit of profit and passion, simultaneously. New concepts of work (and wealth) are coming online, literally and figuratively, and this is a consequential.

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” - Thoreau


Let’s look back to where we started our journey. Thoreau’s quote captures an observation that most people live unfulfilling lives, because of misplaced values and meaningless work. This is why thoughtfully revisiting and revising your values and vocation is a worthwhile endeavor; to avoid living a life of quiet desperation. Particularly these days, when so much around us is changing. The journey through values and wealth lands us at the importance of flying into abstraction for purposes determining your desired destination. Self-determination.

Navigating the vastness of values is an exploration worth taking in order to understand which journey is a meaningful means to an end for you. Further, there’s multitude in altitude. Said differently, taking a 30,000-foot view of life provides visibility into destinations otherwise invisible. Vision may be clouded from the ground. Plus, the emergent shape of reality is helping us to realize new ways of pursuing a life of fulfillment and happiness. Admittedly, all life paths present turbulence, but the journey is sweet when your values operate as your GPS, and your vocation as the fuel…for arriving at a rich life.

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