Wise Words – Will Rogers Shows Us What’s Important

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”

Will Rogers


Who doesn’t chuckle in self-recognition when they hear these words? Will Rogers is poking fun at our need to impress, to be seen as important in the eyes of others. The joke is funny because we know deep down that external motivations – those given to us by peers, parents or society – can never satisfy. Sometimes it takes the humorists among us to tell the truth in ways that we can hear.

Seeking external validation through status or power can never fulfill us because it doesn’t come from our internal compass. The natural impulses that arise from our higher self, like the desires for impact, autonomy, creativity, service and connection, are the real sources of satisfaction. When we are engaged with these natural impulses, we can feel the difference and we know that external motivations are weak imitations. 

These false goals are alluring because they have the appearance of being permanent. The car or house or clothes we buy feel substantial. But the fulfilling things in life are fluid, always flowing, never static. For example, think of a marriage and the deep connection and love it can offer. A marriage is not static. Connection is not something that is guaranteed because you made a vow one spring morning years ago. It has to be recreated every day, in every conversation, through the hard work of honesty and emotional vulnerability.

Or think of an artistic or creative project. Beauty and innovation are not a given, they are part of a fluid process that changes as it goes. The early stages of any creative work are messy and subject to many twists and turns. The vibrancy in it is always growing, which is what gives it life. 

The fulfilling motivations in life cannot be held in place because they are not things, they are processes that need to be continually regenerated. Their nature is elusive and so they always feel at risk. Our fear of losing them causes us to crave the poor substitutes of external gratifications.

In his joke, Will Rogers reminds us that the external motivations we chase are not really what we want. Reflect for a moment on how you discern between external motivations and the impulses of your soul? How does your internal compass act to guide you?

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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