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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Pihl

Money and Values (and Tesla)

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

One of my goals is to help people make financial decisions that increase their happiness and satisfaction in life. At times, this can almost resemble therapy, as I help clients gain greater alignment with their personal values. But I've also noticed that it can be difficult to ascertain what our values really are, and why we really do the things we do. How can we know if we're living out our values?

I recently talked this through with a friend who bought a Tesla. In particular, he expressed some ambivalence about how it felt driving this car around town. On one hand, he loves how it drives, love not paying for gas, and love the sense of comfort the car provides. Through this lens, his purchase represents a positive set of values, like environmentalism, appreciation for fine engineering and design, and fiscal practicality.

But he also shared that there's a voice which worries, "what matters isn't so much being an all these things, but being seen as such." It irks him that other people might see his Tesla as a misallocation of resources, a car payment that should have been put into savings. In other words, he's worried about being judged according to other people's values.

How worried should he be?

I think that as long as he is confident about his own reasons for why he bought the car, why it's not a stupid purchase, and why it's a good expression of his values, he shouldn't worry at all.

But that's easier said than done, though, right? Our values, as important as they are, aren't exclusively our values. We're influenced by our upbringings, our friends, and our community. It's hard to know where that influence ends and our own values begin. Worse, that boundary is blurry and constantly changing.

There are no clear cut answers to this tension because there is no objectively right answer. All we're left with is whether we think we did the right thing. The most important validation for our decisions comes from within our own minds. We're writing our own report cards.

I wanted to share an exercise that I've found helpful for evaluating and validating my own decisions (credit to my coach/counselor Steve Sutton for sharing this with me). I hope you find it helpful.

  1. First ask yourself, "what are you going to do?" (or 'what did you do', if examining a past decision). This should be one sentence, simple and factual.

  2. Next, ask, "why am I going to do that? (or 'why did I do that?'). This is where you delve into your own motivations and expectations for the situation.

  3. Then ask, "is my answer consistent with who I want to be?" If it is, great! Full steam ahead! If not, get to work.

  4. Evaluate. How do you feel about your actions and motivations? Is there anything you wish you'd have done instead? Is there something that would have aligned more closely with your values?

My hope is that this helps you develop a better sense of awareness when it comes to your decisions, financial and otherwise. From that awareness, hopefully you can cultivate actions that align better with who you want to be, and what you can feel proud of doing. And from that, I hope you can find satisfaction and contentment. Best of luck, I know it's hard to do. But it's worth it.

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