Be Your Best Self: Know Your Values

Auguste Comte was ridiculed by both the atheists & religious alike. He wrote long letters to monarchs including Napoleon Bonaparte and Queen Victoria explaining his views on society and seeking funding for his projects. The guy never even got a reply. Eventually, he died at the age of 59, without seeing any of his ideas adopted by the general public. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Auguste’s ideas and studies didn’t breakthrough until decades after he was gone. The French 19th century philosopher who dubbed the scientific study of society as “sociology,” spent much of his life observing people and contemplating the variety of behaviors humans display.

Among other insights, he came to recognize a positive connection between understanding peoples values and their personal growth. His advice was simple and transcends time: Connais-toi pour t’ameliorer or “Know yourself to improve yourself”. Now most of us in this day and age know the benefits of knowing yourself, but like Auguste’s contemporaries, we often choose to ignore the process. For many, looking inwards is not an option as it requires time and resources, but for others (like myself at times) we don’t look inward because we are afraid to see what we might find.

One of the aspects that we frequently avoid assessing is how we earn and spend money. Because, seriously, who wants to do that! But there is real value in doing this exercise. The creation of financial goals, the constant assessment of progress and the regular adjustment of these goals to suit our ever-changing lives is an important process. Although simple to understand, this is a little more complicated to implement. I wrote this series in part to provide simple frameworks for others that want to embark on the process of self-discovery but don’t know how to get started. Selfishly, I also wrote this to remind myself later why I left my traditional Wall Street job to start Zoe. In other words, this is therapy. So, let’s get started!

A simple question:  What do you value?

The majority of us are in tune with a few things that matter most to us in life but haven’t taken the time to intentionally define what our value set is. You may recognize that you feel very passionately about being successful in your career and spending time with people you’re close to but haven’t given much thought to what matters to you in terms of spirituality or health. It’s not uncommon to fall in line with the values of the people you spend the most time with such as your family, coworkers, friends, or community, but if you haven’t taken the time to consider the values that define you personally, do you really know yourself? Paraphrasing Comte: if you want to be your best self, get to know yourself.

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Start with one of the main value categories – relationships. What matters to you where your family is concerned? Think of your extended family, immediate family, spouse, significant other and children. Also consider your neighbors, friends, and co-workers. What matters to you in each relationship? Which relationships are you concerned with nurturing? Do you value time with certain people more than others? Are some relationships weighing you down? Write your relationship values down as you recognize them; list your relationships from most important to least. This will enable you to evaluate if your life is currently in line with your values. 

For me personally, I deprioritized relationships with family and friends in my late 20s and early 30s as I was focused on my career. My work mentors, co-workers, and later fellow MBA classmates at Wharton became a priority. By age 31, after two fast-track promotions and a pretty visible role at JP Morgan, I was traveling on average to three cities a week and working weekends. Considering I was married and had children at this point, relationship-wise, what I valued most (my family) was not aligned with how I was spending my time. No surprise, I was pretty miserable despite the fact that I was “winning” career-wise. It took a lot of self-reflection, but I eventually made the change to a different role that allowed me to align my time with my values better.

Do you spend the most time with people who mean the most to you?

be your best self know your values - personal values - personal finance - financial planning - zoe financial - blog

Follow a similar process for other categories like career, spirituality, and health. Numerically list everything that you value about your career and everything you don’t want it to become. Do you want a career that pairs well with your ideal lifestyle? Do you prefer a job you love over one that pays better?  Once you have your values numerically listed, evaluate. Are you on the right path or do you need to make some changes to line up with your career values? Spirituality and health are up next. Consider your values for each category, rank them by importance and evaluate.

Now, this process is not meant to be easy, and it is often uncomfortable. But do your best to be as honest as possible. At the end of all these lists, you’ll have a clear picture of everything that matters to you allowing you to feel rooted in your convictions. 

In Part 2, Put Your Money Where Your Values Are, we’ll discuss the relevance of your personal values to your wealth and money.

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