Without values, what's our agency?
If we want to have agency in life, we've got to have a set of values. Otherwise, what are we working towards, and what's our baseline for success?
There are two ways that we can move through life - we can either let the circumstances and situations that we experience define us, or we can define ourselves by our core values and drive our life forwards in accordance with them.
Going with the flow is definitely the easy option. In a way, it admonishes us of responsibility when things go wrong, because "shit happens". It allows us to become a victim of circumstance, and it means we can detach ourselves from the failure as it was never in our control to begin with. At least, that's the narrative that we create.
The thing is, we all want something. There's always this vision on the horizon that we'd like to reach. The question is how much do we want it, and how does that vision align with who we are?
When we act without considering our values, we're setting a dangerous precedent for ourselves. We're creating a space that can be filled by motivations that don't come from us. We might become an accountant because that's what our parents told us would be a good career. We might have children because that's what our partner wants, but it isn't something that we'd ever imagined for ourselves.
We're acting to satisfy the needs and expectations of others because we don't have a set of values or expectations for ourselves. All of these things that have happened in our life that weren't what we wanted for ourselves have occurred, not because "shit happens", but because we haven't been the custodian of our own agenda.
When we have values, we have agency. Having a set of values allows us to check a decision that we're making or a path that we're looking down against who we feel we are as a human being. If that decision goes against our values, or that path takes us in a direction away from who we want to be, we can act accordingly. We can act with agency.
If your values are clearly defined in your mind, I applaud you. If they're not, I have an exercise that I invite you to participate in to help create them.
Get yourself a pen and paper. Don't do this digitally - there's a permanence by writing this in ink that helps solidify it in your thoughts. Find somewhere quiet where you're not going to be distracted, get comfortable, and put that smartphone away.
Now, I would like you to take 30 minutes to write a bullet point list of the values that matter in your life. It doesn't have to exhaustive, and it doesn't have to be long. They just need to be honest and they need to come from you.
When you're done, put that list somewhere where it's easy for you to see or refer to, because you're going to need it. This list will become your Personal Manifesto. You can call it your rules for life, your values, whatever you want to. It’s going to be a code of conduct that you can compare against your actual behaviour.
Once you’ve created your manifesto, set yourself a reminder once a month to reflect on it and evaluate how you’re doing. You might want to journal your reflections, so you can keep track of any insights that you’ve gained. When you’re reflecting on it, be honest with yourself.
Think about any instances where you may not have acted in the way that you’ve set out in your manifesto, and question why you acted that way. This helps us to ensure that we're acting with agency, and walking the path that is true to ourselves.
To give you a helping hand, I’m sharing with you my own manifesto, in the hope that it will give you a bit of inspiration when creating yours:
- I am bold in my thinking, and listen closely to my heart.
- I treat myself with respect and love. I care for the person I am today, and the person I will be tomorrow.
- I find gratitude for all that has been given to me. Even in those things I did not ask for. In everything, I give thanks.
- I walk on the path that I set myself, not the one that others lay out before me.
- I treat my time like the gift that it is. I do not squander it on futile things.
- I do not find shame in my mistakes; I use them as lessons from which I can learn.
- I am not set back by obstacles. I strive to find my way around them.
- In my actions, I am courageous. I choose that which lies outside my place of comfort.
- I allow myself to be myself. In this, I am honest and authentic, and express who I am to the world.
- I am the owner and heir of my choices in life. I am responsible for what they bring, and am mindful that this can be good or bad.
- I act with kindness, and know that unkindness from others only comes from their own suffering. In knowing this, I open my heart to them.
- I recognise that nothing is permanent, and cherish experiences for I know they will not last.
- I do not fear change, for from change can come wondrous and unexpected things.
- I am concerned only with that over which I have control. For all else, I am a leaf on the wind.
- I exist in the present, because it is only here that happiness resides.
Good luck, and I would love to hear about some of the values that you've defined for yourself.