A Personal Philosophy of Life: How to Write One (& Why You Should)

How would it feel to confidently explain why you are doing what you are doing with your life?

Can you already?

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Why are you working the job you are working?

Why do you spend your free-time the way that you do?

Why do you spend your money on the things that you do?

Why have you set, or not set, the goals that you have?

Many of us can’t make sense of that explain why we are doing the things we do or wanting the things we want.

Some of us don’t take the time to search for these reasons, and some haven’t even considered it.

For me, the issue isn’t that I don’t take the time. Actually, on the inverse, I have so much trouble doing anything without having an understanding as to “why” I’m doing it, it can leave me paralyzed. I am a hyper-deliberate person (obsessively so).

Why Get to the “Why?”

While I don’t want to prescript, I’m going to, because in defense of people like myself, I think the obsession with knowing and being able to explain the “why” behind your actions, beliefs and values is an essential precursor to making confident life choices.

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While I don’t want to prescript, I’m going to, because in defense of people like myself, I think the obsession with knowing and being able to explain the “why” behind your actions, beliefs and values is an essential precursor to making confident life choices.

It’ll keep you from living someone else’s life, not yours.

Bronnie Ware, the author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, found that the greatest regret of folks nearing the end of their lives was that “They wished they had the courage to live a life truer to themselves than live a life that was expected of them.”

With that in mind, what could be more important than working toward understanding what life lived, might be truest to you?

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Your values become guideposts for decision making. When presented with a fork in the road or an opportunity to make a change, you can refer back to your values as foundational principles or a checklist of sorts.

Although always open to a good editing, these values give you a basis for discerning whether or not a new venture, an existing challenge, or person in your life align with who you are and cultivate more of who you want to be.

So, on this page you’ll find what I consider my (or a) manifesto of sorts.

In bulleted splits, I’ll share rooted values, beliefs, and opinions of mine. If I gave this exercise it’s fullest due, each bullet would earn itself a chapter in a book. While this is something I plan to do someday, maybe when I’m more sure of myself and rich in free-time, that’s not what this is.

This is something much briefer, but still an indicator of what I think, believe and aspire to.

But, before I share my personal philosophy, I’ll share insight on unearthing the philosophy that exists for you.

We all have our values and beliefs. The differences between us, are how aware we are (or not aware we are) of them.

Inspiring a philosophical mood is necessary to get the most out of this exercise. I don’t believe uncovering your values, philosophy, or principles is something you can do in passing, or while you are grocery shopping.

It takes an intentional, focused effort,  and dedication of time. Our objective is to produce a document that we trust to look back on and help us to make decisions or remind us of ideals or values we’ve strayed from.

It’s to become your operating manual and create a sense of clarity for you. In revisiting my thoughts, or taking the time to give something like this a good overhaul, I make sense of decisions that are lingering that I have yet to make (work opportunities, etc.), as well as comprehend decisions I’ve previously made that I enjoyed or didn’t.

So, with intention, let’s walk into clarity.

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How to Write Your Own Personal Philosophy

Getting to the root of understanding your own personal philosophy, or personal operating principles, starts with two things:

  1. The space to do the thinking
  2. The questions you ask yourself

Let me briefly explain each.

Thinking Space –

I envy the twentysomething who doesn’t feel in a rush. I’ve been self-employed for over a year, have more free quiet time than I can handle, and even still I feel like I have somewhere to be or something to do (something other than what I’m currently doing).

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This is why I have to be considerate with the space and context I create for myself when I’m delving into philosophical thinking.

Most importantly, we want open time where we don’t feel any need to “complete” something. Expect you won’t!

Other things I prioritize:

  • Isolation – For me, this thinking is most often done alone. Although sometimes, rich conversation with my girlfriend or a good friend can trigger introspective thought, I’ll find I can get into this thinking space when I’ve created some intentional personal space.
  • No Distraction – Deep introspective thought loses steam when distraction arises! Give yourself the opportunity to do some deep work and put away the phone, head to a cafe where no one knows you, and maybe even consider turning off the internet! (A good app for that: Freedom).
  • Pen & Paper – Some folks have no preference between typing and writing. For some reason, handwriting is better for me to “open” up my thinking.
  • Time of Day – When do you do your best thinking? When are you the most intellectually and mentally sharp? For me, it’s the start of my work day. This is intensive thinking! Don’t give it the throw away parts of the day.
  • Drug of Choice – What drugs do you think I’m referring to? I prefer java here, because I am a java hound. Pick yours (PCP? HGH? LSD? ACT? Kidding, the last one is a standardized exam colleges use to make admissions decisions. I got you, admit it).

The Questions (or Prompts) –

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Oh man, surely the juiciest part of the whole thing! I sure love me a good question.

Maybe I was meant to be an academic when I grew up instead of a college dropout.

All good answers and all good thinking must begin with good questions. I collect questions from everything I read. Often times it’s not the answers that authors write, it’s the questions themselves that stick with me the most.

