Lifetime Allocation Pie Chart: Learning, Earning, and Returning

You always see pie charts used to illustrate asset allocation for portfolios. Stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, etc. How about a pie chart for deciding how to allocate your lifetime:


This was one of the “life lessons” provided by entrepreneur Tristan Walker in his Bloomberg profile:

Spend the first third of your life learning, the second earning, and the third returning. I try to shorten earning so I can maximize returning.

Your time on earth is a finite resource. Let’s say you put your life expectancy at 84 years. That works out to:

  • From birth until 28 years old, you are Learning. You are building up your knowledge, skills, and experience. You are building human capital.
  • From 28 to 56 years old, you are Earning. You are converting your human capital to traditional capital – money!
  • From 56 onwards, you are Returning. Once you have enough, it is your turn to give back to your community.

Learning isn’t always done in school. For example, many people will tell you that in your early years, you should take on risks before you develop too many other responsibilities. Start a business, switch careers, or travel the world. Don’t worry about the money in your 20s; your basic food and shelter expenses can be barebones. Invest your time into yourself.

Along the same lines, you won’t stop learning completely at 28 years old, but your focus and priorities may change. As I get close to 40, I feel the growing pressure of providing security for my kids and the pressure of caring for aging parents. In practical terms, you’ll need to invest more of your time into making money. Well, I might change that to earning money and then saving a big chunk of it.

Then one day, hopefully sooner than later, you can move on to giving back in a way that aligns with your personal philosophies. Invest your time towards helping your family, friends, the local community, and the world.

This is a related concept to the Earn, Save, Grow, Preserve lifecyle.


  1. Give back to my community? I’ve been “giving” to my community in the form of taxes ever since my first job in 1988. I give more and more every year. Sorry, but from 56 onwards, it’s the community’s turn to give back to me.

  2. Does this mean I should have stayed in college until I was 32 years old? Cause going to live to 97.

  3. Art in LA says:

    Reminds me of that late-80s song … “Birth, School, Work, Death”.

  4. Michelle says:

    I guess it would vary based on your personal situation, but as a 40 something single female I have been giving back financially for many years. It may not be a lot of money, but I don’t think people should wait until they have been on this planet for 56 years to make contributions to worthy causes. Especially those that touch them personally. Get into the habit early and often 🙂

  5. I like the approach of thinking of your life in phases. It gets you thinking about how soon you want to be able to start giving back without having to worry about a paycheck. The sooner the better, right?

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