Personal Values: Check Your Default

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Not too long ago, I was standing in the airport thinking about what drives me. For me, this project is all about finding ways to optimize my life, get more done, and realize my dreams. So, my thoughts tend to stray to these kinds of topics, wherever I am. So there I am, waiting for my plane to arrive while thinking about my Values, the reasons I do what I do.

Now before I go on, you have to understand that I’ve generally considered Values as something you “discover.” I thought that I just needed to sit down, do a little self-reflection and I’d have them all figured out. And so that’s what I did. And I came up with a single word: obligation.

Obligation. I do the things I do because they are required of me. They are expected of me.

If that sounds a bit stifling and not very fun, you’d be right. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m doing things I don’t want or feel I shouldn’t.  I am generally proud of what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made, and the things I’ve accomplished.

But, in that one word I saw that the underlying reason I’ve done what I’ve done has often been because of expectation. In many cases it was an external expectation; do this assignment or complete this job task. In other cases it was an internal expectation; do this because that’s they only way you’ll get ahead.

In fact, once I had that word ringing around in my head I saw not only how obligation drove my life, but also how I restructured tasks and goals with that concept implicitly in mind. I could pinpoint times where I’d tricked myself into accomplishing something by simply making it a requirement, by making it an obligation I just had to meet.

But while I’m moderately proud of myself for that bit of personal life-hacking, it’s not really how I want to live. I don’t want to wake up each day because I have to. I want to wake up each day because I want to.

Fortunately, my mid-airport contemplation didn’t stop at that one word. Once I discovered my driving Value wasn’t something I liked very much, I began to consider whether or not I was stuck with it. Was this just the way things were or did I have a choice?

There are so many more important things to me. Kindness. Charity. Integrity. Hard work. Accomplishment. These are the things I want driving me. These are the things I want to Value. And I reject any narrative that says I can’t have them. So these are the things I choose.

Obligation may have been my default Value for a long time, but it’s just that: a default. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in years of working with computers, it’s that defaults can be changed.

So I’m changing it. I’m making an active choice to replace my default Value with the Values I’ve selected, the ones that mean more to me than mere Obligation. Things like Kindness, Charity, Integrity, Hard work, and Accomplishment are the Values I choose. These are the Values that I will have driving my life.

The things I end up doing might not change much. In fact, I generally expect I’ll do many of the same things the same way. But even if what I do doesn’t change, the reason why I do them will. And I think that just might make all the difference.

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