Do you have too many values?

“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?

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  1. Britt–

    You make me happy. You give me hope.

    I’m so honored to be your friend.

  2. Wow, this is very thought-provoking for me. While I have definitely let go of values I feel like society dictates I should have if I am a good person, I have never set out to explicitly figure out what those values are. One very obvious value I have let go of is religion. I think it is very good for a lot of people, but it is not something that has ever enriched my life like other values have.

    I look forward to exploring this topic further…thanks!

  3. Suebob says:

    I question my values all the time, too. I used to think I needed to be right. Now I’m willing to admit that I may well be wrong.

  4. Sheila says:

    The only values that I hold close to me are family (meaning my husband and kids because the of my family mostly sucks) and honesty.

    I used to have a lot of “values” but then I realized that my “values” were dictated by the people around me. I stopped caring if other people didn’t like my “values” and now I [try my best to] only do things that make me and my family happy.

    Everyone else can suck it. That’s my new life motto.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Your quotes make values look like a dirty word! lol

      • Sheila says:

        They kind of were, at that point. Everyone else but me was dictating how I viewed things. If they’re not my values, then they weren’t really values so that’s why I put the quotes. I had to stop giving a shit and start all over to figure out what was important to me. I’m still figuring it all out but like I said, for now, family and honesty are the only things that I care about.

  5. Robin says:

    You have given me much food for thought this morning. :)

  6. Bre says:

    Thank you for shedding light on this subject for me. I think there is no better time than now, while Jude is small, that I establish my values. I, like you, want to be a good person. And that usually ends up in me guilting myself to help, help, help everyone else until I’m run ragged. I like that you forage a path fpr personal growth and am grateful you choose to share it with us all. You are someone I admire dearly.

  7. the muskrat says:

    I used to think I should try to be friends with, or at least “get along” with, everyone. Now I realize I can’t. That’s probably a stupid way to answer your question, but that’s all I got right now.

    • Miss Britt says:

      It’s not stupid at all. That’s actually a pretty big deal when you want to be “nice” and “likeable”.

      Actually, it always kind of cracks me up when you make a half-ass shitty remark about someone or something (“less? You’re talking to a room full of writers.” ha!), because you are otherwise so damn nice. It reminds me we all have layers. :-)

  8. for a long time i felt crappy that education was not of huge importance to me when it clearly was so important to my mother considering she went back to school for degree after degree as an adult, finishing with her masters (certified nurse practitioner) at the age of 60. while i was so proud of her for accomplishing what she set out to do, i just never felt called to even one day of higher learning. for a while i know it killed my mom, but then she eventually didn’t mind and referred to my school of hard knocks education.

    kinda cool to see someone else who loves learning yet doesn’t mind if there isn’t a piece of paper with fancy writing. YOU ROCK! (you would rock regardless, but i just had to say it.)

  9. Megan says:

    It’s taken me forever, but the I’ve let go of the wealth thing, mostly because the “freedom” it could afford is a bit of an illusion in so many cases. Unless you inherit it or win the lottery, you’ve got to work for your money, and the big money usually comes with focusing on your work to the exclusion of just about everything else. Which, for me, means that the whole point of having the money – being able to travel as much as I’d like – is not viable because I have to work.

    I’m letting go of the home ownership thing as well. My new plan down the road is either to have a small condo or rent a place and travel a lot.

    I don’t know if I could let go of the education thing – not so much because of the actual book learnin’, but because of the experience that college affords you (if you go when you’re “supposed” to). It’s a great balance of being on your own but having that safety net you’ll never have again.

  10. Kristin says:

    I would say security and stability. Not in the sense of “I’m afraid for my life” but in the sense of life is completely uncertain and you just can’t bubble wrap yourself. It was hard, as I finally realized I am a grownup, to accept that just because we have a home and two cars and and 3 kids that life is still going to hit you. I used to aim for that feeling of complete security, knowing all is well in my world. But just as soon as I’d feel that, a picture frame would fall off the wall and crack. Or the dog would shit on the carpet. I’ve learned to embrace the madness that is life and accept that security and stability are a bit overrated.

  11. LindaSalem says:

    I finally moved away from organized religion. While I understand that many people get a lot of solace from their religion and I respect that, I felt guilted but not close go God. Now I have deeper faith in my Higher Power and value humanity more. For me, this change in perspective has been very freeing and yet I feel more involved. I’m not judging other because they are not my religion or their beliefs are different than mind. I can love them and appreciate their involvement in their own religion because it fulfills them spiritually. My change in perspective has opened me to greater love for all.

    I haven’t visited your site before but I will regularly now. You’ve given me food for thought that’s for sure and I enjoyed reading your well thought out writing. Thanks.

  12. mel says:

    This really made me think. I was raised Catholic and sent to Catholic schools, but I have found that although I have followed through with the traditions, the religion itself isn’t much of importance to me. I’m still working through weather it’s right to follow the traditions when I’m not sure I necessarily believe in the meaning behind them. I went ahead and baptized my first daughter because I was only 20 when I had her and it was all I knew. We sent her to Catholic school because we didn’t know much about Boston Public and other private are too expensive and she decided on her own that she wanted to have a First Communion, but we switched to public in 3rd grade. Our 2nd daughter is 2 and still hasn’t been baptized. I’m stuck between sorting through my beliefs and doing what our family expects. It’s a tough spot, but it’s also our kids and our lives. We want our kids to learn about all religions and expand our own knowledge as well. Then they can chose what works for them if any does at all.

  13. mel says:

    also, I just adore that last picture. love it.

