Values in Writing

Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.


My Story

I was a terrible baseball card collector as a kid.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know which players were good or how much my cards were worth.

What kept me from building a valuable collection was that I didn’t care about those things. When trading cards with friends or schoolmates, I wanted those of the players I liked most. Anyone from the ’84 World Series Detroit Tigers was gold. Same for the Bad Boy Pistons.

My favorite sports player at the time was Cecil Fielder. I was privileged to have witnessed his remarkable 50-home run season, which was a big deal before the ‘roid era of Sosa and McGuire. How much did I like him? Around then, the movie The Sandlot was released, about a group of boys who play baseball on a barren field and end up in a jam trying to retrieve a ball signed by Babe Ruth. I would have probably traded those kids a ball signed by the Great Bambino for one signed by Big Daddy.

Fielder had some good seasons, but not by any metric is he legend of the game. At least, not according to the marketplace. I bought a signed card of his for $10. Some people would say I had a very naive sense of value. But that’s wrong. I just valued team loyalty over market price.

We All Need Values

Essentially, value is an abstraction, and as such, is relative. We, the market, can collectively ascribe a price to a stock or painting or baseball card. Yet, objects have no inherent value.

Just take a moment to compare what society values with what you value. You see?

What is inherently valuable is an awareness of your personal values – the beliefs, principles or ideas most important to you. Your values can ultimately determine your satisfaction and happiness in life.

Consider a South Korean study found that pursuing goals focused on self-enhancement or self-centered values (money, power, work, etc.) are less likely to result in happiness compared to pursuing alter-centered collective goals or self-transcendence/selflessness (spirituality social relationships, charity, etc.).

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, has a well-rounded list of personal values of his website. His advice is to pick less than five, as too many values makes it impossible to nurture any one of them.

It’s good advice. And, it’s a good reference for financial writing.

Speak to Values in Your Writing

If you want your writing to make impression, write about values.

I think the dialogue between writers and readers is an agreement or exchange of values. Consciously or not, readers, especially of financial writing, want information that pertains to their values, either to reinforce them or challenge them.

Therefore, every topic idea for an article should be predicated on a value it addresses. Ask yourself: what value(s) will this piece support? Saving and investing tips are about financial security. Steps to make tax-efficient charitable contributions is about helping your community.

When you can speak to readers’ values, you draw them closer to your subject.

How best to write about values? With stories. The story of an historical figure, an anecdote of your life. Storytelling is value in action, to make the reader not only learn but feel.

An article about Warren Buffett’s value investing strategy is interesting. But a story of how Buffett was rewarded for patience and discipline is inspirational.

It is easy to write short answers to big questions, to write like a search engine. But to make your work resonate, tell a story that imparts values.

People need those stories, perhaps now more than ever.

Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.


Friday Five: Values

Chasing success doesn’t lead to happiness

Arthur Brooks’s column “How to Build a Life” is enlightening, and often inspiring. This article in particular explores a major reason why people make poor financial decisions: the pursuit of things that never provide lasting satisfaction. Change your values, change your life.

Help save the environment by putting your money in the right place

Those who value the environment have more ways to make difference with their money. In addition to ESG investing, Kassondra Cloos of Outside magazine reviews various “green” banks.

The worst financial plan is not having one

Anthony Isola has made it a life mission to help teachers make better financial decisions. His work is always from the perspective of values. This article shows you how to do it clearly and concisely.

The coming wave of early retirements

I’m a big fan of playing with structure. Erica Pandey in Axios does a terrific job of breaking an important topic into a format that makes it easy to find and remember the key points. Less tension for the reader, the better.

Friday Fiction: All Hail Murukami

Their conversation took another turn into a dead-end street. She wanted to know just how much he had exerted himself on her behalf. He insisted that he had done everything he could, but he had no way to prove it, and she didn’t believe him. I didn’t really believe him, either. The more sincerely he tried explain things, the more a fog of insincerity came to hang over everything. But it wasn’t Q’s fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. Which was why there was no way out of this conversation.

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