A little over a year ago, I left work one afternoon to discover my car had been hit. My first reaction was to feel duped. I was angry that there was nothing I could do about the situation. The next day, thanks to the advice of a great coworker and human being, I did some detective work and found paint chips on my car. I looked around the parking lot and discovered another vehicle of the same colour that had corresponding damage. Case solved! The only problem was the vehicle belonged to my manager.
This threw me into a moment of hysteria. I really feared confronting him. I doubted myself, wondering if I had enough evidence. I worried what he’d think of me if I brought this information forward. I considered just letting it slide. Maybe he hadn’t realized he’d hit my car. It was possible. I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was. Absorb the blow and let my insurance cover the cost to keep the peace at work. Or, have a candid conversation with him, observe his reaction and take it from there. It didn’t help that the work environment was not healthy to begin with.
Honesty has always been something I put high value on. I generally appreciate when someone is honest with me, even if it’s not what I want to hear. However, when it's delivered without tact it can be a real sucker punch to the soul. Honesty can hurt whether you’re the one giving or receiving the truth.
Over the last few years, I have gone through the most difficult chapter of my life. As horrible as that chapter was, it was also a huge wake up call. Through the school of hard knocks, I learned I was lacking clarity in what I truly valued and how to live by those values. Sure, I valued honesty as an entity in the world. But was I tolerating dishonesty from myself and others to not rock the boat? Yes.
The other day I was reading this article about workers rights in China and a sentence describing an activist stood out, “Hua seemed to accept fear as the cost of his decision to live his life as an expression of his values.” This person risked a lot to fight for justice, equality and truth, including serving time in jail away from his family. He evaluated the cost of this fight and deemed it worthy. It raises the question,
To live your life as an expression of your values, what will it cost you?
For starters, you need to get clear on what those values are.
Let’s say, like me, you value honesty. The cost could be the discomfort you feel in confronting unfortunate truths, within yourself and to others. Or, more simply put, the cost could be the fear of living in that discomfort.
Let’s say you value money. Perhaps the cost is living within your means rather than accumulating a bunch of debt. Or, perhaps the cost is time. Time away from friends and family to work for that money. Time away from doing the things you love in order to do the things that make you money.
Let’s say you value respecting the environment. The cost could be breaking comfortable habits or giving up certain luxuries to reduce your footprint. It could be not taking as many vacations and instead choosing staycations because of the detrimental impact travel has on greenhouse gas emissions.
Let’s say you value health. The costs are obvious. You have to give up foods that bring you instant gratification. You have to spend a little more time sweating, rather than being lazy.
Let’s say you value feeling passionate about what you do. The cost might be uncertainty and the vulnerability of branching out into the unknown to pursue your dream. This has definitely been the case with me when it comes to farming. I had to say goodbye to a steady pay check and hello to the uncertainty of working with nature and bringing in my own income.
What I have noticed with myself is that while I can acknowledge the importance of a particular value, my fear of taking action has kept me in a position of admiring it from afar rather than exemplifying it. It’s only recently that I’ve started to live more deliberately as an expression of my values. And, though it remains a work-in-progress, it’s paying off.
Whatever the cost, don’t underestimate the new worth you generate from living by your values.
It’s cost-benefit analysis, plain and simple. Health is an easy example of this. It’s only when we’ve gone through the initial discomfort of changing our diets and committing to exercise that we get to reap the benefits of feeling more energy and looking healthier.
If it’s money you choose to value, that doesn’t necessarily make you shallow or materialistic. Valuing money rather than being careless with it can generate a feeling of security, knowing you can make ends meet or have some savings on hand when times are tough. Even the feeling of having a plan to deal with debt can eliminate a lot of stress. And less stress is definitely a benefit.
If it’s respect for the environment that you value, the generated worth might be the sense that despite all the factors that continue to contribute to degrading our natural environment, you're NOT contributing. You're doing your part. A benefit could also be the little victory you feel when you inspire someone else to consider changing their habits.
As for living your passion, here’s what I’ve found from my experience. While farming means accepting a lot of uncertainly, at least right now, those little moments when I am out in the garden and I discover a beautifully ripe pepper, or I catch the sultry smell of basil in the air, or maybe I just feel a sense of peace fall over me as an eagle flies by… like a Master-Card commercial, those moments are priceless. Everything makes sense in them; even something as hard to pin as uncertainty.
When it came to confronting my manager, I decided the cost of fear and discomfort were worth it, rather than succumbing to my people-pleasing, peace-keeping, pushover ways. When I sat down with him and explained the situation, it was very awkward. His reaction was instantaneous and bizarrely theatrical. In the air I smelled his guilt go up in flames. After some more weird, uncomfortable interactions and a few people-pleasing slips on my part (e.g. apologizing for the situation), while he didn’t flat-out admit to anything, he did have the damage covered by his insurance.
Sure, it was a relief to know I didn’t have to pay for something I didn’t do. But more than that, it felt amazing to confront my fear and stand up for myself. I valued my own self-worth more than what my manager thought of me. Not only did I reap the benefit of walking my talk and expressing my values, I also rid myself of some very draining anti-values. Here’s the thing,
While there might be a cost to living by your values, the cost of NOT living by them is almost always greater.
What does denial cost you? What do those little lies you tell yourself to avoid the fear of doing the right thing cost you? These behaviours take their toll on your health and happiness.
If there’s something you’ve been meaning to do or say, ask yourself why you haven’t. Get real with yourself about why you haven’t. Maybe it truly isn’t the right time, or maybe you’re just scared.
Decisions are the hardest thing we have to do in life. When we’ve got clarity about our values, making decisions becomes easier because the consequences of those decisions are buffered in authenticity. If we take a hit, pain can only scratch the surface. Like a shiny coat of paint over the damage, when we live life as an expression of our values we are continuously restored.
Do you have a strategy for living by your values? Tell me about it in the comments below. If you valued this post, share it with a friend!