The Value of Values

mirrorA while back, I found myself in the middle of some heavy-duty business debt. How the debt got there wasn’t really that important, although that story will probably make its way into another essay at some point. What is important is the way that debt took over my life and the life of my family. Everything we did became colored by money – how much we had and how we could get more. It defined nearly every waking moment and every conversation, with questions like:
“Can I spend an extra $10 this week?”
“Can you wait until payday to buy that item?”
“How will we pay for this?”
“Can we afford it?”
“Can we juggle this account to offset that account?”

It really had an impact on my wife, who is the primary keeper-of-the-finances (and the main reason we survive) at my house. It put her in a position to be the one who always says “no” when someone in the family wanted something out of the ordinary. This was not a position she wanted, and it put considerable strain on our relationship and everyday lives. In turn, it made me feel guilty for being partly responsible for the circumstances and for not being a better breadwinner.

Money isn’t everything, but the lack of it sucks.

If you find yourself lacking money and in debt as well, then it really, really sucks. Essentially, our lives at that time were nearly completely defined by money. It was present in every conversation and every decision we made as a family. As a result, I began to believe that money was an important part of my identity; that it was a significant part of who I was. I began to let my fear of the future have an impact on how I saw myself and how I related to the world around me. I didn’t look at an opportunity without weighing the costs and possible financial benefits, and I was constantly looking for chances to change my financial situation.

Tell yourself something long enough and you begin to think its true. By focusing so much on money, I began to question things that I had always believed about myself. Maybe I wasn’t really that generous at heart, but was more miserly than I would like to admit. Maybe personal fulfillment wasn’t as important as I thought, but I was more interested in just trying to turn a buck instead. Maybe that was who I really was. This financial dispute had already destroyed my relationship with one of my closest friends. Maybe money was more important to me than friendship. I was really struggling with questions about the type of person I had grown to become.

Enter the values.

I’ve used many tools that help you learn more about yourself as a person, both as a participant as well as a coach or consultant. The tools constantly change, but in the end they remain essentially the same – find your personality, find your strengths, find your passions. There’s value in all of that. Honestly, I love that kind of stuff. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised when I was sitting in a workshop and the leader asked us to evaluate our own personal values. It caught me a little off guard. I had a good handle on my strengths, passions, and personality, but I hadn’t really examined my core values for quite some time.

We were asked to score different values over the course of about one hundred questions, totaling them up at the end. What I discovered was that, while money dominated my life at that time, it still didn’t define who I was as a person. In fact, financial gain wasn’t very high on my list at all. My core values remained much as I had always seen them. I was still me. I breathed a huge sigh of emotional relief. I had learned something significant.

Values and Passions are not the same thing.

You might be passionate about sports, fishing, pets, travel, your job, or any number of activities, but those things are not values. Passions are activities and things. They might even reinforce your core values, but they are still just passions – ways to spend your time and energy. Your values are something different and deeper. They are ideals – glimpses of your authentic self. They provide the foundation on which you build your sense of who you really are.

It is important to align your passions with your lifestyle. It is more important to align your lifestyle with your values.

Five years later, I’m still dealing with the financial fallout from all of that debt. Sometimes we still have to talk about what we can afford or how we can juggle the remaining debt, but it no longer dominates our every waking moment. I may have a restless soul, but I know that my restlessness is no longer driven by a sense of panic and debt. I have a better handle on who I am and what my core values are. More importantly, I am more focused on building my passions and experiences around those values.

What is it that you truly value? What forms the core of your authentic self? Here are some broad categories to get you thinking. Deep down, do you truly value:
Security – financial security, job security, or security from change
Relationships – friends, lovers, family
Money or Wealth
Creativity – generating ideas, innovation, doing something new, expressing yourself
Independence & Freedom
Prestige – fame, importance to others, making a name for yourself
Service to Others
Play – recreation, toys, fun

The list is not exhaustive. There are plenty of other values for living, working, spirituality, and deeper subjects. The question is, what are your values?

Who are you? Really?




4 thoughts on “The Value of Values

  • Laura Johnson

    This is just excellent.

    We found ourselves caught in a “credit death spiral” about 8 years ago. I don’t think there’s enough written, let alone discussed, about what financial strain does to us psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Refocusing on my core values is what brought me through. But keeping my focus steady on those core values in the first place probably would have kept me out of the spiral. Live and learn. I hope your readers learn from this and live better.

  • Love this. It was so helpful. Society so often thinks that your life needs to be driven by your passion. When in reality sometimes because of your values you do things that you are not passionate about. For instance working at a job that pays the bills because you value providing for your family and stability. Or doing the laundry because no one is passionate about laundry but it needs to get done.

    Do you have a resource for finding your values?

    • jay

      Sometimes, I feel like my life is defined by the “must do” items that have no passion, but are totally necessary. To compensate, I’ve started creating some concrete blocks of time to do some projects that I am passionate about. It helps.

      I do have some resources for values, but I’m not sure I have permission to share them. I may write something of my own to distribute freely.

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