Updated on 01.14.08

Changing Values, Changing Priorities

Trent Hamm

Over the course of one’s life, there are a number of events that occur that change one’s value structure significantly. Marriage can be one. Having children almost always is one. Figuring out financial independence is often one.

These events often alter our day-to-day life and our overall life plans. For example, financial independence has removed many of the consumer-oriented stops I would make on a regular basis and also left me feeling much better over the long haul about my money.

This observation leads me to a recent comment by Writer’s Coin on a post about money and stress:

’m curious about this line: “Without [my wife and children], I would have likely made the leap to being a full time writer by now – in fact, I’d probably be living in a different part of the United States.”

How does your wife feel about that statement?

My wife knows and understands that statement because she knows it’s a reflection of the difference in priorities in my life due to her and that of my children. I love my wife and children very much. They are the backbone of my life right now, and few things bring me more fundamental joy than spending time with them.

However, if they were not a part of my life, I do know I would make some significantly different life choices. I would likely be living in another state, I would likely be living alone, and I would likely be shooting for a career as a writer.

Why am I not following that dream right now? It’s a matter of priorities. My dreams right now involve growing old in a financially secure situation with my wife. It involves having a stable home for my children to grow up in without any real worries about security, and ensuring that I can help them get a good financial start in life.

To me, these priorities are more important than living out a Walden-like dream about writing. Maybe I’ll get a chance to try it if the right opportunity comes along that provides the stability I need to follow it, but Walden isn’t a top priority for my life right now.

What’s the point? The point is knowing what your current priorities are and separating them from dreams or priorities from other times in your life keeps you from making poor financial and personal choices. If you realize that your child is your priority, it’s a lot easier to not make an overly risky career move than if you view some definition of success as your priority. It’s just a matter of reflecting on yourself – and your current situation – to distinguish between the two.

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  1. Kay says:

    Yep, yep, and yep. I’ve done the same thing, postponing my individual dreams to spend a few years focusing on family. It doesn’t always feel so rewarding: a few years ago before I got married, I was on my way to making a living as a writer, with one book published and good readership for a daily column. Over the weekend, I discovered that one of my former colleagues had written something absolutely brilliant and very successful. My immediate feeling was delight for her, but that was followed quickly by an intense wave of self-pity. “That could have been ME! Instead, I’m a suburban housewife.”

    I pouted for a while and then I got over it. My life now is terrific. My husband understands that one of my dreams has been put on hold; he’s appreciative of everything I do for the family and supportive of me working more writing time into my schedule. I’m no martyr, I can still feel a ping of regret now and then, but I wouldn’t trade my family, home, and current lifestyle for anything.

  2. I think that the reason so many people identify with and appreciate your blog (at least I do) is that you are not afraid to speak what you truly feel and separate yourself from politically correct, “appropriate” feelings when it comes to money and career issues.

    I say keep it going and I totally understand your comment. I guess sometimes it’s hard to totally eliminate the PC voices in my head.

  3. SJean says:

    very very interesting, especially as a young unmarried person in the process of leaving Iowa. It’s a great state for families, but it isn’t working out for me. :)

    I think that is one thing that is exciting about being 18 and graduating high school–life is full of limitless possibility. But as you get older, you have to start making choices, and certain things escape your reach. It’s not bad, it is just growing up and choosing one thing over another…

  4. Amy says:

    I think those are very fair statements and I know that my life would be incredibly different if I had not met my husband or we had children. While I had big dreams for myself, I am living a different kind of dream right now and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I do think that when the children get older, there are things in my life that I would like to resume doing (being involved in theater is something that comes to mind), but don’t feel like that needs to be a priority at this point.

  5. partgypsy says:

    Yep. Before children I used to write alot and self-published, but after having children, those activities are on (hopefully not permanent) backburner. Some days I’m frustrated, but other times I think how lucky I was to have had 10 kid free years of my life to devote to those activities, and after that also the chance to have a family. You can do everything, just not at the same time ; )

  6. I understand where you’re coming from. Anyone’s life would be different had they made different choices. That doesn’t mean you regret your current situation or that you secretly wish to abandon it.

    You have your priorities straight. (But you didn’t need ME to tell you that!)

