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Exploring the Values that Drive Us

As we grow up we look up to our elders to tell us what is right and what is wrong. We know what is the right way to do things to be successful and what is the wrong way that leads us to failure. Our elders, now, may be far away from us and we may not be able to lean on them for needed advice. However, when we are able to get that advice, they don’t fully understand the cultural context that we are living in or the social norms that we have to adapt to. Nevertheless, it still leaves us pondering what should we do now.

Where does this leave us? What path should we take?

We talked last week about changing paths and starting anew. The path we feel in our hearts that we need to go, others may judge and it can be that judgment that comes from those we love the most in our families. For many of us, we want to know that our family is proud of us that are parents or our elders approve of us after so much sacrifice. Yet, at this juncture, we have been away long enough that our paths have certainly diverged from what they hoped for and planned for us. Even though we have nostalgia for our childhood home, you and those you have been separated from have changed over the years. And sometimes even those dreams for “home” may be more of a romance than reality.

Now, you are faced with a decision and you have a few options you can choose from. Either do what you were told that will make you “happy” in the eyes of others? Or take a risk and try something off the beaten path? Depending on the path you choose, you may not get the outside approval you have struggled to attain.

What will you do then? How will you measure your success?

In a book aptly called, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck,” by Mark Manson, Manson brings up the topics of values and metrics. We all have our own core values and we choose the metrics that we measure how we succeed in those values or not. If your metric is to always have your parents’ approval, more likely than not you are not going to be living the life you dreamed of for yourself. In all honesty, you may never get that approval.

Plus, even over time, people change even your parents! What may have been the epitome of a successful career 20 years ago, may not be the standard today. Think about it! For many of us as children, we learned to expect that we will grow up and get a job and work that same job for the next 30 to 40 years working our way to the top. How true is that today? And if you allow an outside force to control that standard, what control do you have over your own life.

Last week we talked about different ways to explore and reflect so we can be able to understand what we truly want. This week we will reflect on what values we want to lead our lives by and standards we measure them with. When I say values, think about the core themes in your life or in the jobs you choose. Have these choices lead to positive outcomes for you? Or did you feel like something was missing? Did you make these choices because they aligned with who you were or did you make them because of how they would make you appear to others? Were you thinking of just the next step of the journey in your decision or were you thinking about what you wanted the end result to look and feel like?

Reflect on what is essential to you. Is it…

  • Security?
  • Mobility?
  • Travel?
  • Money?
  • Spirituality?
  • Flexibility?
  • Creativity?
  • Diversity?

These are only a few points that we can think about in terms of what are your values. Taking everyone’s opinion aside, when you made a decision about your life’s direction fully for yourself, what came up for you? What reasoning did you make to take the decision you did? If you haven’t made a decision on what you wanted, why are you thinking about taking a path that diverges from traditional family expectations? Write it down on a piece of paper and read it back to yourself. Do you see themes in it? Condense it into a few words. These are your values. These words make up the core of how you live your life. There is no right or wrong with this exercise. And over time as you develop as a person these words may change and that’s ok.

On a personal note…

For me, it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted for just myself! I graduated from undergrad in 2008 and found no jobs! I was competing for entry-level positions with a cohort of professionals who had master’s degrees and 20 years of experience. And all I had was a few internships and my lovely personality. Needless to say, this really hit my self-esteem. I learned in my youth that all I needed was a college degree and the life-time job would be waiting for me at the doors after I graduated. Reality hit me in the face! Big time!

I felt like a failure for years! I thought that I needed to be able to financially stable to take care of my house, to be able to financially take care of the needs of my parents and I couldn’t. On top of it, I was dealing with a cultural society that told me I was a dead beat because I was a 20 something living with my mother and then dealing with a mother who wanted me to live in the same house as her for the rest of life because I am her only child. Can you recognize the cultural matrix that I had maneuver myself in? Can you relate?

It took me years and another degree to find financial stability. And when I had it, I was still not happy. I was not living according to my personal values. That took me another couple of years of deep reflection to figure out and accept.

One’s life’s journey is usually not linear going straight to the top of wherever. Mine certainly wasn’t and maybe yours isn’t either. Be loving and forgiving of yourself. Give yourself the time to explore what you really want and the values you want to live by.

And by the way!

My name is Tara. I am a licensed clinical social worker who provides counseling services in the state of Illinois. This blog post is not therapy and should not be used as a substitute for therapy. If you are interested in a free 15 consultation with me, click here!

Just to let you know, if you see any external links that lead to Amazon, I am an affiliate and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases.

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