Conducting a family goals conference

If you've been reading my stuff in recent years, you know that I'm a vocal advocate for finding your purpose in life.

I believe purpose is the foundation on which all plans — financial and otherwise — ought to be built. Purpose is a compass. It helps you set big goals, sure, but it also acts as a guide when times get tough. Your mother died? Your wife left? Your husband lost his job? If you know what your primary purpose is in life, these stressful events are much easier to deal with.

To that end, I encourage readers to take the time to craft a personal mission statement. Anecdata from the folks who have actually followed through on this exercise confirms my suspicion: Doing this can be life-changing. I'm not joking.

It's one thing to have a personal mission statement, but how do you incorporate your individual goals with those of your partner? And what about your children?


In Barbara Sher's Wishcraft, the author suggests conducting what she calls a “family goals conference”. What a great idea!

“This conference is meant to help you get your shared priorities straight,” writes Sher. “If you love each other, one of the things that's important is to have your partner happy. So each of you should define those areas where you're willing to compromise and the ones where you can't or won't.”

I think it'd be best if before your family goals conference, each person takes time to write out a personal mission statement. Then, when everyone is ready, come together and answer the following questions:

  • Which elements of our current lifestyle do we need? (Living space, health insurance, and — in some cities — private school might be examples.)
  • Which elements do we want? (An annual trip to the beach, pets, a color TV? These items might be adjustable, or ingenious substitutions could be found.)
  • Which elements could we do without out (or economize on)? (Our own washing machine, lots of eating out, a second car, summer camp, gym membership, YMCA.)
  • What long-term goals do we have in common? (Each other's happiness, more money, a house in the country, a trip to Europe, etc.)
  • What is each of us willing to do now to help reach those goals? (Take a part-time job, cut cable television, move to a smaller house, help with the chores, etc.)

I've never done anything like this, at least not in a formal way. When we were married, Kris and I would have occasional talks about our shared future. Today, Kim and I have those conversations too. But I've never set aside time to draw up a shared plan with a partner. But I like the idea.

Maybe the closest I've come to having a family goals conference occurred last year on my birthday. Kim and I spent the weekend at a local spa and hotel. While sitting in the hot tub, we talked about how our lives were going — and the direction we wanted to take as a couple.

At that point, we'd been back from our 15-month RV trip across the U.S. for several months. We'd had time to compare and contrast our structureless life on the road to the frenetic, chaotic, fast-paced life we'd returned to. We realized that the life we were living did not reflect our goals and values.

As a result, we decided to sell our posh condo in a nice neighborhood and look for a place in the “country”. Three months later, we had moved twenty minutes south to a smaller place on an acre of land.

What about you? Does your family ever sit down to talk about the future? Have you ever had a family goals conference? What does the process entail? Is it formalized? Just a casual conversation? What have you learned that might help others have productive conversations about the future with their spouse and children?

If you're interested in conducting a family goals conference, you might want to check out this article from Mom It Forward about creating a family mission statement.

More about...Planning

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