I recently turned 50, and it felt like I was surrounded by successful people going through midlife crises. I was familiar with the expression, but I didn’t really understand what it means to have a mid-life crisis.  

I’m not talking about the I want a Porsche for my 50 th birthday kind of mid-life crisis. Rather, the deep angst that comes from realising that all the stuff they’ve accumulated isn’t really making them happy. The stuff that they’ve spent a lifetime of commitment and effort getting is actually the wrong stuff.

The Germans have a word for it Torschlusspanik, which means gate closing panic. It captures the feeling of running out of time to do what’s really important. Interesting to me that a nation not renowned for its emotionality has words for every conceivable human emotion!

What is different about those who experience said panic, and those who don’t? It seems to me that people who live true to their values don’t end up here.

It’s hard to imagine that someone could turn 50 and suddenly say "I’ve lived true to my values, but now I don’t like those values anymore, so I I’ll get divorced and start over.

Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew who is famous for making some tough decisions at Disney including the ousting of two CEOs) said, It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.

So what about these values is so intrinsic to a fulfilling life?

We all have a handful of values that define how we view the world and our place in it. Even if you can’t quite name them, they’re there. I’ll show you a few tools to help you discover yours. Your values aren’t necessarily a constant; they evolve over time. You’re not likely to see radical changes but the relative importance of each will grow and change with you.

Values are not New Year’s resolutions, goals or to-do lists.
Goals are about doing and having.
Values are about being.

You probably know what your values are, or what you value most in this life. This is about bringing them to your conscious mind.

Exercises to help you identify your core values

Set aside some quality time for this. Get into a quiet space with no interruptions. Depending on our personality type, you might find this more effective with a friend.

1. List the values that are important to you

Don’t obsess too much. Go with your gut and write it down. There are no silly answers. Be frank and most importantly don’t judge yourself, your answers or your partner.

The Centre for Ethical Leadership has identified a set of common values:

  • peace
  • love
  • fame
  • truth
  • status
  • integrity
  • success
  • wealth
  • influence
  • recognition
  • authenticity
  • justice
  • joy
  • friendship
  • wisdom
  • happiness
  • family
  • power

These are not meant to be complete. This list is just to inspire you and get the ball rolling on your other values. Some more popular values:

  • security
  • health
  • creativity
  • excitement
  • freedom
  • make a difference adventure
  • growth
  • spirituality
  • peace of mind
  • fulfillment
  • balance
  • fun
  • independence
  • confidence

2. Look for common themes

You will likely find common themes among the values you identify. Group or eliminate these. For example, you may have identified Adventure and Excitement. Are these different to you? If so, keep them both. If they both express the same core value, keep the one that best resonates, or find a word that expresses both.

3. Select the ones that resonate

Reduce your list to 5 or 6 values and rank them in order of importance. A few life scenarios to help you distil your list:

  • A time when life couldn’t be better. A day or time that you think of as the best moment of your life.
  • Think about your childhood. What do you remember?
  • Imagine your funeral. What would you like people to say about you? What would you say about you - if  you could give a farewell speech?
  • Why do you get out of bed in the morning. Why do you go to work? Why do you want to make money? Keep going until you hit on something with deep intrinsic meaning.
  • How you fill the space around you, how you spend your money, your time and your energy. What stands out as the most valuable to you -emotionally?
  • Times when you are the most focused, energised, ready for anything and organised.
  • What do you talk to yourself about? What themes, events, desires and concerns occupy your mind each day? What theme comes up often when you talk to others? These are clues into what you value.

Once you have completed this task, you should have a list of five values that are core to what makes you tick. Rank them in order of importance. This is a valuable insight into who you really are and should therefore form the basis of your major decision making.  (Minor decisions as well if you want true happiness).

Refer back to your list of personal core values each time you set new goals. Be amazed at how much more driven you are to achieving goals when they are underpinned by your own personal values.

Vince Scully

Life Sherpa®

With over 25 years in Financial Services from consulting to management, Vince Scully is the go-to guy for wealth management and financial advice. Before creating Life Sherpa®, Vince founded the Calliva Group; a fund manager, product issuer, adviser and lender. Vince is an adviser to the Wealth Management Industry, and prior to his role as CEO at Calliva, a senior member of Macquarie Bank’s infrastructure team.

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