Are You Making Life, Or Stealing It?
Since my last post on losing my edge and the ensuing swing back to defending and upholding my values, I’ve done some more introspection and discovered something disturbing about myself: I have been waiting for someone else to tell me when I’m good enough. Ergo, I haven’t been determining my own self-worth, but waiting for someone else to tell me when I’m good enough. For someone who thought that we should never allow other people’s opinions to change what we think of ourselves, this was a disturbing realization. I felt like my very way of life was a lie, because I had been mortgaging so much of my self-worth on the opinion of other people. I had cut myself in two in this way – I believed that we, ultimately, are the sole judges of our own value, but I didn’t apply that to myself. Here’s some context: For years and years, I’ve been waiting to go to college – preferably the best school possible, since I’d be surrounded by other people of similar talents and interests (those types of kids are few and far between where I live). I looked on it as a form of liberation from the drudgery of the town I live in now, a way to escape everything once and for all. I was looking for Heaven. However, in being contention for the top schools in the country, another problem presented itself – what if I wasn’t as good as I thought I was? What if I’m deluded with this self-help stuff and I only appear to be good because I’m around people who are incredibly inept? Since I could never be sure if I’m as good as I think I am – I’m all too aware of the dangers of self-delusion – I left the determination of my value in someone else’s hands: the college admissions officers. Since they are the gatekeepers to the most hallowed halls in the country – maybe the world – I could trust them to adequately judge who I am, absolving me of all responsibility, right? Wrong. Relying on someone else to judge my worth based on a very, very small set of data and absolutely no face-to-face time together is a terrible mistake. No wonder I felt intense dread at the idea of getting rejected by a college. A rejection meant that I was inadequate. That’s not so.
Stealing Value vs. Making It In this way, I became a thief – not of money, but of value. I believed that the value that I was producing was not good enough, so I counted on the good opinion of someone with value (admissions counselors) to cover for me, to assure me that I was, in fact, competent and a good man and everything else I believe someone who is at the top 1% of the world should be. Essentially, I was stealing from them. Or at least begging for their good opinion. Now I see that I was absolutely wrong, because I bought into their standards of value, while giving away my own. Throughout my life, I’ve made it my goal to do everything as well as I can, and only spend time on things that enrich my life in some way. I’ve got a dream to never work a job I hate, and my ultimate goal is to never have to do something I dislike. I’ve always done what I’ve truly wanted to do, and I’ve been proud of myself for that. But these admissions counselors – they want something else. They want community involvement; I’ve never been a part of it since I’m so independent that I’ve gone off and done things on my own that could hardly be called structured or community-oriented. They want “leadership”; I’ve been a leader of myself, captain of my own ship, not wasting time directing others in an arbitrary group that I’m not interested in. I’ve met their standards in ways that overlap with my own – the high grades and test scores, but in terms of interests, I diverge from what their “ideal” is. Is that good or bad? I can’t say. I haven’t received my decisions yet from schools I’ve applied to (to be honest, I haven’t even applied!) and I’m willing to bet some school will take a chance on someone with a resumé as blatantly unconventional as mine. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that, in switching my standards of value with someone else’s in an attempt to please them, I’ve fallen into an awful trap, the trap of being selfless. It’s totally disempowering and has made me a marionette, subject to the whims of other people. Not to mention – you destroy your integrity if you make someone else’s priorities higher than yours. It’s fine if your goals mesh – or even if you’re able to compromise on them – but it’s an act of treason against yourself if you give up your own standards for living for them. By destroying your capacity to judge yourself and your work, you end up destroying your ability to live life as an independent, sovereign being. Being able to be self-sufficient and lead yourself in the direction your heart, mind, and spirit call you is incredibly powerful. I’d argue that it’s the best skill anyone can have. With the ability to direct yourself to live the life of your design and to do whatever it takes in order to make it a reality. But how do you connect with your core? How do you know what your values are?
Getting In Touch With Your Values The simplest way to align yourself with your values is to sit down with a piece of paper, and ask yourself a simple question: “What do I find morally correct? How should a person live?” Now, when you’re trying to figure out what your answers are, try and separate what your religion, family, and friends think is right from what you think is right. Use your own mind, not theirs. You can draw on their reasoning, but it must be “verified” in a sense by your logical faculties. If they make sense to you, then they can be said to be your values – if you’re willing to live by them. If you name them as your values, and you don’t live by them, you’re committing an act of fraud, an assault upon your integrity. Think carefully when choosing your values for this reason, but don’t shrink for them if they’re too hard to follow – integrity is so admirable because following one’s values to a T is usually very hard to do. You cannot be a person with integrity with no values. That’s the coward’s way out of life – I’m a firm believer that there are absolutes, that there are morals, and that there are certain things that people should embrace in order to live the best life they can – namely independence, persistence, emotional stability, a desire to improve, and creativity. Some may agree, some may disagree – but their opinions don’t matter because I’m convinced that my values are “right” and will never lead me astray. Making a life of your own rests on your ability to clearly define your values and then act on them. They are your fundamental convictions about life, and every action you make should, ideally, follow from your values. If you do that, then you will never go wrong, and you will never have a day of true regret. Sure, you can regret doing something because it turned out to have a bad outcome, but there is nothing, and I mean nothing, worse than the pain of regret for doing something that you knew was against your values, but you did it anyway. Again, I’ll repeat: nothing is worse than committing an act against your values, and regretting it. This is especially true for major decisions in life like relationships and work. If you make a choice against your values in either of those areas, expect it to haunt you for a while. Mark my words. This is why having a rock-solid understanding of your world and what you believe in is so important. If you understand the world you live in, you can make something out of every moment, with your values guiding your actions. Every battle is internal. Will you follow your values, or will you follow someone else’s, always cutting yourself in two?