It’s not that I don’t have any values; I am simply unable to define them. Which means, for all practical purposes, I don’t have any functional values.
This is a problem.
Because I have been able to get consistent long-term mental health care through the VA, meeting weekly (via phone thanks to Covid-19), I’m slowly coming to understand some fundamental things in a way that is not merely enlightening but useful. The most important thing I’ve come to realize is how the absence of clear, actionable values has kept me from living a thoughtful, meaningful life.
Anyone who knows me has seen me go from project to project, one burst of excited energy to the next, with nothing being produced as a result. I’ve had all sorts of thoughts on why this is so, most prevalent being some form of “I’m a total loser”. This has been moderated in the past year or so into “lack of mindfulness” but that was of limited usefulness.
But now I see that I have lacked the clarity and guidance that well-understood values provide. Instead of acting on values, I was attempting to live my life by setting goals. This turns out to be a form of building a house without a foundation. Here’s from “The Mindful Way Through Anxiety” –
Goals can point us in valued directions, but values are the underlying force that guides us in setting goals and working toward them.
So my current mental health efforts are aimed at clarifying my values. This is not as simple as it might seem on the surface. You can ask, “What’s important to you?” but when I try to set that down in a few words, I find myself grasping at smoke.
Fortunately, I know I have strong values. They are ill-defined, and so in the moment I need them I do not have them at hand and so end up acting on whatever my mind flees to in panic and fear. Or blind hope. Over the course of my life, I’ve developed habits and reactions that guide me with more force than I am able to counter. Until I know what my values are – what matters to me and how this can guide my choices – I’ll continue to be led by reactivity.
But like I said, I do have strong values. I sense them and I trust them. Now I need to get to know them. For example: justice. I value justice highly, but what does that mean? How is “justice” a meaningful value in the context of my life? The same goes for things like creativity, hope, peace, connection, family…. I mean, how is “family” a value?
I don’t know how many people can answer such questions, but I know that I cannot. That is a problem, but, thanks to the VA and some very good books, and the fact that I am the person that I am, I am on my way to answering those questions.
And then my good ideas will have a way of becoming actual accomplishments.