Six years ago, I had no children. In that phase of my life, it was so easy to get caught up in the chaos of competing priorities. I needed to make money. I needed to stimulate my mind and keep learning. I needed to invest time in my marriage. I needed to take care of my body.
As these concerns jostled and jockeyed for positioning within my mind (and my days), I ruthlessly squeezed out all the slack from my days in order to devote my time to its “optimal” use.
Then came my firstborn. Was the chaos diminished? Far from it. The addition of a new key concern to these other four existing concerns didn’t lessen the total amount of concern. However, while the chaos wasn’t diminished, it was very effectively dwarfed.
Life Goal Number One
When I became a father, this contentious competition amongst my “priorities” for my attention was sideswiped by a new priority. It’s interesting to note that the pluralized word “priorities” didn’t really come into its own until the 20th century. When I had a kid, I could intuitively see why. There was no longer a credible competition. My child was the priority.
That dwarfing dynamic brought to the fore my paramount goal in life: to give my child the best upbringing I could. Bear in mind, that doesn’t only refer to resources. It refers to love, affection, advice, understanding, attachment, and support. It refers to making my daughter feel at home in the world.
The idea of “life goals” was transmuted into one paramount life goal that trumped all the rest. With that simplicity came clarity. For a while.
Ripples on The Water
This sound and still confidence on the location of the bullseye toward which I should aim my actions persisted for a time. I think it’s evolutionarily hard-wired into us as a balm to get us through the first couple of years of parenthood.
It is during those years that parents are apt to engage in some of the most unsustainable actions regarding their children. All else is sacrificed on the altar of the child’s well-being. In this phase we run on adrenaline, spend down our mental reserves, and pour our very selves into making sure this little creature never experiences anything with a negative valence more than one second longer than she has to.
But then the engine starts to sputter. We realize that we are not the inexhaustible deities we wish we were. We come to grips with the fact that we are fallible humans. We run short of energy, time, and patience. We mess up. We snap. We fall short of our ideals.
It is at this moment that we are likely to realize that there was some benefit to that jumble of priorities that had existed before parenthood.
This doesn’t need to be about parenthood. My kids are my ultimate why, but there exist other whys that are valid and well-founded. If you don’t know yours, it’s worth some serious contemplation.
Life Goal Number Two
No matter how much we will our engine to move forward, if we’re out of gas, our will doesn’t matter. Suddenly when we look at the shells of our former selves we have become, we realize we are depleted.
What were all of these things we even did before we had kids and our identities were shattered? It seems so quaint that we used to care about things like our money, our minds, our spouses, and our health. They all take a back seat to our new priority.
But, that doesn’t mean we should jettison these other concerns from the vehicle altogether.
Sure, each of these may still be seen as instrumental, subservient to the higherpriority that is most important in our lives. For me, that priority is my children. But I’m open to suggestions.
But in that sense, they can function heuristically in a way that leads us to behave in a more enlightened way. This leads to the life goal of self-care.
At first blush, it may seem like we’re settling when we transition from the lofty goal of caring for our children to the pedestrian goal of caring for ourselves. But to make that judgment, we need to smuggle in a mistaken assumption of our own infallibility.
I have news for you. You’re not special. Neither am I. We’re all pretentious apes who in some cases stumble into the pitfall of assuming we’re uniquely capable of overcoming our human frailties. Don’t get me wrong, it is a noble pursuit to keep your flaws at bay to the extent that you are able, but perfection on this front is impossible.
We get tired. And we fall short.
So what is the antidote? Do we accept our failure and thrash around wishing our natures were different from the way they are? No. We put ourselves in the best position we can to conform our actions to our wills in the future.
We care for ourselves. Whether by making money, exercising, or learning, a minute spent caring for ourselves today pays dividends every day for the rest of our lives. Sure, you might be “robbing” your child of that minute, but that’s only the liability side of the ledger. You have to weigh that against the asset that you acquire when you become a better version of yourself.
It’s about sustainability. If it’s your last day on Earth, spend it with your kids. Full stop. If it’s not, stand ready to invest some time today in making the you of tomorrow someone who will be able to sustainably bring his best self to the world. And in particular, to his kids.
In other words, perhaps the airlines are onto something when they advise us to “please secure your own mask before assisting others.”
Life Goal Number Three
You may have noticed I left out one of my erstwhile priorities in that last section. Does caring for my spouse deserve to be left behind? No, it deserves its own section.
Life goal number three is all about relationships. To be clear, this article is not about how everyone must marry and have kids in order to have a meaningful life. These goals can and should potentially differ from person to person.
That being said, while marriage may not be for everyone, I feel comfortable in saying that meaningful relationships are for everyone.
Investing in meaningful relationships is one of the best things you can do with the hours of your day. It’s been well-established that meaningful relationships are what ultimately matter in determining how satisfied we are with our lives.
Not only that, but engaging in meaningful relationships enables us to replenish our depleted resources and care for ourselves in the here and now in a way that other practices just can’t do quite as effectively.
So caring for your relationships is caring for yourself. And as we saw earlier, caring for yourself is caring for your priority. Our care for our relationships and ourselves are recycled into our ultimate why.
We can then bring our best self into tomorrow to hack away at our top priority. Not only that, but relationships act as a force multiplier in achieving your ultimate goals, particularly when they are shared by those with whom you are in a relationship. Nowhere is this dynamic clearer than it is in parenting.
For me, it is often the case that one of the best things I can do to be a good father is to be a good husband. It sets the tone for the family dynamic and sets an example for what my daughters should want out of their home lives.
Invest in your relationships. It’s good today, good tomorrow, and good for your ultimate why.
When I was considering making my move from working as a trader to building my own business, there were all kinds of uncertainties and insecurities. The cacophony ofpriorities reared its hydra heads in force.
Was I just some spoiled millennial who was about to sacrifice the well-being and resources of my children to the cause of having a fulfilling career? Was I really so spoiled that money wasn’t enough for me, I had to have fulfillment too?
The reality is, I do want more out of my life than just fulfilling work. I want some measure of material success, enough to set my children up to live their best lives. So when is it time to switch things up?
Like everything else in life, this demands a cost/benefit analysis. Sure, when I took the risk of quitting my job I essentially traded high pay (potential resources for my children) for high fulfillment. Seems selfish at first (or at least it can from the inside). But I have to weigh that against the example I’m setting for my children and the quality of my interaction with them as a man who is proud of what he does.
Are they going to know their dad as someone who grudgingly trudged to the office every day so they could have more toys? Or are they going to know me as someone who was fired up to move the ball forward on something truly important to him?
I’ve made my decision, how about you?
Founder of ChroniFI
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The foregoing are the opinions of the author and are for educational purposes only. They do not represent professional financial or investment advice. For financial advice, please consult a licensed financial professional.