The evolution of value
When I was ten, I valued ice cream over everything else, my parents included. I would sacrifice an afternoon on the beach for the childhood excitement of a Mr Whippy, or a game of tennis with close relatives for a bowl of Edinburgh’s finest Lucas vanilla.
In my twenties I put more value on a good time than being able to pay my rent. Impromptu Monday night sessions, weekends away with fleeting sports clubs, emergency sandwiches and twixes on the run.
As I moved into my thirties what I valued most shifted again, to doing things I’d never done before. Nailing that bottom turn on a wave, triathlons, scoring the big client. This was the beginning of a shift towards lasting sensations.
Now I’m in my forties and I’m surprised by what’s cropping up as the most valuable thing in my life. It’s something that weaves in and out of everything I do – time to be with myself, and still.
The misalignment of value and action
Everywhere we go people are busy – staying late to finish a report, running to a second job, squeezing in a gym class, saying yes to bleedin’ everything. Just thinking about how hectic we make life leaves me feeling spent. But once we’re in that dangerous cycle, we forget what down-time feels like, and why we’d want it.
The busier we are, the trickier it is to be still. If we have full days and plans every night of the week, and then some free time pops up, the easiest thing to do is fill it. It’s less effort to continue doing what we’re doing, than shifting to a more restful state of mind.
Herein lies the rub – I value being still enormously, but I struggle to do it. As I’ve got older and more established in my ways, I’m less in touch with what I value and more attuned to what society values. Along with many others, my default is to adhere to the norm and add more to that list, only so I can cross it off.
Our working culture
This juxtaposition of value seeps into more than how we live our personal lives, it also thrives at work. We value getting work done more than meetings, but we accept an inordinate number of meetings that block out the very time where we’d get things done.
We couldn’t run a business without the worker bees, the people that actually make stuff or speak to the customer, but we pay them less than half of their manager’s salary. Social workers and nurses transform lives, but still they struggle to bring up a family on their income. Their patience and skills are seemingly less valuable than somebody with ‘strategic’ in their job title.
The jobs that lay the foundations of our culture – carers, teachers, writers, artists, chefs – pay a pittance. And these undervalued jobs are the first to experience salary cuts or redundancy, as companies make savings.
Realigning our values and how we live
How can we return to a place where our values and our actions align? As a child I had no trouble finding time to eat my favourite ice cream, most days. As a 20-year old I danced to drum and bass until 5am at least twice a week. In my thirties I put surf and yoga before work. I earned peanuts but I was happy.
Now, in my forties, life is asking me to check in again. What do I value the most and how can I build more of this into my life? Perhaps by taking a holiday and going nowhere, or allowing a weekend to be empty of plans. Or could it be allowing my body to heal itself when it’s broken, rather than seeking out a doctor, osteopath, masseur and Pilates teacher? Perhaps even by articulating my values to my employer, and standing up for my copywriting team when it’s proposed to disappear in a restructure.
We can only thrive when we align our values and our actions, and this isn’t always easy. First we really need to understand our values, and that takes space and time. Then we may need to change a whole lifetime of thinking, behaviour and life choices.
How do we know when we’ve got it right? When we’re as happy as that ten year old with their favourite ice cream, for more than a moment.