I’ve been a professional writer my entire adult life. But a few years ago, I earned a real estate appraiser’s license—and stumbled onto a concept that has something profound to say about how we can live with more joy, inspiration and purpose.
In estimating a property’s value, an appraiser must determine whether or not the property is at its “highest and best use.” Wonderful phrase, isn’t it?
Appraisers define highest and best as the specific use for a property that, within a set of parameters, gives the property its highest possible value.
Here’s where we find a profound parallel to our own lives.
Every piece of real estate has a highest and best use, which is often different from its current use—for example, a three-unit apartment that would be more valuable if converted into a single-family home. If the property isn’t realizing its full potential, the owner can adjust it—or rebuild it—and raise it to its highest and best use.
The owner can also choose not to put in the time and resources to bring the property up to highest and best status.
Isn’t this a powerful way to evaluate how you’re living your own life?
Just as every property has its own highest and best use, you have a unique highest and best life. It’s the specific state where your actions are in harmony with your values, you make full use of your talents, and you feel—no, you know—that you are living the life you’re meant to live.
How to Find Your Highest and Best in All Areas
You actually have a separate highest and best for each area of your life. The key to living to your full potential is finding that state for as many aspects of your life as you can—and they’re all unique to you, and unique to this time in your life.
Think of this in terms of real estate. A piece of property might be productive but not at its highest and best use. The three-unit apartment generates some revenue, but it would be much more profitable as a single-family home. The owner shouldn’t settle for productive—he should be seeking highest and best.
And so should you.
The trick is to examine each area of your life looking not for what’s “productive” or “good enough,” but for your vision of the ideal way to live that part of your life.
Finding your highest and best use for a given area of your life is like writing a mission statement.
Once you have this mission statement for a given aspect of your life, you can take an inventory of your routines and activities. Then, in light of your new mission statement, you can ask yourself, “Is this activity contributing to my highest and best—or distracting from it?”
A couple of examples:
1. Your family
Using our example above, let’s say you have a baby daughter and are determined to be a terrific parent for her. But how do you actually do that?
Step 1: Find your mission statement to determine your highest and best use.
Let’s say you decide that at this stage, your highest and best use as a new parent is: “Spend as much quality time as I can with my baby.”
That’s great! Now you have a big-picture vision for yourself as a new parent. You’ve found your highest and best use for this aspect of your life.
Step 2: Examine your daily parental activities in the context of your new mission statement. Which activities are helping you spend more quality time with your baby, and which aren’t?
– Sterilizing the baby’s bottles. (No)
– Doing the baby’s laundry. (No)
– Reading her a bedtime story. (Yes)
– Cleaning the baby’s room. (No)
– Taking her to sign-language class and participating with her. (Yes)
Of course, these activities that don’t contribute to your highest and best are still important—you need to clean the baby’s room. But in light of what you’re learning about what’s truly important to you—quality time with your daughter—you can see that these things aren’t as critical as you thought.
Finally, you’ll want to write out a list of additional activities that support the highest and best use you’ve just identified. Some examples:
– Take the baby with me on my morning jog.
– Plan mini-adventures for my baby and me, like the park and the zoo.
– Talk more to the baby while I’m feeding her.
Now that you have your big-picture vision, your mission statement, for this area of your life, you’ll begin finding creative and fun ways to spend more time with your baby.
Note: As you identify your highest and best use for various aspects of your life, you’ll find that it’s never about you alone. Living your highest and best means not only enjoying your life but also connecting to a larger purpose.
2. Your professional life
Step 1: Find your mission statement to determine your highest and best use.
Sticking with our example above, your highest and best for your professional life—at this stage of your life, with your new baby—might be something like, “Create a work-family balance so my daughter grows up with me as a consistent presence.”
Great! You’ve identified your highest and best for your career or business, and you’re ready to take inventory of how your current professional activities are getting you closer to that ideal—or pulling you away from it.
Step 2: Examine your work-related activities in light of your new mission statement. Which activities are contributing to your work-family balance and which aren’t?
