The personal and community disruption and tragic losses arising from COVID-19 has transformed our lives. At the same time, physical distancing and self-isolation has led many to reflect on what is important, what they value. Making choices that are consistent with your values is the basis of a satisfying life in retirement as at any time. Let’s look at the place of values in our lives and how to use them for retirement planning, living in retirement.

Values in our lives

Most of us, most of the time, are oblivious to our values. They are the backdrop, not the show of our lives. Yet when we bring our values forward, we have a compass that guides our daily actions.

Values are your principles or standards of behaviour and reflect what is important in your life. You feel a sense of cohesion when you live in alignment with your values. Disappointment and discontent are inevitable when there is a weak link between what you value and what you do.

In retirement, when choices abound and there are fewer limits on how your time is spent, how will you know you are doing what is right for you? Clinical psychologist Sara Yogev points out that finding a balance “between the pressure to conform to values of one’s community and one’s authenticity” is a retirement challenge.1 Yogev, S. A couple’s guide to happy retirement and aging. 15 keys to long-lasting vitality and connection. Familius LLC, 2018

Here’s a personal example of what can happen when you are not dialled into your values. When I left paid work, I had the opportunity to go sailing, literally, around the world. With no plan for my post career life, this sounded amazing. I thrived on the steep learning curve to sail a big boat. At the same time, something was niggling away inside. At times I was lonely, bored, missing my family and much more. After four years living on a 37-foot sailboat I had enough and ditched the adventure.

What happened? In the sailing adventure post-mortem, I asked myself “What is important to me, personally?” Turns out learning and growing are high on my values list. No wonder I thrived during the intense learning phase! Contribution, however, is also up there in my values. And I was not able to live that value moving from anchorage to marina to anchorage. The sailing adventure turned from amazing possibility to disappointment and discontent. And the values required to sail away, regardless of how amazing the lifestyle may appear, were not consistent with an authentic me.

What difference would it have made if I was dialled into my values earlier in the sailing journey? I could have done what Designing Your Life authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans recommend, “If you can see the connections between who you are, what you believe, and what you are doing, you will know when you are on course, when there is tension, when there might need to be some careful compromises, and when you are in need of a major course correction.”2 Burnett, B and D. Evans Designing Your Life. How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Knopf, 2016

You will find a step-by-step guide to creating your values list at the end of this post.

Using your values

Knowing your values is not enough. Once you have a list of your values, test them out. Values should fit with how you live your life. How would I know you are living your values? Do these values support choices you would make, even if your choice was not popular?

Personal development blogger Steve Pavlina brings a fresh take to using your values. Whereas most literature on values suggests you set goals based on your values, he argues that you set your goals and then list the values you need to follow to gain the results you want.

There is a dynamic relationship between values and goals – some core values are immutable. These are global values like fairness and dignity versus values like courage and growth that can underpin who you want to be. In the second half of life psychologist James Hollis asks that we consider, “Do your values take you to a deeper life? Does a choice enlarge or diminish you?”3 Hollis, J. Living an examined life: Wisdom for the second half of the journey. Sounds True, Inc., 2018

In retirement, with your values in hand, you can reassure yourself that, “I won’t always know where I’m going – but I can always know whether I’m going in the right direction.”4 Burnett, B and D. Evans Designing Your Life. How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Knopf, 2016

Creating Your Values List

  1. Start with a values list. You can download a PDF of sample values here: Nextinlife values. You can also view this list of values below.
  2. From the words in this values list and/or using your own words, create a list of your values. “Curious” may work for some whereas “interested” may capture the concept better for someone else. This is not an easy process! For clues to what is important to you, think about times when you felt happy, proud, fulfilled and/or satisfied. What contributed to those feelings?
  3. There is no right number of values. Still, work on getting your list down to about ten. Use one word per value or lump similar values together.
  4. Then, order your values by priority. This is even harder than creating your values list! Having difficulty prioritizing? Compare two values to one another. If you could only pick one of them, which would stay? That one has a higher priority. Visualizing a situation in which you would have to make that choice may help.

Your list of prioritized values is your internal compass. As you change and grow, that compass can and will change over time. Refresh your values list regularly.

Values List

Accountability
Achievement/accomplishment
Activity/work
Adaptability/flexibility
Adventure
Aesthetics/beauty
Affluence
Altruism/charity/service
Autonomy/independence
Awe/wonder
Balance
Belonging/community
Calmness/serenity
Caring/nurturing
Certainty
Challenge
Change
Collaboration
Comfort
Commitment
Communication
Compassion
Competence
Confidence
Contribution
Cooperation
Courage
Creativity
Curiosity/inquisitiveness
Decisiveness
Dependability/reliability
Determination
Dignity
Discipline
Duty
Efficiency
Empathy
Empowerment
Endurance
Environment
Equality
Ethics
Excellence
Exploration
Fairness/justice
Faith
Family/tradition
Financial security
Fitness/vitality/health
Flow
Freedom
Frugality/prudence
Fun/laughter/play/humour
Generosity
Gratitude
Growth
Mentoring/teaching
Happiness
Harmony/peace/unity
Helping
Honesty/truth
Humility
Impact
Inclusivity
Innovation
Integrity
Intimacy
Involvement
Intellectual engagement
Kindness
Knowledge/wisdom
Leadership
Learning/education
Leisure/relaxation
Love
Loyalty
Making a difference
Mastery/excellence
Mindfulness
Nature
Openness
Optimism
Order
Uniqueness
Perseverance
Personal growth
Power
Pragmatism
Productivity
Quality
Reason
Reflection
Resilience
Respect
Solving problems
Spirituality/transcendence
Spontaneity
Stability
Thoughtfulness
Usefulness

References

1 Yogev, S. A couple’s guide to happy retirement and aging. 15 keys to long-lasting vitality and connection. Familius LLC, 2018
2, 4 Burnett, B and D. Evans Designing Your Life. How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Knopf, 2016
3 Hollis, J. Living an examined life: Wisdom for the second half of the journey. Sounds True, Inc., 2018

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