Stop Just Making a Living and Start Making a Life

“I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life” – Maya Angelou

I’m not one to use inspirational quotes, like ever, but this quote by American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou really resonates with me. Maybe it’s because I spent too many years of my life working just to make a living. Or maybe it’s because I’m still figuring out what I should do with my life. 

Whatever the reason, I wanted to explore what she says further and figure out ways we can all make a great life for ourselves, while also making a living.

What Does Making a Living Mean?

Making a living is a specific reference to the amount of money you are earning and about how you are earning your income. For most people, this means our jobs.

In order to take care of your physical needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, you work a job and make a living. It’s what you need to live or pay the expenses necessary for your lifestyle and household.

In some cases, making a living refers to the minimum amount necessary for a basic lifestyle. But a basic lifestyle includes more than just your rent or mortgage and food. You also have psychological needs you should be fulfilling.

Others need enough money to support a much more luxurious and opulent lifestyle. 

Either way, making a living means you are making enough money to support yourself and your family each day.

What Does Making a Life Mean?

Making a life is in reference to your general lifestyle and life experiences. This includes a lot more than your finances. 

Making a life means you are meeting your potential. You are passionate about your life, your job, your friends, your hobbies, etc. Your life is both satisfying and fulfilling. 

When you make a life, you have a purpose. You have focus and drive because your life has meaning. 

You likely don’t complain often because you are happy and enjoy what you are doing. Your needs and desires are being met. You do not allow life to dictate to you because you are in control.

What Is the Difference Between the Two?

Making a living is about earning enough money to pay your bills, having a decent place to live, a steady job, and taking care of the basics of life such as insurance, grocery shopping, and transportation. It means you have what you need to survive but not necessarily what is needed for true freedom and happiness.

Making a life, on the other hand, means you are living instead of just existing.

You aren’t settling. You are following your passions such as art, architecture, medicine, poetry, or nature, and are making the effort to achieve what you want most out of life. Making a life is about spending time with family and close friends and pursuing your dreams.

Can You Combine the Two?

Yes! You can have a job or career that is fulfilling, offers purpose, and makes you happy. 

This does not mean you ignore the basic necessities of life, but rather you embrace so much more. 

Some people love luxury cars and can find fulfillment as an auto mechanic. If your hobby is coin collecting, working at a mint would be meaningful to you. You can combine the joy of working with children with a career in medicine. Or a love of animals with a career as a marine biologist. 

When you enjoy the life you are living, you will grow as a person and be happy.

How to Find Meaningful Work

The best way to find meaningful work depends on what is most important in your life. 

Yes, you need enough money to live, but you don’t have to work 18 hours a day to buy happiness with expensive cars, multiple homes, and a private jet.

You need to figure out what is closest to your heart, and what makes you thrive. If you are uncertain, you can volunteer for different organizations and causes or experiment with a variety of hobbies including everything from bird watching to creating new and exciting recipes. 

As long as what you are doing adds something meaningful to your life, you are on the right track.

Do We Need To Find Meaningful Work? Or Is It Okay To Work Just To Pay the Bills?

There’s nothing wrong with working a job just to pay the bills. Most of us have been in that situation at some point in our lives. And I imagine most of us would prefer not to work at all, if we could afford it.

If you do not find fulfillment with your job, your days will become extremely long and tedious. You might not want to go to work because what you do is not satisfying. You have no sense of accomplishment and simply go through the motions each day. You are not feeding your deepest desires or your soul.

You are existing and not really living.

Think about the amount of time you spend at work. The difference between dreading and looking forward to going to work is the difference between making a living and making a life. 

If your work is meaningful, you will feel much better about yourself. It means you have chosen the right career path for your individual needs. 

When you take a good, hard look at your life and can honestly say there are very few changes you would like to make, you are living a happy, fulfilling, meaningful, and passionate life. 

But if you no longer enjoy a job you once loved, figure out why. If you realize you are no longer interested in your line of work, it’s time to change careers.

You can always go back to college, learn a trade, or learn whatever is necessary to reach your career goals and find your ideal job. 

You will never be fulfilled if you simply work to pay your bills instead of following your passion in life.

20 Tips For How To Live a Life With More Meaning

There is a lot you can do to make your life more meaningful. Here are some tips to help you get there:

  1. Acknowledge that at times your life will be difficult. During these times, determine what you need so you can feel good about yourself and address these issues.
  2. Even if you encounter setbacks, do not give up. To achieve the life you want, you may have to fight for it.
  3. When you stumble, have the fortitude to keep moving forward. Life can be unpredictable and you need to learn how to roll with the unexpected. You will make mistakes and experience setbacks. Be resilient, become stronger and keep going.
  4. Courage is a necessity of life. You need to remove yourself from your comfort zone to experience new things. Part of the fun in life is not knowing what will happen next.
  5. Explore different ways to add purpose to your life. 
  6. Make the important things in your life the priority and spend less of your time, energy, and money on things that don’t matter.
  7. Learn to understand your insecurities and fears and figure out how to deal with them. If you ignore them they can prevent you from stepping onto the right path.
  8. Do not allow yourself to become sidetracked by what the people around you are doing. Their lives do not affect yours. Do not make comparisons between your life and others.
  9. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. 
  10. Don’t neglect your financial health or your financial future.  
  11. Once you understand what you need to be happy, create an action plan to make it happen. Know what steps you need to take to succeed.
  12. To be successful and reach your goals, you will need commitment, focus, drive, purpose, and courage. 
  13. Remember that your success should be based on happiness and fulfillment, not on how much money you make. 
  14. Be willing to work hard.
  15. Never forget what you are trying to achieve – a life of success, happiness, and meaning.
  16. Concentrate, focus, and believe you have the power to make your dreams come true. Believing in yourself is extremely powerful and leads to success.
  17. Be grateful and appreciative of what you have. Be generous with the people in your life. Give back and offer to help whenever you can. This will lead to happiness, satisfaction, and the knowledge you have made a difference.
  18. Take the time to truly enjoy your life. Learn how to live in the moment. 
  19. Be honest with yourself about what you really want out of life. You may not be able to achieve everything you want but you can achieve enough to be truly happy. Do not waste your time by setting unrealistic or unattainable goals.
  20. Take the time to figure out the three most important things you need to be happy. Work on each one until you succeed. 

Are You Making a Living or a Life?

A lot of our identity is tied to what we do for a living. If you don’t like what you do, it’s time to change it. Look for a new job, start a new hobby, or do something for yourself that you’ve always wanted to do.

Don’t settle for a mediocre life.

You can make a living and make a life for yourself!

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Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN,, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

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