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Don't let expenses obscure what's important

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Elise Amendola/AP/File

(Read caption) In this September 2012 file photo, a clerk straightens out her display at a shoe store in Salem, N.H. Hamm asks: Are the things you do with your money really in line with that core value?

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Imagine you’re meeting a person for the first time – say, at a community barbecue. You have ten words with which to introduce yourself.

What do you say about yourself?

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Do you mention your job? Do you mention your religion? Do you mention your family? Do you mention your social connections? Do you mention the area where you live, perhaps nodding to your nice home? Do you mention your most passionate hobby? 

What is it about you that you consider so core to your identity that it’s the first thing out of your mouth when you’re talking about yourself?

(I usually lead with my family, for reference’s sake.)

Each of us has something so core to our identity that it’s the first thing we tell others about ourselves. It’s the thing that drives us to do what we do, often for a whole multitude of reasons.

Of course, we all know that life is more complicated than that one thing. Our lives are often full of conflicting needs and directions.

I will say one simple thing, though: every conflict we have in our lives that interferes with that one central thing is something that’s dragging us down.

As I said above, I lead with my family. For a long time, my personal spending was in direct conflict with that one core thing, and I could feel that conflict all the time even if I didn’t understand it. That conflict kept me up for many long nights and it finally led me to making some pretty major changes in my life as I fixed the problem.

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I also found that how I spent my time was something of a problem. Evenings out with the guys might be fun in the moment. Business trips might feel like they’re advancing my career. Both of them, though, left me with an empty feeling. I was betraying that one core value.

The more I work toward making sure that all of the elements in my life are in line with – or at least not in conflict with – that one key value, the better off I am in every aspect of my life.

So, what’s your core value? What’s that one thing you would tell others about your life? What’s the one thing that makes you tick?

Are the things you do with your money really in line with that core value? Do you spend money in a way that takes away from that key thing?

If you’re in that situation, you might be surprised how much it reverberates through your life. I know this from experience: when your spending choices put the things you care most about in jeopardy, you feel it in unexpected ways all throughout your life.

Listen to that core value. Follow that core value. Work to make everything in your life line up behind it, even if that means giving up on some lesser things. An iPad might be great, but does it really compare to how it feels to cuddle with your wife or to have a newborn baby resting on your chest? Browsing the web might be a fun distraction, but does it really compare to how it feels to really succeed at work?

Sometimes, when you look at your life in a new way, the hardest choices become rather easy.