In a May 18 Businessweek article, Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes, “The truth of a person’s life isn’t only about the will toward integrity; it’s about discovering what you want under the layers of what you’ve been told you should want all these years.” It’s an interesting statement, yet this very discovery is an act of integrity.

Let’s think about this. Integrity, congruity, and alignment are the best measures of how we are making decisions that impact our lives and those of others, and yet they are not measurable. When we think of our work or spending choices, we are unsettled when we our actions and values are not aligned. Yet when we explain how we are feeling, we may point to being afraid of the markets or debt rather than focusing on what actions we are taking which are inconsistent with our values.

A client was struggling with carrying out her parents’ legacy through an inheritance she received. Her father had a blue-collar job, the family lived as if they were poor, and when the last parent died, our client suddenly became financially rich. She not only received an estate worth millions, she also inherited a guilt and shame around spending that made even modest purchases gut-wrenching. How can she act with integrity and alignment when she is living out the unexpressed wishes of her deceased parents?

We say that we save in order to give us security or freedom, but money doesn’t give us either. It doesn’t give us pleasure or pain, it isn’t good or bad, it doesn’t spoil our children or make them saints. Money creates impressions, but impressions are merely impersonations. My client’s parents appeared poor but were wealthy. I’ve met with several people who appeared wealthy but were poor. Impressions.

The only important question to answer is how do we get to what we want under those layers of the things we have been told we want?

Think of times when you have felt the most comfortable with yourself. What made it seem natural to you? A client couple decided to never go to another charity gala because they hated galas. They wanted to support their causes privately and felt that events didn’t serve them. Say yes or no because you’re aligned rather than because of a desire to make an impression.

On what have you spent that felt consistent with your values? Evaluate what made that feel good and see if you can create other ways to reproduce that feeling.

Integrity is digging out from under life’s shoulds and enjoying what you find.

Spend your life wisely.


Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina.