Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that can have the biggest impact—especially when they shed light on something that you’ve struggled with for some time. For most of my adult life, I’ve worried on and off about my “purpose” and its murky, unclear nature. Plagued by the constant question, what do I want to do with my professional life?, I wondered why my ambitions were so elusive when everyone around me seemed to have very specific career goals in mind. I’ve always been eager to apply myself but struggled with which direction.
More recently, I tried to simplify my path and determined that I know for sure that I want to help people, and moving in that general direction, I’ve already found diverse areas in which to apply myself, and I’ve started to relax about solidifying long-term goals. In short, you could say that I became more process- and value-oriented than goal-oriented. And as it turns out, value vs. goal orientation is kind of a thing!
When we live a value-driven and process-driven life, we’re focused on the kind of person we want to be and what values we want to embody (kindness, curiosity, empathy?). One way of thinking about this is–how do we want to be remembered by the people who know us as more than a product of our work? Meanwhile, being present to enjoy the process of your life, en route to whatever goals you have, frees your quality of life from depending on the momentary joy centered around achieving those goals (and let’s face it–sometimes we don’t achieve all of our goals, so we might as well find a way to enjoy the ongoing act of trying to meet our goals while embodying our most cherished values).
Another benefit of focusing on values rather than end results is that it puts us back in touch with we are at our core, ultimately giving us more agency in the immediate quality of our life.
Psychologist Dr. Ivy Hall explains:
“As children, we are often asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ This question then gets asked constantly as we go through life, sometimes causing some immense stress and feelings of confusion and frustration when that question cannot be answered.
Questions that we neglect to ask are, ‘What KIND of person do you want to be? HOW do you want to behave?’ Not being who we genuinely are, losing contact with our values, not behaving in ways that are important to us can also bring stress, pain, even suffering into our lives. “
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have goals or that goals aren’t an important part of why we get up in the morning or how we structure our days. The wonderful thing is–we can be highly committed to our goals (however concrete they are) while still prioritizing our values the journey of our lives.
Psychologist Martin Seligman writes, “We must involve ourselves fully, and the pursuit of gratification requires us to draw on character strengths such as creativity, social intelligence, sense of humor, perseverance, and an appreciation of beauty and excellence.” Values like these and many others help give shape to our current lives, allowing us to be more present in our day-to-day endeavors rather than viewing our current situation as a “placeholder” life until we being our “real” life after reaching certain goals.
If you’re not sure how to get started, journal about at least five values and why they’re important to you. Then, for the next few weeks, keep daily note of how you add those values to the world–and how the world reveals them to you. Don’t be surprised if you quickly realize that value is all around you (and within you!).
What do you think? Do you embrace a values-driven mindset?
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