What is more important—knowing how much money you will have left when you die or knowing that your life meant something when you look back?

People consult with me every day to discuss money issues and how to best preserve their assets. Lawyers and financial planners spend their careers focusing on the accumulation and preservation of people’s money.

Most people do not plan to use all of their money during their lives. Many die with a lot left over. My question is whether or not the time and effort spent on the pursuit and preservation of money will have been worth it at the end of our lives. Society tells us to value money. So we believe that it will have meaning at the end.

So, the question can be asked—how much time should we waste on activities that will not satisfy us in the end? We may be going to the apple orchard to satisfy our hunger for an orange.

What do my clients say they regret most at the end of their lives? They say they regret not having lived for themselves. They say they regret not doing the things that were in their heart—not singing their own song—for this is where our true wealth exists, and it won’t show up anywhere on a monthly statement.

Do you know about the Golden Buddah? The story goes that a small town had a priceless Golden Buddah. Because he was worth so much, the town kept him covered with layers of paint and plaster so that thieves wouldn’t try to steal him. I don’t know if the Buddah even remembered he was made of gold underneath, because no one recognized him.

We are all Golden Buddahs. Our gold is inside, but we spend our lives pretending that we are all of the things that we cover ourselves with—our money, our career, our youthful bodies. At the end of our lives, perhaps for the first time, the “stuff” we have covered ourselves with may begin to be taken away. First, we may no longer have our occupation. Next, we may no longer be a husband or a wife. Our bodies may begin to fail.

Why wait until the end of our lives to realize that our real wealth is inside? What will I think about when I am old and look back at my life, when I can no longer change the way it turned out? I don’t want to ask for a “do-over” because, I come to realize, I was searching for a “fool’s gold” all along.

I spend my days getting paid by people who want to focus on their bank accounts. Sometimes I get them to find their Golden Buddah along the way.