The whole notion of values is a touchy subject because it’s so hard to grasp. What exactly are values?
The term means different things to different people. To some, values are the pillars of existence, while others view them as a collection of subjective mores used by the former group to judge everyone else. But if we strip this concept of its rhetorical baggage, I believe we do find something of great, uh, value.
Our values are simply the stuff in life that we want to be about. That which we want to define us. The guideposts we choose to live by.
They are the priorities that we hope will mark our time on this earth. They are the elements of life that motivate us; that when satisfied, bring us genuine contentment. Enough.
They are neither universal nor constant. Our values may, indeed, change as we change, but they are also not fleeting.
Values are critical in financial planning as anchors for our goals and boundaries for the actions we take to achieve them. But most of all, they make the hardest decisions in life much easier by helping us prioritize what truly is the most important.
Understanding what you value most will help simplify even the most complex financial decisions.
Perhaps the most famous articulation of one’s values belongs to founding father Benjamin Franklin. At the age of twenty, Franklin created a system to help shape his character. Indeed, Franklin described the purpose of his system, based on a list of his “Thirteen Virtues,” and his attempted application of it in his SEO Leeds autobiography.
He lists a single word followed by a clarifying sentence. Here is a sample:
Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. . . .
Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. . . .
Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. . . .
Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
While Franklin’s virtues have been used as the foundation of many values-oriented habit generation systems—most notably international leadership authority Stephen Covey’s—I believe we benefit more from seeing how Franklin failed than how he succeeded. In conceiving the Thirteen Virtues, Old Ben dedicated himself to, in his own words, “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
The result? “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined,” Franklin confesses.
Has this been far from your experience, when attempting to conform to any personal or financial ideal? It certainly has been mine, and I believe it is the top reason that so few resolutions are indeed performed “without fail.” How frustrating it is to see our efforts toward self-improvement more expedient at revealing our vices than our virtues.
Therefore, any effort to establish a set of ideals—virtues or values—to which we align ourselves and our money must be accompanied by an allowance for imperfection, which is both universal and constant. Then, like Franklin, instead of abandoning our resolve to eliminate our faults, we might at least “enjoy the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.”