needs aren’t values

Through a jumble of thoughts, emotions, and experience, I came to realize:

I want to live a life that is self-directed and based on doing what I want to do.

Yea, nothing ground-breaking there, or so it seems. But it is new and important.

I’ve been trying, for over a year, to name and understand what my values are. I’ve gotten a lot done in that regard and have been trying to figure out how to convert values into actions via goals. 

I’ve also tried to understand how my experiences growing up shaped me, how they sent me down a path that wasn’t healthy and wasn’t productive – and very much, wasn’t happy. Through bullying, a lack of friends, my personality, and my parents’ own problems, I ended up unhappy and lonely. I didn’t want to be unhappy and lonely, but I didn’t know how to change that.

Then I got “saved” and the essential worthlessness of my own self was reified. (Thanks, Jesus.) I was also able to skate through a lot of difficulties and challenges without ever having to face up to my own needs, issues, etc. Obviously, that was not something I could ever do on my own. And had I realized back then (early 80s) that I could get VA health care and mental health care – what would have changed?

Of course, I never had that basic thought – hey, you’re a vet; maybe you can get VA health care – because I have never been very good at having basic, pragmatic thoughts like that. Some of that was wishful thinking, that life would magically become special and wonderful. Some of it was my anxiety-based fears and avoidances.

So I just lived my life, and the longer things went on, the less idea I had about what I wanted to do. I just had the same feeling I had as a kid: I want to do something special. Which, it turns out, also meant two other things:

I want things to be easy.

I want to be recognized as special and outstanding.

Neither of those is doing anything special; it’s a desire for ego-fulfillment, understandable given how much of my own worth had been stripped from me as a child. This is also a large part of why I want others to agree with me, why I want the world to follow my undeniable wisdom, and so on.

None of which has anything to do with what I value. A desire or need is not a value. A person living life on their own terms, following their values, is not in need of ego-fulfilling accolades, etc (not too much, anyway). My forward movement has been blocked because I didn’t know how to proceed – and I didn’t know how to proceed because what I was doing wasn’t acting on my values but acting on my desires and anxieties.

Chucking aside everything that blocks me from living a value-driven life is easier said than done, of course. The stuff that undermines me is well-entrenched in my mind. I’ve only been in counseling for a year-and-a-half; my mindfulness practice is less than three years along. And my living circumstances present significant challenges to basic equanimity.

Knowing more clearly why I am not accomplishing what I’ve hoped to will help me to take steps daily to change that. I cannot fix my whole life in a few days or weeks. I can only act differently each day. Mindfulness is helping me to recognize what I’m thinking and feeling as I move through my day. It’s not a magic solution; after all, recognizing that I let a day slip by without doing something I want to get done happens after the moment, and the opportunity, has passed. That’s why mindfulness is a long-term effort: it takes time and practice (and “failure”) to change the way the mind functions.

I still feel overwhelmed at times. I’m still riddled with fear and anxiety and anger and need. That’s ok. I’m finding refuge within myself more and more. Not hiding from the world, but a place to take a moment, assess what’s going on, and then act based on my values.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *