“That’s not what I want for us,” I told my wife as we walked along the shores of a quiet beach.
Every now and then I pause long enough to see what sort of future I’m creating for our family. When we were walking along that beach, enjoying the stillness of vacation, I realized I was unknowingly creating a future I didn’t want for our family.
This is how competing life philosophies work.
A philosophy is an overall vision for the different dimensions of your life. You can have a philosophy for your family, your finances, your career, etc.
But what do you do when your life philosophies compete with one another?
The trouble is, many people don’t realize they have competing life philosophies until there is a repercussion of some sort.
For instance, a person’s drive for career success can lead to strain in their family life if left unchecked. This person might not notice the competing life philosophies—to get to the top of their career no matter what and to be a present parent—until they encounter a child who hates them or a divorce.
Competing life philosophies—when they go unnoticed—lead to tension, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. They drag you in a direction you didn’t intend to go.
If you notice you have philosophies that are competing, here’s what to do about them so you can get back to a joyful, purposeful life:
1. Ask if they are actually competing.
The first step is to question whether your life philosophies are actually competing.
For instance, in the example above, there is no fundamental competition between work and home. There is no rule set in stone that says to be the best at work you have to deny your family.
It’s only in how you act out those philosophies that cause the competition.
There’s great freedom in this. It means, you can satisfy your career desires and your ambitions at home. You just have to adjust your behavior.
But then there are life philosophies where there is a clear competition.
For example, you can’t have a philosophy to do anything it takes to pay off your debt and then use all your money to give gifts to people. One philosophy is focused on getting rid of debt, and another philosophy is focused on using your money to buy show love for people. Those two are in tension.
It’s possible to have life philosophies that are not competing with one another. But to see this, you have to think critically and let go of your biases.
2. Trace out their outcome.
Every life philosophy has an outcome.
If your life philosophy is to be the best at your career, the end goal is probably the highest position in your company. If your life philosophy is financial freedom, the end goal is being smart and free with your money.
When you notice competing life philosophies, trace out their outcomes. Look into the future and see where each path will lead you.
3. Decide which outcome you want.
Once you trace out the outcomes, make a single choice.
Do you want to be financially free or do you want to use your money to benefit others?
Do you want to have a healthier relationship with your body and food or do you want to bond with your friends and family over food they enjoy?
Each philosophy has an outcome. You have to make a single choice over which outcome you want.
Choosing one outcome over the other doesn’t mean that the other won’t happen. For instance, choosing financial freedom doesn’t mean you can’t give gifts to people. You just have to make a single choice for which philosophy will win when put to the test.
One other thing: there’s not an objective right choice and an objective wrong choice. Neither choice is bad. It only matters what you want for yourself, your family, and your friends. Just make sure that you’re choosing one thing.
4. Create goals that contribute to your winning philosophy.
Once you’ve decided which outcome you want, you can now create goals in the present that will lead to your desired outcome.
If you want financial freedom, you can create goals to stop giving your money away to your kids who “need” it, and instead put that money toward your debt.
If you want a healthier relationship with your body and food, you can create goals to limit how many times you eat out with your friends, since you’re more likely to choose bad food options when you’re with them.
It all comes down to recentering yourself on a single choice, and then creating goals for the present to lead to your desired future.
The Competition in My Philosophies
Walking along that beach, I realized I had two competing life philosophies.
One philosophy wanted my family to have an abundance of riches. This was mainly informed from my childhood, and an idea in my upbringing that our family cannot be happy unless they had all their financial desires met.
But another philosophy wanted my family to have joy in every circumstance. I wanted my family to be happy regardless of how much money had.
When I traced out their outcomes, I realized I was creating a future where my family would not be happy unless they had everything paid off.
So I chose to have a family of joy instead.
This means I had to change my own views around money. If I want my family to have joy, I need to practice more joy around my finances today. Only then will my children learn to have happiness despite their financial situation.
This doesn’t mean I let go of my desire to be financially free. I’m still aggressively paying off my debts. But it just doesn’t have the top position in my life. A joyful family does.
That top position is a coveted spot. Other philosophies will try to compete for that top spot. But it’s up to you to choose which philosophy will win.
This philosophy is the one your children will walk away with. It’s the philosophy people will remember you for. And it’s the philosophy that will carry you to a happier, more successful life.