Acting as your own boss and calling the shots while translating original and unique ideas into an income is the epitome of making a living for many people. A friend of mine, thinking her dream was to be an entrepreneur, convinced herself it was the route she should take. One day, I gave her the values exercise I use with my clients. Over the next several weeks, she continued to think about her values and what they meant for her life. She was surprised to realize that her values weren’t dependent on living an entrepreneur’s life. No longer constrained by a standard she felt compelled to achieve, she became open to looking for full time work. While she continues to be self-employed, her happiness is no longer based on the ideal of entrepreneurship, but rather on the principles of her internal values.

All too often, we’re told what our values should be. It can happen as subtly as observing our friends’ lives and desiring what they have, to the blatant advertising we are bombarded with every day in the media. Do we stop to ask if the messages we’re receiving are things we truly want in or lives? Are we chasing what others want for their life instead of examining and focusing on what is most important to ourselves?

I know a woman who found herself envious of an old school mate who frequently posted pictures of her large group of friends and all the activities they did together on Facebook. She thought she was missing out by not having a similar busy social life for herself. Finally she thought to ask herself, “is that really what I want?” She realized how much she prized her time with her immediate family, the deeper relationships she enjoyed with a few close friends, and her alone time that brought her time to reflect. Once she realized what was truly important to her, she could admire her friend’s social life, but as appealing as it looked, recognized it wasn’t for her. She was thankful for the quieter, nourishing one she already had that met her own needs.

It can be an ah-ha moment when you step back and determine what’s most important to you and realize it’s not the same as what the world has been saying you should value.

Living life within your values becomes the framework by which you begin to make intentional decisions. Instead of having financial decisions thrust upon you, you are able to take each decision and view it through the lens of your values.

  • Does the new promotion encourage time with my family?
  • Would moving to a new city enhance our sense of adventure or is it an escape?
  • Would this new volunteer commitment add joy to my life or is another obligation?
  • Does this school promote the education we desire for our children or is it the easy solution?
  • Am I buying things because I need or want them?

When values are not prioritized it can lead to a fractured life. People often spend money on a bigger house or a nicer car without putting thought into why these purchases are important to them. Just because it’s a good thing, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing.

When you don’t make the effort to weigh decisions based on your values, you can feel swept away by life, as though you have lost the ability to choose.

Living your life based on your values is not easy. By its very nature, values are different for different people. Being married means two people have to find a common ground for their personal values. Naturally, we want to look to others for guidance, someone who has lived a life we want to live, so we can then walk in their footsteps. We want a template. We want the certainty that living our life by our values will be successful. And many times, that’s simply not possible. Charting your own course and making difficult decisions takes courage.

What does a values-driven life have to do with a personal finance blog?

When I work with clients, there is inevitably a point where I am asked “Will we be able to do XYZ?” In fact, many times that’s the very reason why clients come to me. They want to know what options their finances allow them.

The answer is rarely as simple as a yes or no.

This is where values come into play and I have to ask them:

  • Are they willing to work longer or step into a higher-paying role?
  • Are they willing to save more and cut the amount they are spending now?
  • Are they willing to leave less money to their children and grandchildren?
  • Are they willing to not travel around the world?
  • Are they willing to live on a tight budget?

These are all value decisions, and conflicting values decisions at that. The reality is that for every financial decision that is made, values are being defined.

The “American Dream” is a prescribed set of values, it isn’t necessarily everyone’s dream. If you strive for someone else’s dream, it stands to reason that you’ll never find your bliss. It’s crucial to identify your personal values and reexamine them frequently. Ask yourself if the life you are living is in harmony or at odds with those values.

Making intentional decisions based on what’s most important to you can be liberating and will allow you to have the one thing we can agree that we all want: a happy and fulfilling life.