Finding The Center

Not only do I work full time, but I’m also a small-scale entrepreneur, as I maintain this blog and also do some limited computer consulting. This leads to an almost constant struggle in my life between the opposing needs of maintaining my job and nurturing my businesses versus spending time with my family. Finding and maintaining a careful balance is really the central aspect of my life – how do I maintain all of the things that I want to or need to do? Even more importantly, how do I know what’s the right thing to be doing with my life?

Figuring out what your central values are For some people, their family is their central value; for others, it is their career or their hobbies. There’s really no right or wrong answer (provided, of course, that your choices don’t hurt others) – just different ones for different people.

It took me a long time to realize that the most important thing in my life was my family because there are a lot of things I’m passionate about. This blog, for instance, stirs my passions greatly – it gives me a channel to write and actually achieve a satisfying degree of success at it, plus it gives me the opportunity to really study personal finance and deeply understand how to manage my money. I spent years often absorbed by one particular passion after another.

When I finally found that one central thing, many aspects of my life began to become clear. I discarded a lot of various hobbies and other responsibilities in my life and began to really focus in on the things most important to me, my wife and my children. If you feel like you’re wandering through life, you probably are – you haven’t found that one central thing yet, the thing that wakes you up in the morning and adds constant value to your life. Keep searching – it’s out there somewhere.

Look for things that are all in alignment with that central value. Basically everything in my life, aside perhaps from playing a game or two on my Wii, is in some way directly related to my family. I work a full time job to support my family, and I blog (and enjoy some income from it) to support them as well. I largely focus on reading things that develop me as a person in some fashion, usually teaching me something new or teaching me how to do something. I set aside large blocks of uninterrupted time so that I can just spend it with my family without any interruption. Even when I go do something fun, I do it knowing that I’m largely doing it to unwind from day-to-day tensions so that I’ll be happier around my family.

This spills over into all sorts of rudimentary choices. What kind of orange juice do I buy at the grocery store? What do I do immediately when I walk out of work? What magazines do I read? Who do I hang out with?

Experiment until you find that right balance. Given that my family is central, I schedule several large, empty blocks of time to just spend with them each week – this is the foundation of my week, but the pieces are somewhat flexible. The pieces that aren’t are the hours I work at my real job, so each weekday I usually schedule a block in the evenings to spend just with my family. I’ll spend it doing home maintenance tasks with my son in tow, even if I know I won’t be highly productive, or I’ll play with him and his mother in the living room. We all eat supper together every evening. This is the center of my life.

After that, I fill in spaces with activities that make that time as rich as possible. I work on this site so I can make sure I’m making good financial moves to support all of this, including this new house, and also to make a bit of income. I read to learn new things about life, to teach my son or to improve myself. My remaining hobbies mostly serve to unwind me after a stressful day or a long writing session – when I get this done, for instance, I’ll probably go play a Wii game.

Again, there is no right balance. What I find is that if I err one way or another, I err towards spending more time with my family. I write in my office, but most of the time I leave the door open and allow myself to be interrupted by my son or my wife so they can interrupt me if they need or want me. Most of my leisure activities are done with them in tow or when they’re both asleep (they both take long naps in the afternoon, while if I take any nap, it’s a short half-hour power nap).

What does this have to do with money? The same exact idea applies to money. Once you find that central thing in your life, whether it’s your family or whatever it is, you’ll find yourself wanting to ensure the safety and security of that one thing above all. Suddenly, frivolous things seem less important and money begins to flow towards the most important things. For me, that means debt repayment and investing for the future so that if disaster strikes, everything will be okay.

Spend some time this week thinking about what’s really central in your life. What truly fulfills you the most? There’s no right or wrong answer, just your own answer. Then think about how your daily financial decisions help that center (if you found one, that is – it’s okay if you haven’t found that center yet). The best way to start? Think about what you think about. What general topic comes to mind the most for you right now? What about after that? Find the first one that makes you feel good inside, and you’re probably getting close.

