Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008...9:11 pm

Living a Purposeful Life

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Mission Statement

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Karen Apricot New Orleans

Last summer I read Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. This book, like many that I have read in my life, was profoundly inspiring. After reading it I was determined to follow all of the great advice in it, but somehow in our overly busy world I have just not found the time.

One of the first tangible suggestions in this book is to create a series of mission statements: first one for yourself, and then one for every major relationship in your life. Examples would include a marriage mission statement and a family mission statement. ScrapperMom and I scribbled some notes down during our vacation last September, but I have no idea where that paper is.

Lately I have been thinking about the things that I value, and about how I seem to be running on the treadmill of life, but not sure that I’m making any progress. I remembered the idea about creating a mission statement. Such a statement should serve as a target for where I want to go. As Covey points out, pilots are off course for 90% of every flight, but because they have a clear endpoint in mind, and tools in the form of equipment and ground support to keep them pointing in the right direction, they almost always arrive where they set out to go.

I started thinking about what I would include in a personal mission statement, and the first (and so far only) thought that immediately popped into my head was:

Live a purposeful life: Make every action you take count towards getting you to where you want to go and who you want to be. You simply don’t have the time or the energy to waste on things that do not contribute to your goals.

This statement really begs the question: Where do I want to go and who do I want to be? This is a difficult question, and probably a large part of the reason that ScrapperMom and I did not follow through on completing our marriage and family mission statements. What I do know is this: The most important “things” in the world to me are the members of my family, both nuclear and extended. The second most important “things” to me are the friendships that I share. Happiness to me is having a get together with friends penciled in on my calendar for the end of the week. So at least I know who I want to be: a great partner with my wife, a great father to our daughter, and a great friend to all the rest.

How does this relate to personal finance? Well in thinking about the above, we all find that we’re a bit off course a lot of the time. We spend much of our time, energy, and money doing things we don’t necessarily enjoy: We get up and go to work, we pay taxes and insurance, we vacuum floors and mow lawns. Most of these actions are simply necessary, and there are few ways around them. But we have to always keep in mind why we’re doing these things. If it’s not something that contributes to our goals, we should ask ourselves why we are doing them. I work to provide food, shelter, entertainment, etc. for my family. I pay taxes and insurance to keep my family safe (and for other reasons). I mow the lawn so that my daughter has a place to play.

Here are a few examples of things that I’ve heard recently that reinforce the idea that we have to remember what we value and not forget to actually enjoy those things every now and then:

  • I was in New York City on business last week and had dinner with an old friend with whom I used to be very close, but who I had not seen in over 3 years. Said friend suggested that I would like the beer at a certain bar because it was cheap. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. “Well,” came the reply, “I figured that since you write about personal finance, you are always looking for ways to save money.” That may be true, but life’s too short to drink cheap beer.
  • J.D. at Get Rich Slowly wrote an article that concluded: “Remember: There’s nothing inherently wrong with purchasing things that bring you joy. But problems come when you finance these purchases with debt. If you’re meeting your other financial goals and have money left over, it’s good to indulge your interests and passions.”
  • About 6 months ago I started a personal finance discussion group with some of my friends (more on that later…). While trying to get a group of friends together, one friend told me: “I like this “good life” of expensive shoes and handbags, going out for pricey dinners and expensive drinks and don’t really want to think about things like retirement planning and emergency funds.” This particular friend and I had already discussed our philosophies about retirement planning, life and disability insurance, etc., so I knew that she was already in pretty good shape. It looked to me like she could afford to indulge on the things she liked, and I applauded her for that power.

So I have the first couple of lines of my personal mission statement down now. It’s time to try to fill it out with more of the specific things I value, then move on to the relationship mission statements as well.

I’d love to hear about some of the things that you value and how you act to support those values. Feel free to comment below.

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