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Values in tension (2): resource allocation

How we allocate our scarce resources – particularly money, time and attention – shines a bright light on how we prioritise between values.

Most of us can have most of the things we value: wealth, physical beauty, time to ourselves, family, a sense of meaningful contribution, a fabulous car, deep friendships, fitness, artistic accomplishment, solidarity with those who have less, a stress-free life, security, excitement. We just can’t have them all.

This is a long winded way of saying that people face trade-offs, and that everything (including doing nothing) has an opportunity cost.

Not getting what you want is frustrating, but it can help to remember the things you chose instead – the trade-offs that you thought were worth making:

  • “I haven’t put as much time into my business as I could have because I choose to spend time with my family, which is more important to me.”
  • “I don’t drive that car I’m feeling jealous of because I’ve chosen to prioritise travel.”
  • “I don’t have pictures of a sleigh ride in Finland because I thought it was important to give that money away.”

You chose something that you thought was better.

It’s also helpful to recognise which trade offs are temporary:

  • For this season, I am working part time to spend time with my young family
  • For three months, I’m training for a marathon
  • Until I complete this DIY project, I’m not going sailing

And finally, it’s incredibly useful to identify 80/20 trade-offs that can save a lot of compromises later on:

  • I’m sacrificing a small amount of hedonism in my 20s to make investments that will be significant in 20 years;
  • I’m not aiming for a hulking gym body, but I will run three times a week and do some calisthenics;
  • I can’t devote myself to the life of a travelling musician, but I can play guitar with a friend once a fortnight and gradually build my skills.


Revisit your priorities (this excerise is a useful one). How does your allocation of resources align with the values you (claim to) hold?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...