  7. That is really perfect. I was just speaking with one of my affiliates the other day about how I got into the online world.

    My answer was almost exactly what you said. It was a priority change in my life. I was working in a position that was great as far as income goes but i was also in that position about 11 or 12 hours a day.

    Needless to say, about 2 months before my daughter was born…daddy had to make a change.

    I still think about how much i would have missed if i was at work the entire time she is awake in the course of a day.

    thanks for this post, really

  8. Cat-Daddy says:

    Yeah. And I think when people think “writer” or other less common careers, they tend to fall back on stereotypes. The starving writer living out in Walden is one, so the peanut gallery bases their advice on that image: “If you were young & had no kids…”

    But that doesn’t mean there aren’t writers who lived normal lives. Hugely influential poet Wallace Stevens was a lawyer who wrote on weekends, for pity’s sake. James Merrill’s dad founded some company ;) but those stories aren’t as good as Thoreau eating bugs in the woods, so nobody tells them. Trent’s writerly path is perfectly fine, and his honesty in the homeplace to be commended.

    Walden tangent: this is cool.

  9. H-Bomb says:

    There is also that chance that if you had not started a family that you might still be on the exessive spending path.

  10. This actually reminds me of the scene in the movie Knocked Up where the husband is saying that, once you have kids, you can’t do things like randomly move to India if you want to.

    His wife gets on him about it, “You want to go to India? Go to India!”

    It’s not that we want to go to India, it’s just that it isn’t an option anymore. It was a very insightful scene.

  11. Frugal Dad says:

    At one point in my life I wanted to go back to school and then on to medical school. However, I realized that with a wife and kids that would be tough on family (financially, emotionally, etc.). I did go back to school, but studied computers/business and am now working in that field. Medicine still interests me, but I realize that I’ll never be a doctor. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll work in IT in the medical field. Sometimes your dreams change over time, but they aren’t completely forgotten.

    Trent has done a wonderful job of playing out his passion for writing here, and has done it quite well! Like me, his primary job provides financial security, while his blog provides a creative outlet in something he is passionate about.

  12. K.J. says:

    let me be clear: i really enjoy _walden_.

    that being said, thoreau spent most of his time wheedling dinner invites out of the folks in town, anyway. :-)

  13. Trent, right on.

    I am glad that you are willing to share your insights with the world. It think is is prefectly legitimate to question and think about what if I hadn’t gotten married and started a family. Just because someone does that doesn’t mean they enjoy their family any less or regret the decisions. A strong marriage and children are amazing, and amazing things come with ‘price tags’ so to speak. You just need be willing to sacrifice the ‘price tags’ upfront or you will end up feeling like you are trapped.

    I know for me, my life wouldn’t look anything like it does now if I didn’t get married. I can honestly say that getting married and having children has helped me achieve more and grow as a person in ways that I really doubt would have happened as a single person. This includes finances and job!

  14. Tasha says:

    I have yet to give birth in 3 weeks but the preparation for the baby’s arrival has given me an idea of the financial changes we are about to face. I’m embracing this change and will embrace some more once he’s out in this world! :)

  15. Dan S. says:

    My wife and I have decided to have kids. In doing so I’ve realized that I will have to give up my dreams of being in business for myself and/or switching careers. It sucks to think I’ll be in lockdown for the next 20 years at my job. I’ve realized that I’m stuck. That’s life I guess, you can’t have it all.

  16. Mrs. Micah says:

    It’s pretty natural to have a lot of different dreams. Healthy too. The key is to appropriately commit to the dream you’ve decided to follow.

  17. Mrs. Micah says:

    KJ, his sister also did his laundry. Yeah…

  18. Sandy says:

    Dan, once you have your little blessings (kids) you may not consider life in lockdown, as you say…they may unlock an entire new part of you that you never knew!
    I once read somewhere about this topic…I think it was in relation to “having it all”. It said something to the effect of: you CAN have it all…just not all at once!
    Life is how you choose to look at it! So Smile and embrace wherever you are on the journey!

