This blogpost has been simmering in the back of my mind for months. Over the past week, I have been met with some overwhelming feelings that have forced me to sit down and write.
We all know the power of social media. One of the most bittersweet kinds of posts are the “Go Fund Me” campaigns. I find them heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Many are about people who are going through terrible situations. Fortunately, there always seems to be a large community who are there to help.
Tragedies make us think
In the past week alone there have been four different Go Fund Me pages pop up on my feed for the deaths of people in their late 30’s and early 40’s. My age. I don’t know these people but they are all connected to friends of mine. Have these tragedies always been happening but we are now more aware due to social media? It seems as though there is always someone we know who knows someone who has left this world far too young or is battling an illness while still having little ones running around at home.
Perhaps the hardest to comprehend are the babies and young children who are fighting for their lives while their parents are forced to watch. When these tragedies strike, we can’t help but reflect and evaluate our lives. Life truly can be “too short.”
This is not self-help fluff
So, we need to try to live our best life while we have the chance. I know, this kind of sounds cheesy. It’s right up there with #blessed. The reality is, so many of us go through life on autopilot without really stopping to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Sometimes life will throw us a curveball and that will force us to stop and examine our choices. Other times, we know what we value but put it off until it is too late and we are left with regret over the decisions we made (or didn’t make).
Our first introduction to “values”
Before we got married, Matt and I read a personal finance book together called, “Smart Couples Finish Rich” by David Bach. Matt was still a resident but we were trying to be responsible about our future and our finances. There was an exercise early on in the book called, “Your Value Circle.” For the first time in our lives, we actually sat down and thought about our values.
I will admit, it seemed a little silly at first to be writing down our top five values (not goals – we had to learn the difference). After we figured out what our values were, we shared them with each other. The point was that our money should be used to support our values – something we still believe. What seemed silly at first turned out to be an exercise that helped us determine what was important to ourselves and to each other. It doesn’t mean we had the exact same list but we were able to understand each others values and make a solid plan for our future.
Revisiting our values
Over the years, our values have mostly remained the same with a little tweaking here and there. It wasn’t until we were in Spain that we sat down to do a similar exercise. You may remember when Matt was feeling a little uneasy about life. After reading Matt’s blog post, a good friend of ours sent us an email. She thought we might benefit from an exercise called “your personal mission statement.” At this point we were willing to try anything to relieve Matt’s “uneasiness.”
The exercise required a full hour of uninterrupted time. I didn’t really know what to expect. In all honesty, I was really just doing it so that Matt didn’t have to do it alone. Technically, this is meant to be an individual exercise but that’s not how we roll.
This is how it played out. . .
There are 5 steps to this exercise. You don’t go over it with your partner until the very end. You do you. . .that’s it!
Steps 1 was pretty easy. Just answer the question: What are your lifetime goals? Take 5-10 minutes and list whatever comes to mind.
What are your “5 year” goals? Unlike the other exercise, these are goals not values, but perhaps because we’d read that book, I found that my goals were all related to my values. Basically, describe how you would like to spend the next five years.
This is when shit gets real! “You will be dead in 6 months, but in that time still have full mental and physical function. List everything you would want to do.” Wait, what?!?! This step can be pretty emotional! Seriously, they should add a “box of tissues” to the “things you need before you start” list.
If you think about it, this actually happens to people. Just look at the Go Fund Me pages. Matt used to see it all the time in the ER. We felt very fortunate to be doing this exercise without the actual terminal illness, but for the first time we really considered the possibility that it could be around the corner.
Wipe your tears away and focus. Take your answers from steps 1-3 and make a shortlist of your most important goals.
Using your list of most important goals write a personal mission statement. If you have one primary goal your mission statement might be three words long. Tying in a few goals might require a little more complexity – but keep it as simple and concrete as possible.
Be prepared: this might be a powerful moment.
Just when you think this can’t get more emotional, looking at your mission statement and weighing it against your life . . . we then shared them with each other. (Actually the exercise says to leave it alone for a few days and then come back to it – but Matt and I are cheaters)
Several boxes of tissue and several hours later, we both agreed it was best thing we could have done (there is a link to the PDF at the bottom of this post).
The result: clarity
In our case, we realized that we ARE living the life we want to live. Our values have remained (mostly) at the forefront of our decision making over the years (often without realizing it). And although neither of us are through with this life, we both could die tomorrow feeling like we lived a good one. This exercise reminded us that hanging out with our four monkeys and learning together as a family IS the most important thing to both of us. Right now, the boys love being around us. Chances are, that will change some day. So, for now, we are going to enjoy this ride (whether it be on land or water) with each other.
This process also clarified things for Matt. He used to be the most productive person I have ever met. He was efficient and goal oriented and always had a project or three on the go. While traveling, he was really struggling with his lack of productivity. I, myself, quite enjoyed it! After this exercise, Matt realized that the completion of a hundred little projects is not the most important thing to him – his wife and kids are. More specifically, having rich shared experiences together is what he values most. Because of this exercise, Matt was finally able to let go of his need to constantly feel productive (go HERE to read about his thoughts a few months later). That’s a pretty big win in my books!
Don’t be like us. Be like you.
By no means is this a general recommendation to “sell all of your stuff and travel the world!” like we did. That might be the path for us right now but yours may look completely different. That is the beauty of these exercises. They force us to sit down and think about what is important to us, as individuals – not what society thinks, not what your parents want you to do, not what is expected of you. That is what values are. Values should guide our decisions.
Turn off the autopilot (even for an hour). Do the exercise. It may feel uncomfortable but I am pretty sure you won’t regret it!