In an attempt to switch from bottom-up to top-down budgeting, decluttering, time management, and general decision-making, I decided to make an ordered list of my current personal values. Last time, I made a generalized List of Values to help inspire me.
Because it's hard to keep too many "priorities" in mind at once (and because, technically, priority means only one), I wanted to limit the number as much as possible. Here's what I came up with my for top three.
Top Three Values
- Well-being: This covers a couple of different ideas. First, as a family, we are prioritizing my wife's surgeries. This is reflected in our savings goals. Second, both my wife and I are prone to chronic health issues which are exacerbated by stress, and it's important for us to remember to care for ourselves and each other.
On a personal level, I've definitely let exercise, outdoor time, and relaxation fall by the wayside at times in the last year. Last summer, between work, writing, and freelance work, I was at my computer about 12 hours a day, including weekends. Sometimes I'd mix it up by taking my laptop to the coffee shop. My life definitely felt out of balance then, and I feel a lot better since I began taking more time to myself and prioritizing outdoor time whenever the weather is good.
- Independence: Looking to our savings goals has been helpful in figuring out where our priorities lie. Financial independence is a long-term savings goal for both my wife and I. We don't necessarily want to quit working and lie on a beach all day, but we do highly value autonomy and the ability to choose what we devote our time and energy to.
My interest in minimalism is also definitely related to my Independence value. Whenever I amass too much stuff, too much clutter, I begin to feel that it is a burden. Giving things away makes me literally feel free, light and unfettered.
- Productivity: I don't mean in the sense of getting things done so much as making things, producing things. This has been a driving internal motivation for me since I was a child, producing a huge output of creative work in notebooks and sketchbooks.
This is most noticeable and necessary in my work. The big lesson of my career experimentation has been that I need to be in a job where I'm making some sort of tangible (or digital) product. I can't be in a job where my role is to learn a system and advise on it, for example. Some people get a great deal of satisfaction from gaining knowledge becoming an expert, but I don't. While, of course, I learn things in the course of my work, I ideally want to spend as little time as I possibly can learning, and maximize the time I spend making. When I don't have something I can point to and say, "I made that" (or at least "I helped make that" or "I fixed that"), I don't feel like I'm doing anything, and it makes me feel confused and unhappy.
This is one area where my wife and I differ, as she is more of the "learn as much as you can" type.
(It's important to note that my personal definition of this value rejects Puritanism and work for the sake of work. I definitely value relaxing--that's why Well-being is #1.)
For example, Productivity didn't make my draft list. My best friend, the Practical Cranberry Nut Roll, instantly identified it as my primary value, but I disagreed. It didn't feel, to me, like something that needed to make the list. "I think productivity is becoming less important to me."
"Maybe you are just getting enough of it through your current work, so you don't feel it's something you need more of," she suggested.
The more I thought about that, the more sense it made to me. My main job is very focused on production, as is this blog. I'm satisfied with my amount of output. Unlike Well-being, which ended up #1 in the list largely because I have fresh memories of the consequences of ignoring it, I didn't feel a driving need to prioritize Productivity because it was already being fulfilled. Yet, I know that if I restructured my life such that I wasn't making anything--if, say, I became a middle manager and wasn't making software anymore, and I didn't have time to write--I'd become productivity-deprived and I'd need to bump up the priority of that value until I met my internal need.
It's certainly possible for different values to take on different levels of importance at different points in our lives. Stability was important to me as a child, for example--I think it's pretty important to most children--but now it doesn't seem so vital. My list of values isn't set in stone.
Other Important ValuesIt was also hard to narrow down my personal priorities because I personally related to so many of the entries I put on the list!
- I certainly personally related to the ideas of creativity and the "fuck the haters" attitude I wrote up in my description Individuality, and I think that would make my wife's top three.
- Harmony is important to me, particularly when it comes to environmentalism, treading lightly on the earth, and the etiquette of city living. I'd also put my interest in charity giving under this heading. Giving to charity is a behavior that can flow from a number of different values, including idealism and spirituality, but for me it's all about resource-sharing and cooperation, and making up for a lack of social safety net that I believe is a primary purpose of government and civilization in general. We should be working together to protect society's most vulnerable, and giving to charity is my way of trying to pull my weight.
- Friends/Family should honestly be high up, since I know I'd bump just about any other value for the key people in my life.
- Aestheticism is why I shop for clothes so much, despite not really caring about things like trends and whether people see me in the same outfit over and over. I just love clothes for clothes' sake.
- In a surprise move, since I've never really cared about it before, Adventure is on the rise for me, with brand-new interests in camping, travel, and new experiences.
Non-ValuesWhile, understandably, most of the items on the list reflect things I either do or could imagine caring about, there are a few entries that are things I firmly don't care about. I think it's important to keep in mind, not just what my values are, but what they are not. By pre-deciding that certain things are unimportant to me, I can more easily reject arguments for expenditures, possessions, and time commitments that are rooted in these unimportant values.
- I don't care about achieving Success. This is a conclusion I've come to after careful consideration, since I've definitely felt its lure from time to time (and since so many aspects of our society are set up to make us think that we want it, that it's the only thing that matters). I feel that chasing it would get in the way of my other values.
- Perfectionism is another tempting value that I am taking a personal stand against. Actually I think I'm prone to perfectionism, but intellectually, I think it hurts me more than it helps me. It's all too easy for me to make unnecessary purchases in the name of getting a the perfect item or making a complete set, to spend too much time on irrelevant details, to declutter things that serve a purpose because they're not 100% perfect in every way. I'd like to keep in mind that perfect isn't required and that slightly damaged is beautiful in its own way.
- I don't oppose Spirituality per se, but it leaves me cold. I'd say I achieve a certain amount of transcendent feeling from honoring other values (such as admiring nature, helping others, and expressing love). But spirituality isn't the reason for this, and any endeavor that requires me to do anything for purely spiritual reasons--like participating in a ceremony or abstaining from pleasure--is likely to fail.
I'm not sure yet whether this exercise is actually going to help me--if this document will end up providing any sort of guidance as I make decisions, or if I'll just end up rationalizing the things I would have done anyway--but it has been an interesting exercise. Next time I make decisions about my money, stuff, and time, I'll try to ask myself which option is more aligned with my primary values of Well-being, Independence, and Productivity.