Put down that pencil! Before you go and solidify your goals for the new year by writing them down, take a minute to think about what you really want.
Goals may only theoretically reflect things that are important to us. I say “theoretically” because when we take more time for further introspection, we may find that our goals don’t actually line up with what we consider to be our core values. So that begs the question–what are your core values?
Most people can give a fairly accurate high-level description of their core values, but unless they’ve taken time to do some thorough reflection at a more granular level, the details might be hazy.
This became more apparent to me when my wife cornered me on our 10-hour drive back from Washington DC last week. I was driving, and she was sitting next to me reading when all of the sudden she said “Hey, I want to do an exercise together.”
The internal alarms started sounding. I looked around, but there was nowhere to run. I tried to change the subject, but eventually she came back to it. “Let’s do this exercise,” she said. I reluctantly agreed as I sank down into my seat to await a potentially painful discussion.
She went on to explain to me the “Solar System Technique” described in the book Getting Out From Under. Before our trip, she had grabbed it from the library. I don’t know that it was a bestseller or anything (you can get it for 1 cent on Amazon), but I did find it to be insightful.
The Solar System Technique
Okay, this is more astronomy that I am accustomed to, but bear with me. The Solar System Technique is an exercise intended to bring to the surface what really matters to you, and then to break those values down into specific goals to help align your real life and your ideal life.
The planets of the solar system and their proximity to the sun help to form a visual of what means the most—and the least—to you in your life.
You are the sun and center of your universe. The planets that revolve around you represent your values and the principles by which you live (or want to live).
The Sun: The white-hot core
This is an area of blazing importance. Everyone has at least one or two things that are so important and central to who we are, that they belong within the sun itself.
Orbit 1: Of red-hot importance
This orbit includes the hot planets Mercury and Venus. This is an area for things of burning importance that belong not in but close to the sun.
Orbit 2: Of very warm importance
Here you’ve got Mars and Earth. This represents the day-to-day things you enjoy but wouldn’t necessarily miss.
Orbit 3: Chilly or irritating
Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus are in the negative area. These are things we do not like.
Orbit 4: Cold and detestable
This area basically consists of things we hate. Lest I confuse any young minds with the picture above, I should note that the book was written before 2006 when Pluto got demoted from his planet status. He had a good run.
The Solar System technique consists of creating a snapshot of your present life and then identifying your ideal life. You do this by placing things in your life in your solar system according to their importance.
That’s the general idea of the technique.
Discovering my core values
So Amanda proceeded to read me statements from 9 different categories, and I told her where to place them on my solar system.
The categories included
When I was done, she helped me to validate my placement by force-ranking a few of the items. For example, in my core I had both “being engaged in my work” and “making enough money to do what I want.” She asked if “being engaged in my work” was just as important to me as “making enough money to do what I want.” I said no, so we removed that item from my sun.
When we finished, my core values ended up encompassing only 3 of the 9 categories: family, financial, and spiritual. That led me to really think about if my actions on a daily basis reflect those core value areas.
One helpful aspect of the exercise is that we sometimes discover that we have conflicting values. An extreme example of conflicting values would be that you want to work more but also want to spend more time with your kids. That would be an opportunity to further explore if those things were truly of equal importance. If you determined they were equal, you’d know that you have some thinking to do about how to handle that.
Am I having a not-quite-midlife crisis?
I don’t know what it has been about being in my 33rd year, but I have thought a whole lot more than ever before about what it is I want out of life. (I think I’m like 10 years late on this.)
Amanda was successful in causing me to even further contemplate what it is that I really want after already having started that process as a result of some recent experiences.
Trip to central america
33% increase of children
In a few more months, Amanda and I will be even more outnumbered with the arrival of baby #4. Having kids has implications in every one of the 9 categories I mentioned above. It’s strange to think that we are heading back to diapers after a few years of being free from them.
Choices my friends are making
I have a good friend in my area who is leaving to pursue other work opportunities. Every time anyone leaves my company or the area, let alone my close friends, it really causes me to reassess if there is something else I should be doing with my life. He is heading toward more money and more opportunity to have a big impact at work. It leaves me wondering if I should do the same.
I was able to contrast that with another good friend I visited while on our recent trip. He works as an attorney for one of the government departments. While he may not be making what he might in the private sector, the security and flexibility of his job more than make up for that in his eyes. He is home in time to cook dinner for his family most of the time, and they are making it work for them in an expensive area.
My visit with friend #2 really helped balance out my internal conflict prompted by the departure of friend #1.
Now, I don’t believe big money and family time are mutually exclusive. Those two things are still definitely part of my master plan, and it will require smart planning and execution. It was just good to glean some perspective to help me feel better about where I’m currently at.
In my sun’s core are family and having money to do what I want. I don’t believe you have to give up one to have the other, but many people still find themselves giving up one or the other.
But what if I did give up the pursuit of more money in order to maintain my current state of flexibility and family time. Would it be so bad?
Let’s see. If I held my salary constant and continued to set aside 15% of my income to retirement, I’d have over 2 million dollars in 30 years (at a 6.5% rate). Is that so bad? (That’s just a simple calculation, by the way. You can do it in a spreadsheet or with this simple calculator.)
I’m still in the process of figuring out what the balance should be. It’s not very reassuring that my dad who just retired still says he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. But that’s life I guess.
Good luck making plans for a successful new year!
Do you feel like you really know what your core values are? Does where you spend your time align with your core values? Do you feel like there is a trade off between money & family in your life?