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How to Define What You Want Out of Life


If I were to ask you what your goals are for your life, would you be able to answer? Or, would it evoke a sense of overwhelm or fear that you won’t be able to achieve or accomplish everything you want to in life? That you can’t or won’t do “enough.”

It’s a lot to think about. It’s a big world out there with lots of opportunities, but the point of setting goals isn’t to stretch yourself beyond your capabilities or out of your comfort zone. It’s simply to lay out all the things you want in life so you can consider a path to achieve them. 

When it comes to setting goals, it is essential first to understand our values. This helps you define and commit to your long-term goals, and in our case, long-term financial goals.  

Significant steps forward require big motivation, and without a clear vision of what is waiting for you on the other side, it can be challenging to move steadily forward. 

In this post, we will discuss values and goals, and focusing on how to define these in your life, so they help move you forward. 

Understanding Your Personal Values

Your values are things that are important to you. They are characteristics and behaviors that motivate and guide your decisions. In other words, they define your overall reason for being. Sounds corny, right? Okay, well maybe just a little. But, when your values come into question in everyday life or as a building block to move you forward in life, they don’t sound corny at all. 

Many years ago, when I began my career investing in the bond markets, there was no such thing as online trading. In fact, there was no such thing as being “online” at all! Instead, I was on the phone all day speaking to various bond brokers to assess their offerings, pricing, and to negotiate trades. All of this was done verbally and then followed up with verbal confirmations by our respective operations departments. (Verbal communications, what’s that?)

Believe it or not, the agreement to buy or sell a bond existed nowhere in writing, even though we were trading hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It became evident that my integrity was foremost in my ability to maintain these relationships and get the best investments for my clients. Furthermore, I realized I was well-suited for this position because my parents had instilled this value in me from an early age.

You see, our values are not things you choose to do or believe, necessarily; at least not in the short term. Your values may change as you grow, but typically by adulthood, our actual values are cemented as part of our core selves. That said, it’s not always easy to put our values into words. 

To get the ball rolling, here’s an exercise you can do to help define your values. Find a blank sheet of paper and write your answer to the following question at the bottom of the page, “What is important to you about money?” Now, whatever answer you gave, ask the same question but replace the word “money” with your answer. For example, if you answered, “it allows me to buy things,” then your second question would be, “what is important about buying things to you?” Write the answer to this question above your first answer and keep going until up the page until you’ve filled the entire page from bottom to top. When you get there, you’ll notice you’ve defined one of your values. 

Examples of these values could be family, religion, charity, children, etc. You can repeat this exercise providing a different answer to the original question, “what is important about money to you?” and see where that leads you. Most people end up defining about 2-4 values when doing this exercise. 

Defining Your Goals

Now that we have an idea about values, let’s take a look at goals. Goals are the tangible things we can achieve in our lives that come from our values. They may be long-term or short-term and range in importance from “must-haves” to “nice-to-haves.” 

One of my goals in working with clients is to have an open and honest relationship that leads to the best result for both of us. As a part of this, I do not require a pledge commitment in terms of time for our contracts. If either of us feels the relationship is not working, we can end it at any time with no penalty. I believe this encourages us both to seek value out of or time together.

Here are some tips when considering your goals: 

1. Set goals that are meaningful to you. 

  • Drop any notions of what other people want to expect of you and think only about what will make you feel happy and fulfilled. 
  • Make sure the goals you create are important enough to you that you will actually pursue them, in light of the effort to get there. 
  • Also remember, spouses and partners have different goals, and that’s okay! Understanding the goals of our loved ones and supporting them in their achievements is fulfilling too. 

2. Imagine the End Result

  • Sit with a particular goal in mind and silently image how it will feel to accomplish it. We are looking for goals that stir the passion within us, which allows us to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve them.
  • Once you’ve determined your goals, come back to this feeling when the going gets rough. Consider it a gut-check to see if these goals are still appropriate for you, or whether some adjustments should be made.

3. Identify Anything that Must Change in Order to Achieve Your Goals

  • Similar to what we discussed above when considering the effort required to get to your goals, we must also understand what behavior needs to change to make them possible.
  • Here, we are focusing only on our own behavior, understanding that, mostly, we cannot change others.
  • This helps our goals to remain realistic and achievable. Having goals with these attributes will bring congruency to your life as opposed to conflict.

Now, considering everything we just discussed above, what are the big expensive things you want to accomplish during the rest of your life? This could be early retirement, paying for your child’s college, wedding, or even first home. It could be taking a dream vacation when you retire or the freedom to take a sabbatical before returning to work. Think big but remain true to the values you came up with above. These goals should be well connected to who you truly are and how you want to live your life. Write them down alongside your values and see if they don’t immediately match up to the life you are working towards. 

If you were to achieve these goals while upholding the noted values, would that be a fulfilling financial life for you? If not, then what’s missing? 

Leave Room for Change

We call it financial “planning” for a reason. It is an ongoing process we use to adjust to everything life throws at us. That may include how we evolve as individuals. It’s quite possible that the goals you would have set 20 years ago are not the same as those you have today. And on top of that, the goals you have 5 or 10 years from now will not match the goals you wrote down today. 

News flash: That’s OKAY!

We work towards our long-term objectives knowing they can change from time to time. And the fact we have defined long-term is what makes us able to make progress today. Without these types of goals, it is difficult to exchange our spending today for their achievement in the future. After all, this is what financial planning is all about. 

Final Thoughts: Here’s the Good News

Creating your goals may actually be the toughest part of your financial planning process. Having goals that feed your personal values are much easier to achieve than co-opting someone else’s goals or, heaven forbid, going through life without goals at all. So, once you have your values and goals on paper, rejoice! Much of the heavy lifting is done. 

Now that you have a good handle on your own personal values and goals, you can more confidently make value judgments about where your money is going today and tomorrow.

Our next post will discuss how to get a handle on the resources you currently have so that they can be used to achieve your goals.

If you have any questions about this article, please email me at joe@jwmwealth.com and I will respond directly!