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We live in a world dominated by bottom lines and value propositions. We make decisions based on the perceived value derived. The greater the perceived value, the more likely this influences our decision. We buy stocks that we believe will provide the greatest return on investment, thereby increasing the value of a retirement account or investment. We buy a car based on how well it fits our perceived value of transportation, whether it be image, status, fuel economy, reliability, or a combination of these. The car that best meets these requirements offers us the best perceived value, which then drives our decision. So what about the value of personal growth? Why should I invest in myself? This was prompted by a recent question, “If I only have so much time available, why should I invest in my personal growth? In other words, what is the value of personal growth?”

I love these questions since they challenge me. At first I wanted to shake my head, asking myself, is he really serious? Instead I took a deep breath and briefly reflected on his question, only to realize that this was an excellent question. So how could I respond??? Here is how it went:

  1. I began by stating that everyone is struggling today to determine where to spend what time they have available. We live in a fast paced world where time is a precious commodity and there are significant opportunity costs (the costs associated with making a particular decision, e.g. I can spend this time furthering my education, investing in real estate, etc.) to our choices.
  2. Understanding this, I suggested that he examine what is most important to him, since this would drive his decision. I asked him a question, “So, when you think of your life, what is most important to you at this time?”
  3. I then offered a method to help him address this question. He was glad to learn that there was a structured approach. I handed him a blank piece of paper. I asked him to draw a vertical line up the left side of a piece of paper. This was labelled as “Age.” At the lower left end of this line I asked him to put a zero “0”. This represented when he was born. Then I asked him to place a number on the top of the line for the age he guessed he would be when he died. Many appropriately question this step, saying how do they know. I suggested that they go with their best estimate at this point. (The real value of this is helping us to recognize our mortality, which has a significant impact on our psyche). Sensing some discomfort, as most would have, I decided to continue on. The next step was to place a hash mark on this line representing how old he is now. It was about 3/4 of the way up his line (e.g. closer to when he would die than when he was born). I asked him to list some key accomplishments in his life from age 0 to today. Accomplishments that he was most proud of. Making some good progress here, I then asked him what he wanted to accomplish before he died, and to jot these down as well. I conveniently stated I had to go to the restroom realizing that this activity would require some reflection. (Note: by this time it was apparent that he was intrigued, otherwise I would have probably stated I had to leave, increasing my own value equation to work with those who are more receptive).
  4. Time for another bullet, even though it is the continuation of # 3 above. After a few minutes I returned to check in. His response summed it up when he said, “That made me think.” “Great”, I said, “that is the intention of this exercise. To help you determine what is most important and where to invest your time. It is often not until we confront our mortality that we can give meaning to our life, just as Scrooge did in the Christmas Carol.” The conversation was different now, it was personal, and about him reflecting on what was most important. I concluded our discussion stating that all I wanted to do is to provide a method for him to reflect on his question, which was to understand and question what he valued.

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It was excercises like this one, along with experiences such as volunteering in hospice and with a children’s oncology camp that reshaped my perspective on what was important. My life’s value equation changed considerably, placing increased value on becoming a better person, my full potential, etc. which replaced former items such as success, money, etc. The value is in the struggle! I have come to the conclusion that I had a lot more to accomplish in this life, and unless I changed, I would only be living the definition of insanity, doing the same things and expecting different results!