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  1. Driscoll says:

    “Keep searching – it’s out there somewhere.”

    ___________

    How do you know this is true ?

    Perhaps some (or even most) people are destined to wander thru life. Why would your perceptions of your life hold true for everyone/anyone else ?

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    If you never find your true north, that doesn’t mean that it does not exist. And even if a true north doesn’t exist for you, searching for it shows you many, many things about yourself.

  3. laura k says:

    You say “Look for things that are all in alignment with that central value” and talk about discarding things that are not. Sometimes this means people as well. Even if they are nice/interesting/fun/add something to your life, sometimes they can block you from being who you really want to be. You’ve discussed this before, but it hit home with me most strongly in this post.

  4. Brett says:

    Perhaps a better title for your article would be “CREATING Your Center”. Maybe Driscoll has a point – if we are searching, maybe we’ll wander all our lives and never find “IT” (doesn’t seem like fun to me). Instead of searching, how about deciding and pursuing? I can guarantee that your center is out there because your center is whatever you choose for it to be. Decide what will be important in your life and go after it. Once you get there, you may find out that your pursuit doesn’t really create your ideal “center” – if so, just move on. At least you’re always headed towards a goal, as opposed to just searching (or wandering). I am of the opinion that this type of focused life leads to real happiness.

    My central values have changed as I progress through life, but I’ve always HAD a central value. When I was 6 my centeral value was probably candy. When I was 16 it was girls. Now, like Trent, it’s family, financial security and career. At each stage, I determined what was importatnt to me and I went after it. Searching is fine, but I think there has to be a “center” there while you search. If and when you find a better central value … go for it.

    For most people, I think the center is there whether we acknowledge it or not. Look at where you spend your time and energy, and you’re looking at your central value. If you don’t like it, DECIDE to change.

  5. vh says:

    Interesting. In response to Trent’s “think about what you think about,” I made a little list of the things I think about almost every day and found that a large preponderance of my attention is focussed on the small dissatisfactions of everyday life… Lordie! No wonder I feel a certain angst.

    So I made a list of all the things I like. Then, in a truly idle moment, I decided to give each of these items a value: 5 if it occurs daily; 2 if around once or twice a week; 1 if less often than once a week. In a table, I set the things I hate in the left column and the things I like in the right column, and then added up these values. Lo! “Annoyances” score 65; “Pleasures” score 44.

    Yes: DECIDE to change is right on. Here’s what I’m going to do to jack up the “Pleasure” rating and crank down the “Annoyances”:

    1. ADD things to life that are pleasurable!
    Find new friends
    Hang out more w/ existing friends
    Do more artwork or crafts
    Cook better food or go out to eat with friends
    Start a blog
    Budget time to draw, write, and read books

    2. SUBTRACT things that are unpleasurable.
    Change attitude about job! The “I hate ASU” campaign has got to stop.
    Hire someone to clean house
    Ignore annoying neighbors (Hell’s Angel; Master Slob)
    In retirement (only 3 more years!), move someplace cooler
    And move someplace that is not adjacent to crime-ridden areas and freeways; do not move in across the street from a guy who maintains a used car lot & marina in a weed arboretum.
    During the summer, go on vacation someplace cooler

    Thanks, Trent…your post led to a nice moment of insight.

  6. dano says:

    Trent-
    Love the post. Read the site daily. Thank you. Although, I am not sure whether or not each of has a true center, I really enjoyed your “think about what you think about” statement. As I continue to search for my center I will keep this in mind. Keep up the good work…and know you are making an impact on others’ “centers” as well.

  7. Ericka says:

    “If you feel like you’re wandering through life, you probably are – you haven’t found that one central thing yet, the thing that wakes you up in the morning and adds constant value to your life. Keep searching – it’s out there somewhere.”

    You’ve just described EXACTLY how I feel… wandering. I have a few things that are central themes in my life, but none really drive me. Can’t wait to figure out what that *thing* is!

    It’s articles like this that keep me coming back to The Simple Dollar! Thanks for your great site and helping me get my own finances in order.

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