  19. tubaman-z says:

    About 6 months before our daughter was born (now 13 years old), my wife (then a software engineer at a large corporation) told me that she wanted to stay home full-time after the baby was born. That had NOT been the plan – at least in my mind. In the end we compromised and she tried working 1/2 time – which ended up being about 32 hours a week, mostly 10 PM-3 AM sort of hours. After about 3 months of this we decided it wasn’t worth it and she switched to stay-at-home mom. Fortunately we had spent the 6 months before the birth getting our finances in order to live on just my income. We’ve stayed with that model for 13 years now and all love it. Outside of our home my wife is able to volunteer with the Red Cross, our church, and in our community. We’ve talked about her going back to work – in my view I want that to always be her choice. Our daughter (only child) will only be with us about another 5 years. My wife’s influence on her is critical – and I see very open communication between the two of them which I believe is just because of my wife’s availability.

    Trent’s absolutely right on. Our priorities change when spouses and children are involved. My dream is to be a pro tuba player. I’ve made a whopping $200 playing – can’t support my family on that.

  20. David says:

    Two words keep me here: health insurance. In all seriousness, I believe it is another poet who also wrote about woods (as an heir to Thoreau?!?) who captured it best: we are all faced with divergent paths, whereby the choice of one necessarily (albeit sometimes temporarily) precludes the rest. I chose to be a husband, and a father to seven. Should I be a stickman at a craps table on a Carnival Funship? Not for me right now…but it sounds like fun in 20 years.

  21. KellyKelly says:

    I am living the life some of you talk about leaving behind for marriage, kids.

    I can’t believe how lucky I am to be living in the tiny slice of human history in which a woman can be financially self-sufficient, own her own business, buy a house all by herself, travel solo, start enterprises of all types, have male and female friends, have adventures, etc. Drive a car even! (Some of the older women in my family never learned how to drive!)

    I certainly have my struggles but I think that, given my ADHD ways and deep aversion to routine, living with kids or a husband 24/7 would be more stressful for me than this life — living solo, being self-employed, having a somewhat large support system to nurture and be nurtured by instead of a husband/kids, etc.

    I just wish one thing: The others would really, truly believe that I am happy being unmarried and unchilded!! I guess people don’t understand what they haven’t experienced. Most of my single female friends are actively trying to find a mate … they don’t understand that I’m too busy to make room for that.

    Well I didn’t mean to write this much, but I didn’t see this point of view anywhere, so I thought I’d throw it out. Basically, both sides have their pros and cons. I am just very grateful I get to live this way.

  22. KellyKelly says:

    Oh — I forgot to say something. My values changed several years ago when some people around me dropped dead. Colleagues and family members both … each death had an impact on me for a different reason. One woman was near retirement and dropped dead ON HER SPREADSHEETS.

    That’s when I quit my job and started my own business. Life is too short to be miserable, and I was very unhappy in my former safe job with great pay and benefits. So this is stressful too, but not “deadening” like the old job.

    I used to value safety, or the perception of safety, a lot more than I do now.

  23. Ericka says:

    I’m going thru a decision like this right now. I’m not married, and I don’t have kids, but I am on the other side of the continent from my family. There’s a job opening up in my hometown, and it would be a very good job. Then again, I have a very good job where I’m living right now. I LOVE the landscape and the feel of my current city. I’m very tied to it. I love my family and am very tied to them as well. No decision that I make is going to be a bad one. That’s what makes these kinds of choices so difficult… there’s not a bad one.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it IS all about figuring out what your priorities are and going forward honoring those priorities. Now, anyone got any good ideas on how to figure out exactly which priority takes priority? ;)

  24. 52 Faces says:

    It’s one year later and I just surfed over from Frugal Dad. I am getting SO MUCH value out of this conversation!

    It’s been an issue recently for me – my father just told me to “grow up” and let go of my dreams. I’m 28 and left an opportunity to go corporate last year so I could be a full-time writer. After 6 months of making paltry money and living off of my savings, I just called my old boss to ask for my job back. I also applied to graduate school for this fall (my ever ready method of delaying real life…)

    Keeping my fingers crossed for some stable money!

  25. Danielle says:

    I’ve given up a lot of things to be a SAHM… but it was MY choice. I may not be a doctor, and I may not be working in my career field (which ended up being computer science as a result of desiring motherhood)… but I am happy with my life.

    I guess you can say my dreams were put on hold until one day, all of a sudden, they changed.

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