I’ll list some good questions below. I couldn’t remember at the moment where these came from…so if something looks familiar to you, let me know so I can right my nearly irreparable wrongs and cite appropriate party/parties.

*Note* Some of the questions aren’t directly related to this exercise, but the often inspire rich thinking that most definitely is.

  • What makes you happy? What do you find worth doing?
  • What do you believe is true?
  • If you stopped waiting for something to happen (to be more financially secure, to retire, to rid yourself of obligations), what would you do?
  • If money was no object, would you be doing what you are doing now? If not, what would you be doing?
  • How do you grade yourself?
  • When have you felt most connected, energetic and fulfilled?
  • What major decisions have you regretted, or wish had gone differently? Why?

And with those, you can muster up quite the free-write. If you’d like a more granular step by step of how this exercise goes (for me), here it might be:

  1. Set the mood (as I explained above, you might choose to light a candle or something)
  2. Reflect on the questions above, or other ones you may have in mind and start jotting thoughts.
  3. I start to list out general values, ideals, etc. like…minimalism, family, community, learning, yadda, yadda
  4. After I have a listed collected, I’ll start to sit with each of those individually and begin to think more on what that value means to me, and how does that dictate choices I make or who I want to be.
  5. Complete a draft, and come back to it for an edit or addition of anything you forget.
  6. Review periodically (weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, whatever works for you).

For a look at what my drafted version of this looks like, review my “personal philosophy” below.

My Personal Philosophy: Principles & Values for Choosing Actions

Last update: August 2018

*Note* This is subject to change. It may turn out I hate many of these things a few years from now. So if you see in here that I love dogs, don’t send me an email telling me that you love dogs too, because I might not anymore.

These are in no particular order. Except for some. 🙂

  • I love Annie Bright. It makes me happy to be a passionate, supportive, and powerful partner and teammate to her. It makes me happy to take care of her, laugh with her, and live/create my life with her! I couldn’t imagine anyone else who I could spend my whole life with. I’m excited and thrilled to do so. I love her so much.
  • I’m deeply grateful for my family and friends. Having people “think about you” and want to spend time with you and wish for your success is one of the greatest gifts imaginable. Keeping in touch, while a true skill, is important to exercise.
  • I prefer optimism. Optimism about the state of the world, the state of humanity and the intentions of others. Although, I can often be cynical. Especially when I watch the news.
  • I deeply value being an intentional and deliberate person. I value the exercise of thinking about my own beliefs, values, and personal priorities. It makes me happy to have a grasp on what I believe and think about the world. Even though the understanding is and may never be complete. I do believe, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • I believe in using my greatest faculties of creativity, ambition, and inspiration to invent meaningful contributions to society. I believe we have an obligation to serve the world in some way not just as a hobby, but as our main vocation.

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  • I follow my own footpath. To a fault, I disdain herds and crowds. There’s no one size fits all prescription for “how to live a good life,” or in what order must you live it.  I determine the best life for me. Through a steady and thoughtful consideration of values and interests like these as well as trial and error (hopefully not too disastrous).

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  • I love and re-inspire myself through learning. There’s not much more that I enjoy than pursuing a personal curiosity. I believe learning more about the world in whatever capacity (reading, traveling, listening to others), is something that should consume a large portion of my “professional time.”
  • While I’m more comfortable thinking, I deeply respect and must continue DOING! What good is all the learning without creating something useful and tangible to share with others. A deep aspect of my fulfillment is exerting myself fully!
  • My health (mental and physical) is a priority, although it sometimes can be difficult. I hope to live as long and as actively as possible. I appreciate retaining strength and fitness and treating my body well.
  • I don’t believe in having/possessing much more than I need, or what I truly value and enjoy. A lost or broken item can always be bought or obtained again, and holding onto things I don’t need does no good.
  • Many of my decisions are made on the basis of freedom. I want to live my life, not someone else’s. I want to spend my time in the ways and with the people I choose. And I want to pursue the projects and curiosities that are catching my attention. Although, some healthy commitments feel good too. 🙂
  • I must remind myself to be grateful for the privilege I’ve been born with. My comfortable circumstance was not won through merit. I didn’t earn the family, genes, or socio-economic status I was born into. This privilege becomes a duty to extend what I have to others.
  • I love to play. I value good humor, being silly with good friends, and playing games.

In Closing: Lifelong Editing & Further Reading

This abridged personal philosophy of mine, this random assortment of thoughts and values, is and will always be malleable. I don’t know too much, I’m only 24. I’m sure I’ll learn much more.

At least until I’m 30. Who knows what will happen then (yikes). Maybe I’ll have figured everything out.

I hope this page has served good use for you and has inspired deep thought.

For different “frames” on this exercise, or material that will inspire some related thought, go here:

Lastly, if you are willing to share, I’d like to hear from you: what values, thoughts, or principles first arise for you and what do those look like after some reflection?

Let me know in the comments below.

As well, feel free to ask any questions you may have.