I’ve always been a goal-oriented person. Living under the same roof as my (wonderful) parents, I strove for independence. At university, four years were dedicated to the goal of graduation; on to grad school and ditto. Throw in marriage, two kids, and a few passive career decisions and I simply moved from one clearly defined trajectory to another.
But the years slip by. Sometimes the way forward is crystal clear; other times we hang out on autopilot with decisions about marriage, children, and careers behind us. But kids get older, horizons blur, passions and aspirations evolve, and suddenly the path can seem less obvious. Major life changes could throw us irreversibly off course. Our priorities and values may do an about-turn. Many of us will, eventually, have our own Robert Frost experience, pondering those “two roads in a yellow wood.”
And what then?
Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat provides a wise insight: the way we “ought” to go very much depends on where we want to get to. And where we want to get to may be driven more by values than distinct goals.
Values are qualities that permeate our life. Things like spiritual faith, compassion, honesty, and adventure. If goals are ahead, values are now. We can’t achieve a value, we can only continue working toward it (and inside of it). If you’re full of compassion, you can never exhaust the need for compassion.
Goals are: become CEO of a major company; get an A+ on my Animal Physiology midterm; lose 10 pounds and finally run that 10K. Values are: use my leadership skills to grow and nurture a team; gain knowledge and do my best; pursue a healthy lifestyle, embracing habits that improve my wellbeing.
Values, then, can direct our goals and decisions.
If I value leading a healthy lifestyle – pursuing wellness in body and mind – committing to a daily walk around my neighbourhood seems like a fitting goal. What if I also value treating myself with kindness and respect? Perhaps reaching a specific number on the scale no longer seems like a worthwhile goal if I identify potentially damaging impacts on my mental health.
Ask yourself – when I take a step back, what am I aiming for? A closer relationship with God, financial independence, more time with family, less career stress? Do I want to work until my foot’s in the grave or retire at 45? Live big or small? Stay close or travel far? If I want to be affluent in retirement, but value honesty, using a Ponzi scheme to accrue wealth is not the ideal tactic (hopefully this is obvious even to people who might not value honesty; Ponzi schemes = bad news).
Once I know where I want to get to (and the values I want to exhibit along the way) I’m better able to determine how to get there.
Debating which way to go? The first step toward finding an answer may be identifying where you want to get to.