The Earned Life Book Summary - The Earned Life Book explained in key points
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The Earned Life summary

Marshall Goldsmith

Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment

4.4 (460 ratings)
19 mins
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    The Earned Life
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    You don’t have to be a Buddhist to profit from the Buddha’s wisdom.

    Many centuries ago, a sage from South Asia had a revelation. Life, he realized, is impermanent. Nothing lasts. Pleasure and happiness are fleeting. So, too, are our dreams and sorrows. 

    For the Buddha – that was the name of this sage – life was constant change. Renewal. Every breath we take, he said, transforms us; we become different people from moment to moment. The only true reality, he concluded, is the present. The past belongs to a past you, and the future to your future self.

    The Earned Life isn’t about Buddhism – and neither is this Blink. But the author suggests that we treat the Buddha’s insight as a kind of thought experiment. What if you assumed he was right? What if, just for the sake of this mental exercise, you looked at the world through his eyes? 

    Here’s his bet: this Buddhist paradigm can help everyone, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, to think more clearly about what it means to lead a fulfilling life. 

    That’s because so many of us are trapped in what he calls the Western paradigm – a view of the world which denies impermanence. The view that says you’ll always be the same person, no matter what happens. That imagines there’s a single answer to all the questions that gnaw at you. That implies there’s a path to permanent happiness – a path that solves all of life’s riddles.

    The Western paradigm, in short, promises that you’ll be happy when . . . well, what? In the end, you can’t escape the reality of impermanence. The goal posts keep shifting. That dream house could be bigger. Or smaller. Or closer to your grandkids. The promotion you hoped for doesn’t bring you the status you crave; the pay raise you fought for only makes you realize what money can’t buy. There’s always another goal – the next big thing that’ll really make you happy. 

    Endlessly pursuing such shifting goals, the Buddha thought, turns us into “hungry ghosts.” We’re ravenous, but nothing fills – or fulfills – us. That’s a paradoxical, futile, and miserable way to live. 

    So what’s the alternative, and what do Buddhist teachings about impermanence have to do with it? 

    Here’s The Earned Life’s take: accepting that everything grows and fades unlocks a powerful tool for personal development. Why is that? Well, for one, it’s a license to move on. When you come to see that the person you have been isn’t all that you can be, you open yourself to new adventures. But that acceptance also attunes you to the present by giving you a powerful motive to be better now

    Your achievements, your good reputation, the reciprocated love of the people you love – everything is impermanent. All of it can fade. Such things, then, aren’t “possessions.” You can’t lock them up for safekeeping. You can’t take them to the bank. You can’t invest them and live off the interest. They have to be re-earned. Constantly. Every day, every hour, and perhaps even with every breath. And that, really, is the most important takeaway here: there’s no point at which we finish earning our lives. Not until the moment we stop breathing.

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    What is The Earned Life about?

    The Earned Life (2022) poses a simple yet profound question: Why does a life of constant achievement often leave us feeling empty? The answer can be found in ancient Buddhist wisdom: it’s not meeting ambitious goals but rather working on meaningful goals that really brings fulfillment and happiness. 

    Who should read The Earned Life?

    • High achievers who feel like something’s missing 
    • Anyone interested in personal improvement 
    • Secular-minded folks interested in spirituality

    About the Author

    Marshall Goldsmith is a leadership coach and best-selling author. He is a member of the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame and has been named in the Top Ten Business Thinker rankings for eight consecutive years. His 41 books, which have sold over 2.5 million copies and been translated into 32 languages, include influential titles such as Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

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