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When Values Collide: Navigating the Intersection of Our Values

run your decisions through your values

❝Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.❞ -Elvis Presley

Dr. Vick woke up today intending to go on a walk with his wife. He values time with his wife and being outdoors. As they are getting ready, he gets a call from the hospital saying one of his patients needs his help. He also values his profession and the well-being of his patients. He is torn between the conflicting values of his wife and his patients.

Sarah is doing well professionally. She is making a name for herself and is often asked to give presentations across the country. She values her profession and her ability to spread her knowledge because she thinks it's important for more people to know. At the same time, she has two young children at home and lives close to her aging parents. She highly values family. She is torn between the conflicting values of her profession and her family.

Young Tommy splits his time between his mom's place and his dad's place. His mom and dad divorced several years ago because they couldn't see eye to eye. They see the world in two very different ways. Tommy is trying to find his own voice and learn who he is but is raised by parents with two different sets of values. He is torn between the conflicting values of each of his parents.

Personal values guide how we live our lives, but often these values collide, making it difficult to know how to behave.


Personal values serve as a compass that directs us in life. They are the measuring sticks we use to determine success or failure, right or wrong, and good or bad.

When we get clear about our values, we can have confidence that we are making authentic decisions in line with our values, and other people can make decisions based on their values. They can act as a shield protecting us from the regret many people feel as they look back on their life, realizing they did what they thought they were supposed to do instead of what would bring them meaning.

We can live a life of meaning by running our decisions through our values.

multiple values


Sometimes, though, it's difficult to run our decisions through our values because values seem to overlap. Conflicting values are a source of ambivalence that can sometimes lead to choice paralysis.

Consider somebody who values family and art and has to decide between taking over the family business and pursuing a career in the arts. Think about somebody who values both family and career and is torn between going to work and spending time with family. This could even be the child of divorced parents, caught between the values of each parent.

Ambivalence is uncomfortable, especially when there's no clear-cut choice because of the overlapping, conflicting values.

conflicting values

This questionnaire is an instrument that taps into ten valued domains of living. It assesses the perceived importance of each of these ten life domains and the degree to which you are living in accordance with this perceived importance.


Author and logotherapy founder Viktor Frankl wrote about conflicting values being an illusion. Value conflicts go away when you consider another dimension. We need to consider the dimension of our priorities. Then what looks like conflicting values is an illusion. It's like turning a two-dimensional picture into a three-dimensional one where value conflicts lie in the two-dimensional plane.

The way we work through our ambivalence, then, is to get clear about our priorities. When we prioritize our values, we ask ourselves what is most important at this time.

In other words, we might ask ourselves who can be replaced. Frankl has given an example from his own life. On a particular morning, he would think about how to spend his time. He could spend his time caring for his patients at the hospital, or he could spend his time with his wife. He valued both his patients' health and the company of his wife. He saw the conflict disappear when he saw that the value of his duty to care for sick patients was a higher priority than being with his wife. He continues by asking us to assume that his wife is also sick. This now becomes a choice between valuing a sick patient or valuing his sick wife. In this case, the values priority is that he cares for his wife because he can be replaced at the hospital by another doctor in that instance.

Thus, asking who is replaceable in a given situation is akin to asking how you might be able to delegate your responsibilities. Could you hire somebody? Could you find somebody else to do it?

prioritizing values using Frankl's third dimension


Prioritizing your values isn't as simple as numbering them from most important to least important. Your values are contextual, meaning that your value rating will change depending on the specific situation you find yourself in. Depending on the situation, the value that you feel strongly about may take second place, or even third.

We see apparent value conflicts all the time. It's part of what it means to be human. Being able to prioritize them in each situation helps keep you flexible while combating your ambivalence.

prioritizing values

Sometimes it feels like values collide and that we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. But recognizing a value conflict as an invitation to clarify what's important in a particular moment helps you live more meaningfully.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Related MeaningfulMoney Reading
References and Influences

Fabry, Joseph: The Pursuit of Meaning

Frankl, Viktor: The Will to Meaning

Ivtzan, Itai, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Piers Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology

Lukas, Elisabeth & Bianca Hirsch: Meaningful Living

McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose

Miller, William: On Second Thought

Miller, William & Stephen Rollnick: Motivational Interviewing

Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life

Whelan, Christine: The Big Picture

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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