Alice and John said that their goal was to travel in retirement. They laid out detailed trips to exotic locations, opportunities to explore and soak in new cultures and customs. It was clearly very high on their list. After they finished waxing poetic on their various dream destinations, we started to talk about their three kids and seven grandkids. They were concerned about their kids’ ability to send THEIR kids to college. Further discussion revealed that while dreams of distant lands were wonderful, they cared more about helping out with their grandchildren’s college costs. It wasn’t even a mildly difficult decision—it was their values speaking.
If you talk to anyone who calls themselves a financial advisor or planner, you will undoubtedly hear the statement “Our advice is built on your goals” or some variation on the theme. “Your goals, your objectives” is a nice statement, but it’s all wrong. The conversation should not be about your goals, but about your values. Because it’s your values that move the needle past stop and get you moving in the right direction.
If you were physically out of shape, you might say your goal is to lose 50 pounds. But what you really value is feeling healthy and looking better. You value weight loss because you associate good health with a good life for yourself or some other equally important reason which helps you change your habits and behaviors. The GOAL—a number—is just a number. It’s the outcome that matters, not whether its 47 pounds or 53.
The same holds true when it comes to money and planning. Saving for your kids’ college education is borne from your values, just as living a life in retirement that provides security. The problem is we as a society have been so bombarded with the concept of goals, that the conversation has skewed away from what’s really important. Values. Life isn’t a hockey game—it’s a series of challenges, of controllable and uncontrollable situations. Your values will guide you if you ask yourself the right questions.
So. Make a list of your goals and then ask yourself of each one: “Is this important and if so, how important is it?” Answer the “why” question. Once you know why this is so important, see if it rises to the level of “this MUST happen.” If it does, then congratulations—you might just have stumbled across your values.
Jane and Pete wanted to buy a vacation home. They’d been traveling to Colorado for years and love it there. They thought they’d like to spend four to five months each year there. Financially, it was possible, but not easy. They went so far as research the costs of purchase, maintenance, furnishing, utilities and even travel costs. It was beginning to get real.
The topic of being away from their children who all lived in the east came up. Pete said, without a blink, “This will give them a reason to come out and visit.” Jane nodded, but after a few moments said, “Really Pete, they have jobs, schedules, two are married and they have busy lives. Do you really think they will just pick up and fly out to Colorado? It’s not free, you know and I don’t think we have the resources to fund frequent tickets. Maybe it’s best if we put our resources to things we can do together without being away from them for extended periods?” Their goal was interrupted by their values.
Regardless of where you are in life, it is your values that move you to action.
Perhaps the word “values” makes you uncomfortable, feeling judged by others, while a laundry list of goals sounds very lofty and important.
But when it comes to what brings all of us our sense of peace, security and ultimate satisfaction, it is aligning our lives with our values. So the next time you hear a commercial or some financial person talking about your goals, reset the conversation to what’s really important.