“Just do what makes you happy.”
People said that to me over and over again when Jared and I were separated. It was well-intentioned advice, but every time I heard it I was overwhelmed with the urge to punch some well-intentioned person in the face.
I had no idea what would make me happy. And furthermore, I was pretty sure that good people didn’t obsess about what did or did not make them happy.
“But that would make me a bad person.”
I’ve probably uttered that phrase a million times in the three decades since I started talking. My first sentence was “I do it myself” and my next was, most likely, an ode to my fear of being a bad person.
That fear controlled me.
Specifically, that fear prevented me from defining my own values until I was about 30. If understanding your values is an essential part of defining happiness, it’s no wonder I was so utterly confused when people kept telling me to “do whatever will make you happy.”
It’s not that I didn’t have values. Rather, I had all of them.
Or at least, I tried very, very hard to have all of them – all of the good ones, at least. Everything good and proper and important that people were supposed to value was, I was certain, important to me. If I found myself questioning the validity of those values, even for a moment, I squashed my inner voice hard and fast and promised to try harder to not be a bad person.
I don’t want to be a bad person.
And then one day I woke up as a person I didn’t recognize. And another day people started telling me to do whatever made me happy, and I didn’t have a freaking clue what that meant.
I wiped my value slate clean.
I started over.
Before readmitting any belief as my own, I turned it over carefully in therapy and in the quiet hours when I was alone. I dug into the roots of the value, and asked myself who told me what was good and bad and right and wrong. I thought long and hard before committing to any principle or notion of what should be in my life.
Slowly, one by one, I started to put the values back.
Honesty. Marriage. Family. Kindness. Personal accountability. Environmental responsibility. Health.
Like high-dollar items in a specialty grocery store, I weighed each idea carefully with both hands before putting it back in my basket of priorities.
And I decided that some values didn’t make the cut.
They weren’t bad or wrong in any way. They didn’t need to be debunked or boycotted entirely. No one else needed to be saved from them, for sure. They just didn’t fit anymore for me, and letting go of them gave me peace.
Some very fine things I don’t value:
- Education – I’m not anti-education. I am definitely pro-learning. I will not, however, be heartbroken if my children don’t go to college.
- Homeownership - Been there, done that, still trying to get my t-shirt. I have no interest in owning a home again any time in the near future. I would almost dare to say I don’t have any interest in owning a home again ever, but I know better than to tempt the Universe with words like never and ever.
- Wealth - There is a lot of freedom, security, and opportunity that comes with wealth, and that’s cool. I just don’t give a crap anymore. Wealth, to me, is simply a means to an end, and it’s no longer the only means I consider.
- Justice – Life isn’t fair, and sometimes that sucks. But mostly, I’m OK with that now. I’m not driven to balance the scales of right and wrong on everyone else’s behalf.
- Security - I don’t find peace here. I find peace, rather, in believing that everything will be OK even if all hell breaks loose.
These are phenomenal values. I know some amazing people who are driven by them, and that commitment is a much-needed gift to the world.
But they are no longer my values, and accepting that makes it easier for me to concentrate on giving my gifts to the world.
What really great values have you let go of?