In the Disney movie Aladdin (which is brilliant by the way) – there’s a scene that takes place in the ‘Cave of Wonders’. Aladdin, our hero – has been sent to recover a precious item. His instructions are simple – resist the temptation to touch the myriad of treasures that are laid out before him, and instead, focus solely on retrieving the Genie’s lamp. If he can complete his mission, then all the riches in the cave will be his.
Aladdin – as we know, is desperately in love with the princess, and is under the impression that winning her affections will require a great deal of money. In fact, the only reason he’s agreed to take on this dubious mission is because he plans to use his share to woo fair maiden!
No doubt with the face of the princess firmly in mind, he turns his back on the treasure strewn across his path and focuses entirely on the task at hand – despite recognizing that “Just a handful of this stuff would make me richer than the sultan!”
Aladdin understood the difference between the ‘Ultimate’ vs the ‘Immediate’. He was prepared to sacrifice now to get what truly mattered to him later. One of the most important decisions you can make in life is: “I will prioritize what I value most over what I want now.”
It’s the ability to say ‘No’ to something in the short term, knowing the effect it will have in the long term; or perhaps even saying ‘Yes’ to something painful now, knowing the result it will bring down the line. Everybody wants to look good, but no one wants to skip dessert! Everyone wants to be in shape, but no one wants to push their body until it hurts.
Of course, to prioritize what you value most, you have to know what you value most – and this is where most people tap out. The sad reality is that most people never take the time or make the effort to discover what they truly value, and as a result they settle for what they want now – and what you want now and what you value most; are very rarely the same thing.
An even sadder reality is that although everyone DOES discover their values eventually, for some it’s too late – and they find that what they value most is now out of reach.
So how do we discover our values? How do we learn what is truly important to us? An exercise I encourage my clients to do is to take the time over a week or so; and literally write out several speeches that they would want given at their funeral. One from their spouse, a speech by their children, one representing their friends, and perhaps one from a leader in the community, or a work colleague – the idea is to touch on the main areas of our life.
“Oh my gosh, that sounds so depressing!” you might say; but let me tell you what’s depressing – depressing is getting to the end of your life and realizing that what you truly value is out of reach!
This exercise takes time, and it requires a lot of thought – but you’ll be amazed at what you’re able to draw out of yourself this way, and what you learn about your values and goals – values that then form a framework around which you live your life.
Discover those – and let them lead you.