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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Revisiting Values and the Scaffolding of Success

Values. One of the supports of the scaffolding of success is knowing your values and living in accord with them. I could take you through the reasons why, but just trust me. Whenever you talk to or read experts about success, happiness, and the meaning of life, they always bring the subject around to knowing your values. After all, everyone wants to live a meaningful life. Doing work that has meaning, feeling like you have a purpose, being able to get into flow depends on zeroing in on what is important to you.

At the end of October, we went to visit our friends in Boston. You know the weekend, the one when we left the Senior home alone with strict instructions not to let anyone drunk in our house. (Except us, of course.) But no drunk teens, due to liability issues. I was feeling okay about leaving her alone, if okay means heart palpitations and inability to sleep coupled with the constant feeling of needing to pee. In my secret heart, I felt we owed it to her to leave her alone at least once before she goes to college.

I was fine, even after, while walking Milo, encountering my neighbor, who recounted the times her children attended parties that destroyed homes while unsuspecting parents were out of town. Even after she told me that one night she actually got “that call you never want to get, the police calling to say your child is en route to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.” 

Yeah, anyway, blithely off to Boston we went, to visit our Yankee friends. These guys are Yankees through and through. Meaning that they keep the thermostat at 56 F and return well-worn items to L.L. Bean for replacement because of their lifetime guarantee. In honor of our visit, they said they were willing to break their rule of never bumping up the heat voluntarily until after Nov. 1 and they would do so for us, if it got really cold. I felt like a wuss knowing they looked upon us that way, as needing more heat. Which I do. It is true. I keep the heat at 66 during the day and bump it up to 68 regularly. 

So anyway, off we went. I tucked the book I had to read for an assignment into my bag, even though the husband mocked me for thinking we would have time to read. It was an interesting book, up my bowling alley as they say, a self-help book. I can’t say the title, since I reviewed it, for actual money, and it has not yet come out. It was all about how tapping into your true values makes you happier and more successful and helps improve the world. Just the kind of self-help stuff my Yankee friends would never read, let alone think. 

I tried out this idea as we huddled around their kitchen table, cupping our hands over our glasses of whiskey for warmth. I told them I was reading a pre-publication copy of a book about figuring out your values and learning to live in accord with them. This book talked about how it can be difficult to determine what you actually value, as opposed to what you feel you should value. Check. I have had that problem. 

My Yankee friend looked at me like I’d, I don’t know, turned the heat up to 70. Wouldn’t you just automatically do the stuff that was important to you? She wanted to know. 

Nothing like a Yankee to reduce a self-help book to cinders. It was as if, when I began to describe this book to them, immediately the idea in it seemed to disintegrate.

Basically, my Yankee friends couldn’t conceive how anyone would need to discover his or her values. They would just know them. Furthermore, they would just live in accord with them. Or, if they weren’t totally in accord with them, due to the need to pay bills - a common situation among most people - then they would accept that and move on. What’s the namby-pamby big deal about finding your values? That was the gist of the conversation.

Readers, I felt about the size of a lemon seed after this. I symbolically had to semi-raise my hand sheepishly and say that I, personally, had found it very hard to settle on my actual true values. Which is probably because I’m not a gritty, hardy Yankee. 

And yet, they are right, to a degree. We all make our choices and spend our time, and therefore we must value what we do. Indeed,I have come to see that despite my internal conflicts over should and should not, I have managed to live, after all, doing the things I want to do. At least as far as they are in my control. 

But for example, say you have a kid who is into soccer and you are not into soccer. Well, then you have to go to all these soccer games and stand around and try to keep your eye on the ball and recognize one ponytailed preteen from another - can you tell I speak here from experience? - well, then in that situation, you are doing something you don’t value. You might even consider it a waste of time. However, if I brought my Yankee friend’s clarity of thought to the situation, perhaps I could look at it a different way. Maybe I am doing exactly what I value, because what I value most is supporting my child. Therefore, wasting my time and being bored out of my mind and utterly unable to tell one ponytail from another across the field is actually living in accord with my values. So I need to get over myself. 

Now, say you have two children, or three, or more. For each child, presumably, you find yourself weaving various strands of obligation into a nice potholder of life. You’re going to games, performances, and meetings relating to your children, but you feel you have forgotten what you value, or you’re not sure anymore. Because what you value gets buried under the day-to-day stuff you do. 
potholders of life
c/o Creative Commons Google Images

So, with a tip of the hat to my Yankee friend, I have to say that in this situation, you can actually get confused about what you value. Do you value supporting your child in her endeavors? Or was it rooting for the team to win that game and engaging in fisticuffs with other over-invested parents? 

I guess a lot of my life is like that. What I want or prioritize day-to-day and hour-to-hour can be in conflict; but what I do incrementally, over time, speaks to my underlying priorities - and those are my true values. 

Or do I have it backwards? Do I do exactly what I value every day, being a SAHM and a writer (which means at times a procrastinator, a do-nothinger, a daydreamer, and a slob) but still feel like I should (SHOULD) be doing something else: having a more well-defined profession with a salary and benefits and hours and special work clothes. 

So I guess what I’m saying is that I admire my Yankee friend’s certainty; but I am equally certain that it’s all too easy to lose track of what you value and wonder what it is. 

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