About seven years ago, I had the opportunity to explore Borneo during a long-anticipated, three week sojourn from my long-term teaching stint in Taiwan.
The jungles were lush, the orangutans breathtaking, and the nearby waters were the embodiment of picturesque, cerulean brilliance.
And yet, at times, something didn’t seem quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was agitated and anxious. During one particularly scenic sunset on an elevated walkway in the rainforest, I felt downright despondent.
Why? This was supposed to be a majestic escape from all of the undesirable elements of city life: pollution, crowds, work, responsibility.
There was something missing.
Was it that I was a solo traveler? That could be. But I’d traveled quite a bit by myself by that time, and didn't always feel this way.
It is only now, in the glorious, truth bearing light of hindsight, that I fully understand what was wrong.
I hadn’t clearly defined my own values.
During that trip, I met lots of people, saw tons of incredible sights, and ate prolific quantities of exotic foods. It was a feast for the senses.
And yet, it didn’t have any deep, underlying meaning. Lots of fun, but not purposeful.
If I had to articulate what my values were then, I’d say they were: freedom, pleasure, novelty, comfort, and being liked.
What do all these values have in common? All of them are externally-oriented. None of them are, or were, in my control.
Enter social anxiety and chronic dissatisfaction, stage right.
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon excerpts from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson many years later that I realized how important values can be.
Oddly enough, at the time I was actually living pretty much in accordance with my values. But since they were terrible values, the outcome could never meet my expectations.
Which leads us to the question: how do you know which values are good and which are bad?
Mark Manson writes:
“Good values are 1) reality based 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable. Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive, and 3) not immediate or controllable [...]
Some examples of good healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity. Some examples of bad values: dominance [...] feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods.”
Life right now may be filled with suffering, struggle, and difficulties. You may even feel compelled to sacrifice animals to the gods sometimes. But, if you have the right values, the burden of the present can get a little lighter—your vision of the future, a little clearer.
In short: once you change your values, your values change everything.
What are your values? Spend some time thinking about them. Review them. Write them down. And then carry them with you, in your heart and in your mind, whatever happens.