Money, Mission, Glory, Fun: How I Structure My Life

I use a simple set of rules to decide whether or not I want to take on a project. I find it very helpful. I thought you might, too.

Listen to me (in pretty good AI form) read this essay.

I repeat this mantra to myself every time someone asks me if I want to do something–give a speech, do some consulting work, help out on a project. Would this new thing provide at least two of my key requirements? It’s amazing how many projects provide none.

Let me walk through how I think about each of these:


  1. Money can never be a sole purpose (at least not for me). I have taken on a few projects just to make some dough and I hated every moment. In the end, I didn’t make enough money to make up for the misery.
  2. But Money is important. This took me a while to accept. My parents are artists and I grew up in an artist community. I was a journalist my entire career. And it’s generally considered weird to even think about money in journalism.
  3. Money is a good proxy for the value you are creating and the value others see in you. While money isn’t enough, on its own, when someone wants you to do something that doesn’t pay much, it’s a likely sign that the project isn’t impactful and/or they don’t think you’re all that valuable. So, low-paying gigs is often associated with unimpactful, unsatisfying work. Not always (see Mission below).
  4. But, still, money isn’t enough. I can’t emphasize enough: money isn’t enough on its own.


  1. I define Mission as doing something that has a real, beneficial impact on someone or some group of people in the world. The question is simple: does this project help underserved people or some crucial cause?
  2. I do things for Mission purposes that bring in little or no money. But, once again, I often find that money is a good proxy for level of impact. For example, I worked with a mission-driven company focused on ameliorating climate change. They were not willing to put an appropriate budget behind the project I was working on. This turned out to be an early sign that this team was not ready to have a real impact. They weren’t serious. Working for them would have been a waste. This is not always the case. There are lots of impactful, wonderful organizations that just don’t have the funds. But lack of money at least raises a question I will explore.
  3. Like money, Mission generally isn’t enough on its own, at least not for me. I want to participate in mission-driven projects in which I can make a great impact. This usually means that the project will be fun or challenging or will teach me something. This may sound self-indulgent and maybe it is. But I have learned that I just can’t stick with things if they’re not engaging and I think that the level of engagement I feel generally goes hand-in-hand with me making a significant impact.


  1. I used to define Glory in a fairly superficial way. Would some project make me look super cool to the rest of the world. I now define it this way: would this project open up a whole new way of doing work in the world. Does it open up a new industry, a new set of skills, a new set of opportunities.
  2. As with Money and Mission, I have found that Glory is not enough on its own. The project needs to be engaging, fun, educational, et cetera.


  1. I define Fun broadly to mean a project that is truly engaging. Sometimes, these projects are heart-breaking, maddening, scary. I spent a year in Iraq as a journalist. I’ve spent a lot of time in Haiti. These were incredibly engaging experiences. I learned so much–about the world, about myself. (I fell in love with the woman who is now my wife in Iraq, so that was a lot of fun, too).
  2. Fun is the one thing that works on its own. At least for me. If a project is deeply engaging, I’ll do it. Just for that.
  3. To pass this test, though, it can’t just be short-term hedonic fun. I need a project to be more fully engaging. It has to grab my full attention, suck me in, make me question things, learn things, sometimes bang my head against the wall with deep frustration because something matters to me so much and I’m not quite getting it.
  4. I’m not independently wealthy, so I can’t JUST choose fun all the time. I usually need a project to make a bit of money, at least. And I do find things are more engaging when they include some Mission and Glory (as I define it).

So, that’s how I choose. I do it very quickly. Something comes my way and I ask myself:

  • Will this make enough money to make it feel worthwhile?
  • Will this make the world–or, at least, the life of a person I care about–better off?
  • Will this open me up to new opportunities?
  • Will this be fun?

Generally, there’s a tradeoff. I do, sometimes, take on projects that are a little bit of fun, make a whole lot of money, and don’t bring much mission or new opportunity. Other times, I’ll accept lower payment for something meaningful to my personal Mission as long as there’s a bit of fun.

What am I missing? Are there criteria you use that I should adopt? How would you apply these in your life?

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