My core values, round two

(This post has a lot of rambling and a lot of questions but no answers, so don’t expect any).

A while back, I decided that my core values are “growth” and “joy”. Lately, I’ve been wondering if those are still legit.

This all started because I’ve been getting pangs of stress about work lately. I talked about that in a couple weekly journal entries (1, 2).

In therapy yesterday, I tried to get to the bottom of it. A couple themes emerged:

Thing 1: Professional GROWTH has become a source of stress. I used to love reading work related books and listening to work related podcasts, and now those things stress me out. I used to feel like “these are great ideas and I’m excited to try them and talk about them at work.” And now it feels more like “these are great ideas that I should have been doing already and therefore I’m failing.” So I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve read mostly fiction and listened to mostly non-work podcasts for a long time now.

Thing 2: Professional JOY has become based on how others view me. I find joy in significance. I like knowing that I’m making an impact. And in the absence of any clear metric of my performance, I’ve started using “does everyone think I’m awesome?” as a basic proxy for “am I doing a good job?” And the problem is that it’s unknowable. My brain is always able to list people who may not think I’m awesome, or reasons why I may not be seen as awesome, or things other people who are more awesome would be doing better than me in my position.

So put those together, and both “growth” and “joy” have stopped being things that I can realistically claim to value, at least at work. I still like helping others find growth and joy, but I have been failing for myself.

Then I started to think: did I ever really value those things? Or did I just like being seen as a person who values those things? Do I fundamentally value growing? Or do I just like being seen as a growth oriented person? And what does it mean to value joy? I like making people laugh I guess, but is that just because I like being seen as a fun person to be around?

Is there anything that I value for its own sake, rather than for the social capital it gets me?

Where am I spending energy trying to please someone who actually doesn’t care?

James Clear

So then I asked my therapist: how do I know if I have the right core values? And he asked me: what makes a core value right or wrong?

I think there are two options for answering that question:

  1. A core value is “right” if it is fundamentally how I behave now
  2. A core value is “right” if it is fundamentally how I want to behave

I’d like a little bit of both. I’d like “how I am at my core” and “who I want to become” to both be represented in my values.

Then he asked: in people that I look up to, what is it about those people that I admire? I came up with four things in the moment:

Thinking more about it now, I think boldness usually contains honesty, and warmth usually contains curiosity. It’s hard to be bold without being honest, and it’s hard to be warm without being curious. So boldness and warmth are two values that I tend to admire. But does that mean those should be my values?

Then we started talking about redefining success to be controllable. Here are two things I can’t control:

  • Changing what other people think, about me or anything
  • Knowing what other people really think, at all, about anything

So if my success in “living my values” is based on those things, then I’m fighting a losing battle.

But assuming my values are growth and joy, I can define success as:

  • Creating opportunities for growth
  • Creating opportunities for joy

And a day where I do those things is a good day, regardless of how it goes.

So if I create a book club and nobody joins, I still created the opportunity for growth. If I spin up a gaming session and nobody joins, I still created the opportunity for joy. I’m still living my values despite how the things I can’t control pan out.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I still think growth and joy are good values but that I need to redefine how I live them to be based on what I can control. I’ll work on this and see where it takes me.

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