What is Valuable?

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 “When your Values are Clear to You, Making Decisions Becomes Easier”
– Roy Disney

Roy Disney was the co-founder of The Walt Disney Company along with his younger brother Walt, and is largely known as the force behind the company’s success.  While Walt was the creative genius, Roy was just as much a business genius, who made sure the company was financially successful.

His quote above is one of my very favorites, and serves as a constant reminder about the incredible power of personal values.  In my experience, personal values have tremendous power over human behavior, and I have observed that most people have an extremely strong ambition to enable their personal values in their lives.  Our values are like an invisible force which influence every action we take, goal we achieve, and decision we make.   When we have clarity about what is most important to us, the decisions and actions which influence our life’s trajectory become second nature, because they are guided by the compass of our personal values.

The Psychology of Our Values

Abraham Maslow, a noted psychology professor and author, developed a concept known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” which he used to explain human behavior.  In this framework, human beings are in a constant quest to fulfill our personal values, and to realize our full potential, reaching a level called “self-actualization,” the highest state of being according to Maslow. A self-actualized person lives in complete harmony with his or her values, and with the fullest level of functioning and achievement of potential. Such a person achieves great significance in life, by establishing meaningful relationships with the outside world.

According to Maslow, the journey to self-actualization is not easy, and other more fundamental levels of need must first be met before reaching this highest state of being. He created a “hierarchy of needs” to depict this progression of needs that humans can ascend as they pursue self-actualization.  The quest for self-actualization travels through all of the five specific levels shown here in Maslow’s hierarchy, and one cannot ascend to the next level until the needs listed in the lower level have been permanently satisfied.

Maslow’s groundbreaking work on human behavior has been further developed since the time of his death. Many have consolidated his “hierarchy” into three important levels:

The need for security. This level entails meeting our material needs, such as safety, shelter, food, health, and security of employment and resources.

The need for community and belonging. This level entails developing robust relationships and loving connections with the world, including family, friends, colleagues, business and social acquaintances. These needs are important to our feeling of esteem and self-worth.

The need for self -actualization.  Once we’ve achieved this level, a life of significance and meaning, fulfillment and personal transcendence is possible. Our lives become the highest expression of our values.

The “Values Conversation”

In today’s world, financial and material success are important ingredients in Maslow’s formula for the achievement of self-actualization.  Many people have great difficulty advancing beyond Maslow’s most basic level: the focus on Security.  No matter the level of net worth of the family, many families invest tremendous amounts of time, energy and effort into the pursuit of financial wealth, to the exclusion of everything else, and often end up sacrificing their time, energy, and even friends, family and health, in the pursuit of more money. This fear can become a blockade in the journey towards self-actualization, as the obsession with material possessions can cloud our vision of our larger values.

In my experience, the wealth planning process must begin with an understanding of, and a clarity about the family’s personal values, and their vision of “Self-Actualization”.   These values must be staked out as the cornerstone of a family’s long term financial and wealth plan, and must serve as the compass that directs their wealth planning decisions.

In our practice at Concentus Wealth Advisors, we use a tool called the “Values Conversation” to help explore and articulate the Values of client families.  The Values Conversation is a series of questions intended to allow clients to explore what is most important to them. The exercise is based upon the question:

“What’s important about Money – to you?”

After responding to this question, participants are then asked a similar question, based upon their response to the original question. For example, if the answer to the first question were “security”, the second question would be:

“What’s important about Security – to you?”

This same pattern of questioning continues, until the client participant has explored and identified their deepest and most important values, such as independence, pride, providing for family, accomplishment, achievement, balance, making a difference, fulfillment, spiritual attainment, inner peace, and self-worth.

We have conducted the Values Conversation hundreds of times, and with clients of all ages, wealth, and stations in life. We have found without exception that these conversations always follow a pattern, which is aligned around Maslow’s three levels of self-actualization:

  • Typically the conversation begins with some discussion about the importance of using money to achieve some material goals, such as retirement, educating future generations, buying assets such as a new vacation home, and the achievement of security and financial freedom.
  • As the conversation proceeds, client responses tend to evolve to more thoughtful discussions about doing for others and being with others. We often hear responses that it is important to provide for family, make a difference, have an impact on the community, and develop our social consciousness.
  • At some point in the exercise, participants make a significant emotional transition and begin to focus on the “higher self”. Responses begin to take on an expansive tone and become about large internal and emotional payoffs.  We hear that it is important for fulfillment of my destiny or purpose, becoming the best human being I can, spiritual fulfillment, being one with the Universe, total inner peace, nirvana, enlightenment, etc.

In our work with clients and the use of the Values Conversation, we have accumulated a great deal of experience that Maslow’s work is accurate in the real world, and that most people’s system of values are built upon a reflection of Maslow’s 3 levels of Self Actualization. In our work with clients, we have found very few exceptions to this pattern of values, or the fears that appear to stand in the way to fulfilling those values for most families.   Most clients share the need to achieve Security, Community and Belonging, as well as Significance and Fulfillment, and wish to overcome the obstacles which stand in their way.

A Values Based Financial Plan

Once the family’s Values are clarified, the process for setting long term financial goals becomes easy.  More importantly, the decisions and actions required to achieve those goals become much more clear, because they have the emotional force of your most important Values behind them.   Your Values provide the emotional “Why” which is the necessary force and motivation you need to do what it takes to achieve the tangible “What” you want from your plan –  your primary financial Goals.

There is great power to living life in alignment with one’s personal Values, with the confidence that all decisions and actions are in perfect harmony with what is most important to you.  The process for planning your financial future is no different, as a financial plan informed by your values is the perfect road map for creating the security you require to pursue self-actualization.

When your Values are clear, all of your decisions really are easy.

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About the Author:

Erik is one of the co-founders of Concentus Wealth Advisors and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the firm. With over 25 years of industry experience, Erik guides the firm’s overall strategy.

After graduating from Amherst College in 1991, Erik spent a year working with Rittenhouse Capital Management, before joining Gerald in 1992. Erik currently holds his general securities registrations and insurance licenses, as well as CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Chartered Financial Consultant designations.

In addition to his formal designations, Erik has appeared on CNBC’s Worldwide Exchange, Fox News’ America’s News HQ, Live Well’s Mary on Money, CN8’s Money Matters Today and The Real Estate Connection.

In 2012, Erik was one of thirteen advisors named to Main Line Today’s Top Financial Advisors list.

Erik lives in Bryn Mawr, PA with his wife and three children. He serves on the boards of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Salvation Army, Acting Without Boundaries (serving young people with disabilities) and The Holy Child School at Rosemont. In addition, he is on the financial advisory board of the Sisters of St. Francis in Media, PA.

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