So I’ve mentioned before that I’m going through kind of a big life shift right now. I quit a very lucrative job that was making me very unhappy and also ended an almost decade long relationship (partially) because we realized our values and goals were misaligned.
Over the last year I’ve been slowly realizing that I’m in my mid thirties and I never took the time to really think about what I wanted or needed out of life to be happy. I was following scripts kind of mindlessly.
My values weren’t really ever things I thought about intentionally and I was doing things to pass time until I figured out what I “really wanted to do with my life.” Surprise surprise that this doesn’t seem to happen by accident.
So I ended up chasing things like “get a house” or “amass a pile of money” or “get that executive promotion” or “get married” as goals in themselves. But without understanding how those things fit into a framework for my life, I made some poor choices.
One of the problems with orienting yourself around achieving things is that while it’s not bad per se, if they’re ends unto themselves you don’t really have any way to derive self value internally and it’s all about “did I hit my goal or not.” Also what happens when you fail?
Also you have no idea if those things will actually make you happy because you don’t have a stable base to ground your achievements in. It’s binary and arbitrary. Who cares if you have a house or a fancy title if you don’t know why you want those things?
And then, when you DO achieve those things you’re immediately thrust into a moment of anxiety and identity loss where you need a new goal to chase because your closed-ended goal has been achieved and you’re not any happier.
Lately, I’ve instead been challenging myself to think about what KIND of activities and values lead to a life that appeals to me. What kind of person do I want to be? What kinds of impacts do I want to have on myself and the world?
So instead of “I want to have my own business” maybe my value should be “I want to make financial independence a central part of my life.” Instead of writing a book or making an app, it’s “I want to be a person who is constantly making things.”
Instead of “I want to be married” you should ask yourself why you want that and how it will change your life—“I want to be continuously building deep relationships with people I like” doesn’t require marriage necessarily.
It’s okay to want any or all of these concrete goals. It’s just better to understand the type of values you want to model in an open-ended way so you have a metric for continuous life improvement rooted in ways of being rather than moments of achievement.
That way you don’t feel like a failure if your business tanks or your marriage ends or you fail in any other number of ways that you probably will at some point because your values will still be guiding you.
It’s so cliche to say that it’s about the journey and not the destination but for me, it really does seem to be about framing my life in terms of how I want to live it before choosing things I want to do, acquire or build.
It’s also about taking personal responsibility for why you feel what you feel and doing the work to develop self acceptance instead of grabbing for short term fixes for pain: new shiny toys, drugs, new love, etc.
I’m still bad at this.
But realizing you do have those unhealthy behaviors and externally-focused self value mechanisms is the first step to fixing it.
Can’t fix what you can’t see. 🤷♀️
I massively crave external approval which is probably one of the reasons I’m on here live tweeting my midlife crisis to y’all. But also I’m trying to be more authentic and vulnerable as one of my personal values and this is helping me with that too.
And also I wish I had been open to these kinds of conversations like a decade ago, so if it’s helpful for anyone I feel good about that.
Life won’t just come along and present you with purpose one day. You have to decide for yourself what’s meaningful and work hard to align your choices and behaviors with that so your outcomes are aligned with your personally felt values.
It’s a lifelong process.
One final thought about values: once you define them, it seems like it’s a lot easier to emotionally shield yourself from criticism of any specific thing you decide to do. You have a way to hold your actions up against a system and see if you’re living well.
If you tend to (like me) take external criticism really hard, it might be because you don’t know why you’re doing what you do and using other people’s opinions as a mirror to see if your life is good.
If your actions are consistent with your values, you’re fine.
So like... don’t be me. Figure out your values. I’m working on that right now.