Skip to content

Living an Examined Life: 8×3 Days + The Four Ashramas

Posted on 

March 7, 2024


In my early 20s I lived with a Costa Rican farmer. A seemingly healthy man with a happy disposition, I assumed he was approaching 50 years old but found out that he was 67.

When I asked how he was aging so gracefully despite the arduous work and long days in the sun, he responded with (translated):

“8hrs sleep. 8hrs work. 8hrs everything else.”

He continued in letting me know that his work was the highlight of his day.

Although I had this discussion at a time when I was unclear on my path and untethered from any major commitments, it stuck with me.

Breaking down the 8 x 3 day:

In a 24hr cycle, our days start and end with sleep. Sleep is arguably the most important self-care protocol for improving our overall health and we’ve written before about proven ways to improve sleep.

The 8hrs of “everything else” is a true catch-all that constitutes the fun (and not so fun) parts of life.

Laundry. Commuting. Grocery shopping. Meal prep. Household chores. Exercise. Personal care/hygiene. Relationships. Hobbies/Leisure activities. Education/Personal development. Doctor appointments. Shuttling kids.

The list goes on…

This leaves the final 8hr block – our 8hrs of “work.”

Work Matters

Over a lifetime, the average person will spend 90,000 hours working.

[Check our math: 40hrs/wk x 50wks/yr x 40yrs = 90,000hrs.]

Much of us begin our early working years from a place of scarcity – we have zero (or negative!) net worths and are beginning to build the financial foundation that later scaffolding can stand on.

Interestingly, as financial planners that partner with people of all ages and in a wide range of professions – technologists, engineers, salespeople, attorneys, artists, entrepreneurs and beyond – we’re always amazed by just how many routes there are to achieving financial independence.

Like Swizz Beatz said in a classic Jay-Z hit – there are “a million ways to get it, choose one.”

The Examined Life

Regardless of the track we pursue, it’s important for us to always be questioning our beliefs, values, and actions along the way. The goal for all of us, according to Socrates, is to live an examined life – one that is ethical, meaningful, and fulfilling.

Living an examined life begins with self-reflection, critical thinking, and a keen interest in understanding and improving one’s own life.

To neglect ever spending time marinating big existential questions (i.e. what is the meaning of life?) is to risk knocking on death’s door realizing you never truly lived, but merely existed, drifting through life without grappling with its deeper purpose or understanding your own potential and contributions.

Life’s Glide Path, According to Hinduism:

In Hinduism, there is a concept of the four ashramas. These four ashramas outline a framework for our spiritual and societal development through life.

1st Ashrama: Brahmacharya

Our young adult years are considered the first of the four ashramas known as Brahmacharya – or the “student” phase.

This stage is our first phase and lasts into young adulthood. It’s a phase of learning – experiencing life and building our arsenal of skills.

2nd Ashrama: Grihastha

Then comes Grihastha. This stage typically begins in our 20s, can last through our 40s, and is characterized by life events such as raising a family and contributing to society (typically through, you guessed it: work).

Grihastha is also the period with the most power, sex, and prestige (and typically the stage when people begin seeking financial advice 😉).

Many of us, due to the personal identity we form during this stage of life, attempt to make Grihastha last forever.

However, according to the principle of psychoprofessional gravitation, the more emotionally tied we are to our identity/status, the harder we will work and the further we will inevitably fall.

What to do?

We must evolve.

3rd Ashrama: Vanaprastha

This brings us to the third ashrama, Vanaprastha – or the stage at which we transition from household responsibilities to a period of retreat, self-reflection, and spiritual growth.

In contemporary society, the concept of Vanaprastha evokes the image of mentors or spiritual guides, akin to the role embodied by Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid,” serving as wise elders who impart knowledge and guidance to younger generations.

This stage is less about personal ambition and more about evolving from player to coach.

4th Ashrama: Sannyasa

If we’re able to move through these first three ashramas with time to spare, we have a chance to reach the ultimate ashrama: Sannyasa.

Sannyasa can be equated to enlightenment: no thoughts of worldly gain, complete inner peace.

Navigating Your Unique Journey

When reflecting on this Hindu glide path of life and how it relates to our 8hrs of “work,” the definition of “work” will vary depending on

a) where we’re at on the glide path


b) our unique gifts, skills, and interests.

However, with so many options and finite resources (time/health/money), the task of mapping out our life paths can become overwhelming and make it difficult to commit to a direction.

So, regardless of where you are at in your career/life, we’ve shared some prompts that we hope help to narrow down your next move:

  1. What activities make you lose track of time? This question can help uncover activities that you are deeply passionate about.
  2. Can you recall a project or task you worked on that you found incredibly satisfying? What made it so? This helps identify specific aspects of work that fulfill you, such as problem-solving, helping others, or creating something new.
  3. What subjects or issues do you find yourself drawn to repeatedly, whether in reading, conversation, or study? This question seeks to pinpoint your natural curiosities and interests that could inform your next move.
  4. What are three achievements (personal or professional) that you are particularly proud of? Why? Reflecting on your achievements can help identify your strengths and the types of challenges you enjoy tackling.
  5. What skills do others often commend you for? Bonus: Reach out to three friends, three family members, and three colleagues to hear their thoughts. This external perspective can highlight your natural talents and abilities that you might undervalue or overlook.
  6. If you had a completely free day with no obligations, how would you choose to spend it? Your answer can reveal your passions and interests more clearly, suggesting areas you might want to explore.
  7. What types of work environments do you thrive in? (e.g., collaborative teams, solo tasks, fast-paced settings) Understanding the environments in which you work best can help narrow down a path that matches your preferred speed/style.
  8. When you think about the next 5yrs, what values are most important to you? (e.g., flexibility, contribution to society, financial stability) Identifying your core values can guide you towards work that is not only fulfilling but also aligns with your life’s priorities.
  9. Are there any paths you’re curious about but haven’t explored? What’s holding you back? This question encourages you to consider unexplored areas and identify the fears or barriers preventing you from pursuing them.
  10. Reflecting on times you’ve felt professionally stuck or dissatisfied, what were the missing elements? Understanding what has made you unhappy or unfulfilled in past roles can help you avoid similar situations and seek out roles that better suit your needs and desires.

In the rhythm of life, the best we can do is strike a fine balance between our sleep, work, and… well… everything else.

In embracing this simplicity, we put ourselves in the best position to make each moment count with purpose and intention.

Through such mindful decisions, we can carve out a life that is richly and uniquely our own.