The Earned Life by Marshall Goldsmith: Extracts

These are my very favourite extracts from ‘The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Chose Fulfilment,’ this is an excellent book if you’ve recently come out of a life transition period, want to re-align your life, and are interested in Marshall’s 100 Coaches Project.

Please note these are my interpretation (s)- I strongly recommend you read the book if interested, which is filled with much more great content.

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How do we earn our lives

What leads to a fulfilled life?

We judge our internal sense of fulfillment against six factors that Marshall calls the Fulfillers:

  • Purpose
  • Meaning
  • Achievement
  • Relationship
  • Engagement
  • Happiness

What might stop us leading a fulfilled life?

  • Inertia (stuck in our world map)
  • We’re on a programme that locks us in – no spare time, no spare energy
  • Obligation (real and imaginary) to others
  • Lack of imagination
  • Winded by the speed of change
  • Distracted, eg by social media
  • Run out of runway


Consider aligning action (what we do now), ambition (what we want to achieve) and our aspiration (who we want to be)

This leads to a useful timeline exercise – Is what we’re doing each day leading us to what we want to achieve, and who we want to be?

Specialist or generalist?

What would it be if you had an OTG (one trick genius)? What OTG might it be worth that you are developing?


  • Finding our OTG takes time
  • We need the right role/tribe
  • OTG IS NOT THE SAME AS A One Trick Pony
  • Your uniqueness might be your OTG
  • Generalists can still have a OTG

What are the Building Block of Discipline?

(Purpose – assumed), compliance, accountability, follow up, measurement and community,

What do we need for an earned life?

(Live our own life, earn our lives on a daily basis, earn for both us and something bigger than us. Know when we need help, and support and be supported by a community)

  • We need a community or reference group
  • Use feed-forward
  • Know who are key stakeholders are – eg may include our customers customer
  • Weekly Business Process Review (BPR) or Life Plan Review (LPR)
  • What next process (know when to stick and when to move on)
  • Daily questions
  • Help and be helped by the community

The Life Plan Review

The objective of the Life Plan Review, or LPR, is to close the gap between what you plan to do in your life and what you actually get done. In combination with items above it gives a great structure for a community of CEOs or coaches to work together to improve both their and communities results.

Step 1. In the LPR, you and each member of the weekly meeting take turns reporting your answers to a fixed set of six questions that have been documented to improve your life.

“Did I do my best to …” Set clear goals? Make progress toward achieving my goals? Find meaning? Be happy? Maintain and build positive relationships? Be fully engaged?

You answer each question by reporting a number on a 1 to 10 scale (10 being the best) that measures your level of effort, not your results.

Segregating effort from results is critical because it forces you to acknowledge that you can’t always control your results (stuff happens), but you have no excuse for not trying.

Step 2. In the days between the weekly LPR meetings you track these questions daily—to create the habit of self-monitoring. It’s a ritual as necessary as eating breakfast or brushing your teeth. I prefer to score myself at the end of each day and report my scores on a ten o’clock call with my coach. But I’m not doctrinaire about when you answer the questions.

Some people wait until the next morning, preferring to sleep on their answers and use the previous day’s high or low scores to motivate them through a new day. The key is to accumulate the data so you can see instructive patterns: Where are you trending poorly and where are you in control? Feel free to add your own questions to my list, or subtract a question or two that doesn’t apply. There’s nothing sacred about these six, although they meet much of the Recommended Daily Allowance of nutritional ingredients required to earn your life. Goal setting, goal achievement, meaning, happiness, relationships, and engagement are fairly broad terms, but they are sufficiently roomy to accommodate all of the details, however extraordinary or eccentric, in each of our lives.

I could have included other questions, such as: Did I do my best to express gratitude? Did I do my best to forgive the previous me? Did I do my best to add value to someone’s life?

These questions used to be on my list. But I’ve been doing this process for two decades. It’s a dynamic process, meaning you’re supposed to improve and create new stretch goals. It would be dispiriting if I didn’t make progress doing this daily review—and adapt the questions as I changed for the better. Along the way, I realized I didn’t need to track these three questions anymore. I’m pretty good at thanking others. I’m world-class at forgiving myself. And when I’m not getting paid to add value to someone’s life, I do it pro bono. The six questions that remain are existentially demanding and huge in scope—and I doubt I’ll ever get so good at them that I can stop trying.

Step 3. Review your plan for relevance and personal need once a week. When you measure effort, you are monitoring the quality of your trying. But from time to time you should also review the purpose of your trying. Are you making a meaningful effort to achieve a now meaningless goal? If you’re no longer willing to make the required effort, maybe it’s time for a new goal.

Step 4. Don’t do this alone. This advice is inherently solved by the key feature of an LPR meeting: It is a group event. It places you with a community of like-minded souls. Common sense should tell you that reviewing your plan in the select company of others is vastly superior to reviewing your plan alone. Why would you try to adhere to an ambitious life plan and refuse to share the experience with anyone else, especially if you didn’t have to? What added value does going solo bring to the endeavor? It would be like baking a birthday cake to eat by yourself or giving a speech to an empty room.

Note 1) We can apply this to any goal, 2) The safe space keeps us safe (other can watch/listen to our language), 3) Measuring effort encourages us to define what matters, 4) Make the rigid structure work for you, 5) What happens after may be the most important!

When does ‘Earning our lives’ begin?

Some thoughts:

  • Earn your beginning. Start fresh!
  • Disengage from your past
  • Master the ‘Earning Response’, – Stimulus, Response, Outcome. Is ours the very best response?
  • Play the shot in front of you!

“The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is—it must be something you cannot possibly do!”… Henry Moore.

And remember Peter Drucker’s rules

IN ADDITION TO his insight about making a positive difference, Peter Drucker had five other rules that are applicable for earning credibility. At first they may strike you as self-evident, even trite, but smarter people than I have had the same initial reaction and now are quoting them back to me on a regular basis. If you want to elevate your credibility, start by committing these Druckerisms to memory:

  • Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.
  • If we need to influence someone in order to make a positive difference, that person is our customer and we are a salesperson. Our customer does not need to buy; we need to sell.
  • When we are trying to sell, our personal definition of value is far less important than our customer’s definition of value.
  • We should focus on the areas where we can actually make a positive difference. Sell what we can sell and change what we can change. Let go of what we cannot sell or change.

Each of these rules assumes that acquiring recognition and approval is a transactional exercise.

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