– Taking vacation time each year, even if we don’t travel, rather than letting it roll over. (Yes)
– Taking overnight trips to remote offices twice a month. (No)
– Constantly checking email at home on my Blackberry. (No!)
– Making evening calls to coworkers while feeding the baby. (No)
– Doing an hour of work at home each Saturday morning. (No)
With the clarity of your mission statement—to create work-family balance and be present for your baby—you can see that many of your professional routines are pulling you away from your highest and best use.
So find some new activities that support your new effort:
– Delegate more of my workload to my staff. (Yes!)
– Shift my schedule—perhaps work at night, when the baby is asleep—so that I can be available more often in the day or early evening. (Yes!)
Oh, and here’s another great benefit of living at your highest and best: knowing that you’re engaging in highest and best life activities can actually give you energy.
Sure, you’re tired at the end of the day and you’ll often feel too exhausted to read your little girl her bedtime story. But remembering that you’re living at your highest and best—and how important it is for her—will fill you with purpose, and often you’ll finish the book having more energy than when you opened it.
Yes, taking work home with you and working into the night sounds like a pain. But when you stop to think about why you’re doing it, you’ll find the energy you need to get the job done.
What Other Areas Need a Highest and Best Review?
Now take some time to examine your life. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. List out the aspects that are important to you. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
– Physical Fitness
– Intellectual Pursuits
– Spiritual Pursuits
– Creative Pursuits
Below your list, rewrite your first item—for example, “Career.”
Step 1: Find your mission statement to determine your highest and best use for this area. Write it down—preferably just one sentence, so it’s clear and easy to remember.
Step 2: List out your regular activities related to this area, and write “Yes” or “No” beside each one—to indicate whether or not that behavior contributes to your new mission statement.
Step 3: For each item you marked with a “No,” think of an alternative to that activity that would in fact support your highest and best use. Write this alternative beside the item.
Step 4: Finally, think of new activities or routines that you can establish to support your new mission statement, and write them down.
Do this for each item on your list. And that’s it. Now you’re on your way to living your highest and best.
Another benefit of this exercise is that you’ll be getting into the habit of asking yourself, “What’s my highest and best here?” and “How can I get this activity to my highest and best?” Once you start framing questions to yourself this way about your day-to-day life, you’ll find yourself making a lot more smart, empowering decisions.
The phrase itself—“What is my highest and best for this?”—is so inspirational that just saying it out loud can force you to re-examine those areas where you’re not living up to your potential. Where you’re just coasting. Where you’re holding yourself back by staying in your comfort zone.
In other words, just getting into the habit of asking yourself the question of what your highest and best use would look like will often help you move toward achieving it.
But Your Highest and Best Will Change
There’s another profound parallel between this appraisal concept and your life: A property’s highest and best use can change.
Let’s say that 10 years ago, a town factory was at its highest and best use—because the structure was most profitable at that time as a factory. Today, though, the town’s people demand a higher standard of living than factory work can offer. So, with the current structure in place, attracting a commercial tenant will be difficult.
The owner of this building will be better off demolishing the factory and rebuilding it as, say, a modern office complex.
Similarly, in our example above, your highest and best use today for your baby daughter is to give her as much quality time as you can.
But soon your daughter will be a young adult—and perhaps then your highest and best will have changed to giving her space and freedom and simply being available for her when she needs you.
With your career or business, you’re focused now on creating a work-life balance to give your daughter the attention she needs. But as she grows up and becomes more independent, your professional life’s highest and best will change.
Maybe you’ll want to throw yourself into your work—if you enjoy it—and really make a difference with your professional life. If at that time you determine that this is your new highest and best, then go for it!
One of life’s great challenges—and joys—is frequently re-examining where we are and determining if it’s time for a change. In other words, determining whether or not, at this moment, we’re living at our highest and best life.
Even if you’re not aware of it, each day you make a decision—to live that day to your full potential, or not.
Now that you know this obscure rule of appraising real estate, you have a terrific little phrase that can help you put that decision into words. Tell yourself every morning, “I’m going to live today at my highest and best!”