05/23/2011 05:37 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2011

Knowing What Matters Most

The American Dream as we knew it is no longer a dream that will be fulfilled for most. Yes, it's depressing and will require that Americans dial down their expectations, their plans and their lifestyle.

If we've learned anything from our leaders in government, it's that the task is not easily accomplished because we all have been programmed to want what we want and get what we think we deserve. After all, we have lived with that mythology for quite a while.

We don't know how to negotiate with ourselves and learn how to get what's most important and be willing to leave the less important behind if it means we must compromise. We've been working to have it all so that we wouldn't need to do that personal inventory and learn what we really need and value most.

If we live with another or others, we have hopefully learned how to set priorities and then plan to realize them. In the process, we learn how to communicate and negotiate for a win/win. Otherwise, the process is fruitless, and all involved learn to be helpless and hopeless. All involved must have a say and feel that they were heard. The essential factor for success is flexibility once we are guided by our most important values, needs and wants.

Keeping our ego out of the process is also essential. It's not about win/lose or right/wrong. It's about getting what matters most and a win/win if I'm sharing my life with loved ones that also have needs and wants.

It would be a lot easier if everyone wanted and needed the same things and shared the same values. But the reality is that life is more complex and harder to navigate because we have experienced our day of reckoning. We probably can't have it all. But we can have what matters most if we know what that looks like and what it will take to pull it through for ourselves and those we love.

Knowing what's most important and setting up those key priorities gives us a framework to set goals and action plans that will help us achieve what's most dear to us. If we can and believe we can achieve those priorities, our sense of hope and enthusiasm for life is maintained and nourished. Keeping our eye on those preferences and putting a plan in place to realize them is empowering.

This may seem like a simple task, but we have learned recently how difficult this task is to achieve. We set ourselves up when we have too many priorities -- they lose their power, joyfulness when accomplished and just set us up for disappointment when they remain unfulfilled. That's how most Americans have lived. Their preferences have been their necessities, they think. Their wants have become enmeshed with their needs.