The book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, is a memoir by Bronnie Ware who worked in palliative care spending her time tending to the needs of the dying.
She found the #1 regret of the dying to be:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Warren Buffett calls this the inner scorecard:
“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 key to a happy life?
Winning the inner scorecard.
The inner scorecard is a self-created definition of success.
But how do we know what values and beliefs are ours and what is imposed on us from an outside source?
You ask yourself questions:
The outer scorecard, on the other hand, is the idea of success created by cultural, family, and societal pressures.
In the US, many of us define success through individualism, a job title, an income level, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, etc.
If you want to know if a goal is aligned with your inner or outer scorecard, ask yourself this question:
After I hit the goal, do I feel fulfilled, or do I feel a short-term thrill and then hollow?
The joy from the inner scorecard will last. The outer scorecard will not.
Inner Scorecard in Practice
Warren Buffett is a great example of someone who lives their life according to an inner scorecard.
He’s one of the wealthiest people in the world and still lives in the house he bought in 1958. While everyone in his profession lives close to Wall Street, he has remained dedicated to Omaha and a low-key lifestyle.
Buffett has repeatedly said he does not work to collect money, he works because he loves what he's doing. He doesn't recognize a personal use for his money, so he plans to give almost all of it away.
Today, because he is so wealthy we regard him as "quirky" and praise him for his refusal to indulge, but it wasn’t always this way. Before he built this level of wealth, he faced criticism from others for his abnormal way of doing things.
Many of the people we praise for living counterculturally were not praised at the start.
But also, remember, the point is not to be praised. It’s to win your inner scorecard.
The Outer Scorecard
And then, of course, we have plenty of people who have demonstrated massively winning an outer scorecard and losing the inner scorecard.
It’s pervasive. Which is why it’s the top regret of the dying.
And we see it in three of the other top regrets of the dying:
I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had let myself be happier.
To live a life with few regrets is to live a life closely aligned with your inner scorecard.
Money & The Inner Scorecard
The way we spend and the financial goals we set are huge indicators of which scorecard you are trying to win.
When it comes to spending ask yourself, “If no one could see this purchase would I still buy this?”
This is best applied to luxury cars, designer clothes, and nice houses.
Sometimes you want a nice house so your family is comfortable.
You may love cars and genuinely enjoy the ride of a nicer car.
And designer clothes may make you feel confident without ever stepping foot outside.
Nice possessions are not always an indicator that you're trying to win an outer scorecard.
But I do see many people get used to their luxury cars, designer clothes, and huge house.
The thrill wears off quickly.
And in pursuit of these things, they isolate themselves from friends and family or they work crazy hours to afford this lifestyle.
In those cases, many people would have been better off spending their money differently or saving & investing some of it to buy their time back.
For large purchases ask yourself,
“If no one could see this purchase would I still buy this?”
“Is this purchase going to continue to provide happiness or will the thrill wear off?”
“Why do I want to buy this?”
This is how you can apply the inner scorecard to spending.
But what about financial goals like income or net worth?
I am guilty of using my income and my net worth as an identifier of who I am.
And if we’re not careful, we will adopt an identity and protect it at all costs: startup founder, high earner, wealthy.
We’ll do this even at the expense of our happiness.
So when I create income & net worth goals for myself and my clients, I don’t approach it casually.
We should never chase a big number for the sake of the big number.
The numbers should have meaning.
So I ask questions like:
And we use this to find the cost of living and annual spending to create the income and net worth goals.
I always add room for error (I am still a fan of margin of safety) but we never inflate it excessively.
Money is a tool. We find what we need and we try as hard as we can to realize when we’ve reached “enough”.