This article is by staff writer Ryan Takach.

I spend a lot of time working toward my financial goals, but lately I’ve been thinking about personal growth. I’m at an inflection point in my financial plan. I don’t run any debt balances. I feel I’m saving enough and making smart investments. I believe I can afford to shift some focus to other interests.

I started reading more by checking books out from the library. I also started exercising on a regular basis, which was difficult to do at first but eventually became an activity that I crave. There are so many other things I’d like to do, though — like learn a new language, tend a more robust vegetable garden, or learn to surf.

Excuses and limiting factors

Now that I’m looking to do something new, I’m trying to determine the value of the activity to my personal well-being. But why do we even have to make a value proposition for personal growth? Well, it’s like any other decision we make, really. We’re constantly evaluating our choices based on how we value our options. I’d like to speak in generalities when it comes to what holds me back, though, because I’m thinking my experience may not be unique. Are these the factors you have to evaluate when it comes to personal growth?

  • Time: Typically, we spend most of our time pursuing income, and for most of us that means going to traditional work environments. The time we have outside of work hours is precious, but it often gets squandered because we’re simply tired from working.

  • Prioritizing career success: In my experience, people get so focused on career growth and financial gain that they neglect personal growth and relationships. I’m guilty of it myself. We work so hard during the day that we’re just drained of our energy at night and we fall into stagnant routines.

  • Cost: Hobbies and interests usually involve some initial outlay and ongoing costs, which makes it easy to delay the pursuit of some new activity in favor of saving money now. Worse yet, sometimes our existing creative outlets can get curtailed for cost savings too.

  • Other excuses: Having a social life that is simultaneously fulfilling and exhausting is another reason we don’t pursue new passions. We tell ourselves it’s okay because we’re getting out there and doing stuff, but we also fall right back into routines and comfort zones. We stop learning and just continue experiencing the same things over and over, tricking ourselves into believing that we’re making progress.

The return on personal investments

There might be cost involved, but does the end result provide more value to my life than money in the bank? If it’s free, is it worth the time? The answer is tricky because it’s intensely personal and it can be really hard to measure the non-financial benefits of personal growth. How do you value friendships, for instance?

Here’s how I’m looking at the activities I’d like to pursue and some of the elements of their value propositions. You’ll notice that sometimes I find it difficult to quantify what I perceive as benefits.

  • Surfing: I’m lucky to have friends with spare surfboards, but a good board would cost about $300 up front. The wetsuit is a personal item that isn’t lent out and I’ve been advised that $300 would get me one that’s suitable for the local elements. That is an expense I’d easily justify if I went surfing on a regular basis, but there is a chance that I could be terrible at it and decide to give it up right away. It’s also hard to schedule when good waves are available, so I may not get a lot of use out of the wetsuit because I’m likely to be at work instead.

  • Learning a language: Paying for a class might be the most straight-forward way to learn a new language; but I know I’d need the personal discipline to finish it. I checked my local library for learning materials and, luckily, my library has CD-ROMs and audio CDs available for a variety of languages.

    Time and energy are factors: It can be difficult to sit down and study after working all day. On the other hand, the value proposition could be tremendous. Two benefits come to mind immediately — simply by learning a new language, you are making your brain stronger; and if you get to use it on a regular basis, you can form new relationships.

  • Fitness: Theoretically, exercise is free; but once you get serious about fitness, you start spending money. There are running shoes, new workout clothes, and electronic fitness monitors to buy — and maybe even a gym membership. Generally, it’s easy to work out on the cheap and there are plenty of resources online to help with that. The upside, as I said before, is very tangible. Once I get going, I crave it.

Well, that’s how I look at my options, but what about you?

If you’ve been working on personal growth this year, how did you establish its value to your life over the other activities you could pursue? What was your biggest hurdle, and how did you change your routine or address cost barriers to accommodate your new goals?

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