Values: BS or the real deal?
What are values?
‘What is important to you in your life? ‘
‘How do you want to be as a person?’
If I ask these questions, most people don’t have a definitive answer.
Some will say:
“I am what’s important in my life.”
“My kids/ family are important.”
“I want to be a good person.”
These are all good enough answers, but how much do they help you?
If you wanted to live a life where you are the most important, or your kids and your family, how do you do that?
If you want to be a good person, what does that mean? How would you know you reached it?
Today’s substack is about what are values and how to understand them better.
Are values some kind of bulls#@t that are put into our heads by well-intentioned coaches and Instagram therapists?
Well, yes and no.
I believe that the talk on values has increased a lot over the past years. I also believe that it has become some kind of magic graal that if you attain it, your life will be wonderful.
Values are actually chosen directions in your life.
They are expressed as actions or qualities.
Think of a value like going North. You cannot reach North, or touch it, but you know what North means. You know the landscape towards North and you can choose how to get there (this is setting objectives - more on that later).
Examples of values are: being kind, being supportive, staying healthy, and acting with integrity.
Notice how all are expressed as actions and this is not a happenstance - it’s because values are processes.
You will never reach a point when you say “I am as healthy as I can be. Now I can start smoking and eating badly and nothing bad will happen.” You need to keep doing stuff to maintain your health.
What are NOT values:
Values are not emotions. When I ask people what is important to them, they sometimes say - I want to be happy.
This is not a value, because happiness is an emotion and we cannot control emotions nor can we feel an emotion (whichever it is) all the time.
Values are not rules. If I value being a responsible person, that does not mean that I am going to act responsibly ALL THE TIME. Nobody does. More on this in the next substack.
Values are not solitary. We can hold different values in different periods of time and in different contexts. Let’s say you value integrity. And you are acting with this value in mind. But you are driving your wife to the hospital while she is in labor. You may as well cut some stops on the way there because at that moment you value your wife’s well-being more.
What does it mean to live according to your values?
Imagine that you are driving on the highway - and you have a choice whether to drive at 250km/h or keep the maximum speed limit.
Now, how do you choose between these two?
One is to choose with regret - “Ah, I would drive at this speed but I’m afraid I will have an accident”.
The other is to choose like this: “I stick to the speed limit because I value my safety.”
You may ask: What’s the difference? Well, small, but it’s there - one is avoiding something bad. The other is going towards something that matters to you.
If you are not convinced, let me give you another example: You don’t eat that piece of cake because you don’t want to get fat? Or because you want to be healthy?
Or, you pick up your trash because you don’t want to get a fine, or because you value living in a clean city?
The difference lies in the VITALITY with which we act. With which we engage in different behaviors.
If you are always feeling like you are avoiding bad stuff, risks, fines, etc. then you are probably on high alert all the time. And that’s bad.
So, with this in mind, what do you want your life to be about?
How about your professional life?
How about you - what kind of person do you want to be?
Next substack, how to use your values.