The 3 F’s of Fulfillment

In the 2014 movie, The Gambler, Mark Wahlberg plays the role of a “has-been” author that’s an English professor with a gambling problem. As the movie takes Wahlberg on various gambling disasters, Wahlberg meets shady characters of the underworld that help him continue to live to play another day. Wahlberg bounces from one loan shark to another in a continuous quest to keep his head above water and get that one win that will help him get to even. Wahlberg’s debt deepens as he shifts from one loan shark to the next only delaying the inevitable disaster everyone except he can see coming.

One loan shark, played by John Goodman, seeks to impart some advice to Wahlberg offering the importance of the idea of “FU-money.” Goodman describes the goal as “getting your base, that’s your fortress of ‘expletive’ solitude. And that puts you for the rest of your life at a level of FU.” FU money is having enough money on hand that you’re free to do and say whatever you want. It is less about the total amount of money and more about having just enough to be able to have a roof over your head and not be dependent on others for your livelihood. This affords freedom that is worth more than any thing else.

In a separate podcast, I heard the idea of “FU-money” be expanded to include two additional goals that lead to a fulfilled existence. Beyond financial means, the commentator suggested aspiring to “FU-freedom” and “FU-family.” Together, these three F’s comprise the 3 F’s of Fulfillment. They are inherent to a fulfilling existence.

“FU-freedom” is the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want it. It’s about owning your schedule. It is related to having some financial resources, but it isn’t just financial resources. There are many people with great levels of wealth that have schedules overflowing with obligations. It’s about having a calendar that’s entirely up to you. James Clear captured the power of “FU-freedom” when he wrote, “Your calendar is a better measure of success than your bank account.” Put an alternate way by Nassim Taleb, “My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.” An open calendar is the kind of FU-freedom that’s fulfilling.

Freedom isn’t just freedom of time but freedom of movement. Fame comes with a cost. Tim Ferriss wrote a blog post about the 11 Reasons to Not Become Famous. Those with fame are accosted at every turn. Privacy is largely prevented. A big part of freedom is being able to come and go as you choose. On X, author Ryan Holiday offered, “Most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way.” That’s an expression of the power of achieving FU Freedom. There are those that have an affinity for anonymity.

Financial planners have referred to retirement as “financial freedom” for a reason. Money is the tool with which we purchase time. Once we have enough saved, we no longer need to work. We can stop working and start choosing. Our life shifts from obligation to enjoyment, from “have to” to “get to.” As the technology investor turned internet philosopher, Naval Ravikant, has encouraged, “Whenever you can in life, optimize for independence rather than pay. If you have independence and you’re accountable on your output, as opposed to your input—that’s the dream.” Autonomy is a core driver of life satisfaction and one of three components of Self-determination theory. Autonomy or the ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it how you want to do it with whom you want to is the holy grail of freedom.

Seeking FU finances is about striving to get freedom. Money becomes not the end but the means to get the true end which is freedom. We may think we’re chasing money because of the experiences it may be able to buy us. Or, we may think we want to earn lots of money because then we can afford nice stuff and with nice stuff people will respect us. Yes, more money means that exotic cruise is now in reach. Maybe, your neighbors that drive by your big house every day may think you’re somebody special. However, money’s greatest strength lies in its ability to give you freedom to choose. With greater financial resources, you’re able to opt out of doing certain types of work. You may be able to back away from the work force all together. With money you can determine how you will spend your day. Money accelerates autonomy. Autonomy is the freedom that’s truly desired.

“FU-family” is about stepping away from the world and focusing one’s efforts, energies, and time with those closest to you. It’s about caring only about those that matter most and ignoring the rest of the noise. It’s about allocating your attention, efforts, and resources on those people with whom you have the most ability to influence positively. It’s reducing the circumference of your circle of control around only those with whom you can enjoy the opportunity to make a deep difference. It’s about making a deeper impact on a smaller group of people. It’s becoming interested in those closest to you and ignoring the noise of the news. By earning FU-finances, we get closer to FU-freedom which allows us to spend more time with our families.

Our 3 F’s of Fulfillment are evidenced in what’s referred to as The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman. At its root, it’s a story about prioritizing freedom and family over growth, prestige, and profit. The story, suggested by some to be an adoption of a short story written by a German author in the early 1960s. A wealthy tourist walks by a local fisherman with a few tuna in his boat. The tourist asks how long it took to catch the fish to which the fisherman answers not long. The tourist asks why not stay out longer and catch more? The fisherman responds he doesn’t need more. What he’s caught is plenty to feed his family. The perplexed tourist asks what he does with the rest of his time. The fisherman says that he enjoys spending time with his family singing songs, dancing with his wife, playing games with his kids, taking naps, and more. He considers his life full and complete. The tourist offers, I’m an educated and successful businessman, I can offer you all kinds of tips to help you build a booming business. You could spend more time fishing, catch more fish, sell the extra to the market, use these profits to buy nets and hire others to fish further and longer all to generate more wealth. You could go further and buy a bigger boat or more boats and even begin to set up your own stall at the market. Perhaps, even setting up a canning business. You could build a fishing empire and grow wealth exponentially. The local fisherman listens patiently to the great businessman’s plans. He then asks and what would I then do with my newfound wealth? To which the tourist offers, well, then you would have enough money to spend time with your family singing songs, dancing with your wife, playing games with your kids, taking naps, and do all the things you love to do. The fisherman already had what the ambitious businessman was encouraging him to work hard and long to achieve. The fisherman understood that he had achieved the 3 F’s of Fulfillment already and didn’t need to keep pushing.

Fulfillment isn’t fun and frivolity. Nor, is it a fluke. It won’t fall on your lap. Even though freedom is at the heart of fulfillment, it definitely isn’t free. Nothing about achieving “FU-finances, freedom, or family is easy. It’s something you must seek intentionally and be willing for which to work and sacrifice. The standard for each of these is for you to define.

Finances, freedom, and family, from these three f’s don’t stray for with these you’ll be sure to rise above the fray and find more fulfilling days.