One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is about making money while still being able to enjoy a fairly liberated lifestyle.

Asking “How can I make money so that I can live such-and-such lifestyle?” however, is prioritizing money before life. It’s like being born with a barrel full of seeds and asking how you can sell them to buy vegetables.

You are born with your energy, attention, and all of your time. Over the years, you learn to exchange these things for money.

More ideally, we ask ourselves something like “How can I sustain this lifestyle that I’ve built?” because this implies that we’ve figured out how we want to live, first. From there, we take into account the economic realities that shape our environment and see how we might perpetuate the life we’ve already built (or have started building). This is the equivalent of planting those seeds, digging some irrigation canals, and trying to decide how to invest the fruits (and veggies) of your labors.

The advice that I usually give in response to this question is:

Start building the life you want, today. Avoid inessential commitments, make a lot of valuable mistakes, appreciate any privilege you might have, and help others along the way when feasible. Then, figure out how to sustain your lifestyle, knowing something of how you want to spend your time and energy, what rewards will actually fulfill you, and what you’re willing to trade for more opportunities (and what you won’t trade at any cost).

Flipping this, selling your time, attention, and energy first, is like selling off your seeds in hopes of being able to someday afford vegetables. It’s a shortcut we’ve been trained to see as the default option, or even the only option, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.