(This is a draft for a longer essay to come...)
Value is inevitably relative. However, as I look around me, we seem to have lost focus on what value really means. As we don't have enough clarity what we really value, we struggle to prioritise our time and energy to what is genuinely important to us. In extension, as we have a fuzzy idea of value and values, we sometimes make conflicting choices.
We work long hours to provide for our family, but as a result, we give our family less of ourselves, which might have been the most valuable thing we could give. Of course trade offs are rarely black and white, but when we are not clear what we value, we may not notice that we make choices, consciously or not.
As leaders, we may create siloed, hierarchical organisations in our teams and organisations, that result in competition. This has suboptimal outcomes, which go against what we should be striving for. We may experience short term perceived gains, but often face costs in the medium to long term, e.g. fragmented products, dysfunctional teams, less than satisfied customers.
Climate change — or our ecological / humanitarian crisis. We face a predicament, not merely due to fossil fuels and too much carbon in the atmosphere, but due to what we value and what values we pursue. We have created a society and economy that puts monetary value, particularly GDP and growth, at the centre of everything we do. Even in economic sense, this is a fundamental value confusion, as we emphasise something abstract and simplified (money in terms of GDP growth), while creating real value destruction in our society (extinction of species, toxins in our food system, poverty, depression and mental health issues to name a few).
Roots of confusion
As these examples speak for themselves, why is it so hard for us to get perspective on Value, and what's truly valuable to us. These are some initial thoughts that I plan to explore further:
- At an early age, we are taught to conform to expectations and create an image of who we are to other people. As such, we never develop a sufficiently deep understanding of who we truly are (or want to be) and what is genuinely important to us.
- We are distracted by an overwhelming about of things to do, and never ending options of what we could (or should) be doing.
- We rarely slow down, enough to be present and conscious, to carefully consider the choices we make and how that aligns with what is important to us.
- As we have clear perspective of what's important to us, we get confused by the choices we face in life. As a result, we make conflicted choices — investing time and energy into what seems to be immediately important, or that others (who may also be confused) projects as important, but miss the opportunity cost on what is genuinely important to us.
Seeds of clarity
So, based on this, what are the things we could do to be better rooted and have more clarity on what value means to us? This is a topic I will explore further, but here are some seeds to consdier:
- Be conscious of distraction — We can't fully eliminate it from our lives, but by being conscious that are prone to be distracted, we can be more intentional about what we let in and how we balance focus and distraction.
- Seek a degree of mindfulness — Although I personally believe in meditation that is only one approach to be more mindful and present in our daily interactions. By slowing down and being more present, we tend to be more clear about the choices we make and what's important to us.
- Observe how you spend your time and energy — What you see is effectively what you make important in your life. Then, reflect on whether that is really what you want to be important in your life.
Ultimately, Value is relative and there is nothing right or wrong in what we value. However, it can be extremely valuable to be conscious of what make important and how that reflects upon who we are today. This enables us to carefully consider what we want to value, and how we spend our time and energy, to gradually nurture a life that genuinely matters to us.