Values: Your Compass for Life

A lot of people live life by default. They just take things as they come, often assuming they do not have any control over what happens anyway. Unfortunately, many of them will one day look back and regret some missed opportunities.

Ponder this for a minute: Whatever you choose in life, you are not only making decisions for yourself, but for the generations that follow you and the people you impact along the way.  One of my favorite quotes is:  An inheritance is what you leave for your loved ones.  A legacy is what you leave in your loved ones. 

As important as this is, it’s not always easy to pinpoint what’s most important to you.  Here’s an exercise to help:  Picture 10, 20, 50 years down the road, and you slip quietly into the back row of a funeral.  As you listen to the people sharing memories about the “dearly departed” you discover that they are talking about… you!

If you could eavesdrop on your own memorial, wouldn’t you be gratified to hear comments like these?

“I never heard her say anything mean or critical.”
“I knew he was as good as his word.”
“Our children loved her because she took time with them.”
“He was always there to help if you needed something.”
“She faced challenges with courage and optimism.”
“You always knew where he stood.  He was true to his convictions.”

Return now to the present and consider what kinds of comments you’d want to hear about yourself from your family, friends, co-workers and associates.  When you give this serious thought, you will begin tapping into some of the deep, fundamental values that direct your life today.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s habit #2 is “Begin with the End in Mind”.  This encourages you to picture the end of your life so that everything you do today, tomorrow, next week or next month can be examined in the context of the whole scope of what really matters most to you.

Regardless of your family’s history or your personal past, the future of your family begins with you, and with your guidance and example you can instill in your children the values that will help them become caring, responsible adults who will, in turn, pass that legacy into the next generation.

While most of us agree that instilling character and ethics into our children is a high priority, a survey sponsored by the National Commission on Children, reported that adults (both parents and non-parents) expressed the opinion that important values are not being emphasized in today’s families.

One factor is that many families are living farther apart, so children may be less influenced by parents and grandparents.  Instead, there is more and more exposure to media – movies, television, music, blogs, and websites – and young people often identify with – and get their values from – their virtual “community”.

From what I’ve heard and seen, that “value” system includes:

•    Don’t wait, get it now – instant gratification
•    Don’t suffer – pain is bad, pleasure is good, even mild discomfort is intolerable
•    You deserve it – you are entitled to it
•    If it feels good do it
•    It’s every man or woman for themselves
•    Disappointment is a bad thing and you shouldn’t have to experience it

If you are planning to pass anything of material value down to your children and grandchildren, this shallow value system may worry you, because another study found that an estimated 77% of inherited money – often the result of a lifetime of work, frugality and sacrifice – is lost by family members within three years.  Giving your family a compass for life can help you avoid this concern.

Of course you can’t intentionally pass something on if you don’t have it – or if you have it and don’t clarify and communicate it.  Here’s a short list to get you started clarifying what you, personally, value most.

•    Individuality: Being confident about yourself
•    Integrity and Responsibility: Doing the right things for the right reasons
•    Compassion: Helping others
•    Respect: Accepting other people’s differences
•    Honesty: Being truthful to others and to yourself
•    Courage: Willingness to try new things and take risks
•    Generosity: Sharing and giving to others
•    Faith: Trusting Someone or something bigger than yourself
•    Contribution: Striving to make a difference in our world
•    Education: Nurturing a love of learning and pursuing wisdom

I’m sure you can think of other things you value and that you would like to see growing in your children or others you influence each day.  Make your own list and review it from time to time to remind you to focus on first things first.

Today is a great day to make an investment in your legacy.  Lead by example, using the compass of values to set your direction.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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