  14. Lisa says:

    I never did have the drive for higher education, and now I think I value it less because I see the people around me who value it so highly yet don’t have real world experience and common sense to back it up.

    I have never valued religion, probably because I was raised without it. You can’t really value something you never had.

    I gave up on wanting people to like me. I was compromising who I am and what
    I need in order to not rock the boat and make other people happy, when they didn’t really do the same for me. I figured out that I am responsible for my own happiness and that changing for someone else didn’t make me happy, so I stopped.

    I don’t value beauty. I was blessed with pleasant features, but I didn’t *do* anything to get them. Short of disfiguring myself there isn’t anything I can do to change how I look, it’s just DNA. I think our society places too high a value on beauty over brains and a good heart, so while I’ll admit I like to look nice I don’t feel it makes me any better or worse than anyone else.

    I value love, friendship, putting forth your best effort, commitment, and good intentions.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Beauty was actually one I considered listing – but I’m not so sure I’m at the point yet where I can say I’ve let it go.

      But I’m considering it…

  15. Darla says:

    Get out of my head! Between the last blog post and this one I’m about to tear the house apart looking for the hidden camera.

  16. cagey says:

    LOVE this post. Over the years, I have had to let go of what others held to Be True and instead, embrace what I believe in. Some of it is silly stuff – like the fact that I will probably never sign my kids up for soccer or cheerleading. Some of it far more serious stuff – like the fact that I will probably sign my kids for a church.

    However, in the end, we have to be firm with ourselves – that is what our children will see.

    I wholeheartedly believe that in the very end that if we teach our kids to not covet, lie, cheat or steal, we will have done right by them. Throw in a little bit of acceptance and belief in others? It would be the cherry on top, no?

  17. Wendy Thomas says:

    If independence can be a value, I gave it up because it was holding me back. I have to depend on other people now, and it actually feels good to not be the only person in the world my kids can turn to.

  18. i have been thinking a lot about religion on the whole recently and a comment yesterday kind of struck me. seems so many people say that they want their children to chose what works for them when the time is right for the individual child. it bothers me so very much when parents say that…without doing the teaching. seems that then the child often believes nothing. kids learn first and foremost from watching their parents.

    sure, i say this from my experience. mom had the catholic religion shoved down her throat and even went into the convent at 18. after 12 years she left, met my father, had me, got divorced, got remarried, etc. anyhow, she kept going to church and took me when i was small. it was a great experience and i loved it, but i HATED sunday school. she let me stop going to sunday school, but i kept going to church. confirmation couldn’t happen due to my hatred of religious classes, but when i was in my 20′s i decided to be confirmed (seems i outgrew my hatred of classes!). eventually i decided the catholic wasn’t for me and i investigated other religions to see what “felt right.” point is, at least i had somewhere to start, a foundation to build upon.

    and now i am rambling in your comments. sorry!

    (please understand that i am in no way attacking the commenter who mentioned nothing about whether or not they teach their kids about religions. it just got me thinking.)

    if i hadn’t typed so much i would probably hit delete…

    • Miss Britt says:

      Becky, you just described PERFECTLY the conundrum I’m having with my kids.

      I want them to choose, but I don’t want them to believe NOTHING. I want to figure out how to offer them something and teach them tolerance without making them resent me later.

      I think what I’m leaning towards is taking them to church every week without pushing the additional classes, confirmations, etc. until they ask me about/for them.

      • Darla says:

        I would do it differently if I had to do it over again. Austin is getting confirmed on Sunday but it’s been a battle because he really wasn’t ready for it (they started them in 5th/6th grade and it’s a 3-4 year program depending on how you attack it).

  19. Poppy says:

    Home ownership and wealth are things I valued because I felt it was expected of me. Home ownership was the visual manifestation of the failure of my marriage. I never want to own a home again. If I’m ever wealthy I hope to not use it for more than I need.

    And marriage is something I am pretty sure is no longer important to me. Commitment and fidelity *are*, but not the marriage part. For me, marriage strips me of freedom an independence I’m not willing to give up. But I’m still uber happy and sentimental for other people who get married or choose to stay married after a rough patch. :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      Me too on the home ownership thing.

      Marriage, as you know, is something had to really look closely at because I hadn’t before. I had taken that value on without question. Having researched and thought about it more, I can understand why it doesn’t have to fit for everyone – and I feel now like my CHOICE to have it in my life now is much stronger than it was when I just accepted it as right.

  20. Piper (Ace) says:

    I think I would just like to mention the “values” that I have had to let go of at this point in my trajectory….a soon-to-be 40 year old woman.

    1) being embarrassed to say or do what I want
    2) being overly concerned about the size of my thighs or ass – it is too hard to balance this right now with the need to feed and clothe and read to small children and keep up with life and be (fairly) healthy. AND I AM A PILATES INSTRUCTOR. So there.
    3) feeling the need to explain depression or medication to people who don’t get it.
    4) worrying about money
    5) trying to keep up with the dust and laundry in my home. THEY NEVER GO AWAY.
    6) trying to be overly environmentally conscious. Sorry. It overwhelms me. For real.
    7) worrying about being everyone’s friend and being invited to everything that is fun in a town that seems that everyone knows each other.
    8) feeling bad that my sister and I aren’t better friends.

    Thanks for the post. I admire the fact that you respond to most of your comments. FOR REAL. :) :) :)

  21. [...] of this is not about me telling you how to spend your money. Those decisions should be based on your values. But having money in savings can make such a huge difference in your life. It can help you avoid [...]

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