Where the bloody hell are you?!
You're in a story whether you know it or not. And if it's someone else's story you might only get a bit part. And it might not be the one you want. And if it's a story you don't know, you might just get a bad ending. So, maybe you better make sure you are writing your own story. - Peterson, paraphrasing Carl Jung
You've heard a million times how important values are, especially to organisations. But, few organisations manage to get their values off the wall (or website) and into practice. Organisations that do implement their values into their day-to-day reality tend to do better (and tend to be better places to work at). Individually, your values are always going to differ, and that makes sense because you are unique. Aligning your values so that you can do more of the stuff you love is a process, and it's a tough one, because the truth can hurt.
In one of his recent lectures, Dr Jordan Peterson cut to the chase beautifully and pointed out that, in our lives, we so rarely sit down and honestly ask ourselves, “who are you, how did you get here, and where are you going?”*
This process starts with accurately establishing, where the hell are you?!
You see, you can't move forward and live your values, without knowing exactly where you are at the present. So, it's a critical first step to work out where you're at (and how you got there). This is something for you to answer, not anyone else. It is something fundamentally personal and very important.
Once you've done that difficult task, the next step is to ask yourself, where do you want to go? Where do you want to be? Articulate it and map it out. This process of working out where you've come from and where you want to go is at the heart of what we describe as values alignment. This is why it comes first in everything we do.
For all the study you do, for all the long hours of work you do, for all the effort put in, how many times have you sat down and said to yourself “ok, justify your existence”. Seriously. Why are you here and what are you doing with your life? How many times, in your entire life, have you sat down and asked yourself this?
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate - Carl Jung
Now, this might seem self-indulgent. But, what I'm not talking about here is complaining, or indulging, or going over and over a past problem in your head. What I am saying is, can you defend what you're doing to yourself and the life you are creating for yourself? In Jung's terms, can you make the unconscious conscious? If so, awesome. You're going to be more fulfilled and more satisfied. You're on the right track to living your life on your own terms. But, if not, why not? Why would you stake your very existence on what is essentially fate?
Sounds uncomfortably existential, right? Well, for most of us, our existence is a pretty serious thing. And it's going to be uncomfortable. It's a very difficult process to work through. But, when we feel unsatisfied, unhappy or unfulfilled, it brings our very essence into question. And, to do something about it, we have to get to the bottom of the problem before we can find the path to a solution.
I know, from my own experience, that going through this process is difficult. It's uncomfortable. Questioning everything you've done and how you got there can show you things that you didn't want to see. After all, ignorance is bliss, right? But, once you do it, and do it properly, there is no way back to who you were beforehand. For me, that meant pulling the plug on contingent recruitment and launching Beyond Billables. It meant removing some of my attachment to my work. A big, scary risk. It meant being honest with myself about what had motivated me in the past, and aligning my current goals with where I want to be in the future.
This process may mean serious contemplation and some answers you're scared of. It sure did for me. Big, bad answers about my ego, what I had felt was so important, and the realisation that I had wasted so much time and effort on things that didn't align with my values. This explained why I “had it all” on the surface, but was deep-down still so unhappy. Going through that, I know there's absolutely no problem with the process. It's far better than the alternative.
Why do I say that?
To paraphrase Carl Jung, you're in a story, whether you know it or not. And if it's someone else's story you might only get a bit part. And, it might not be the part you want. And, if it's a story you don't know, you might just get a bad ending. Or, maybe the story is just bad all the way through, with an even worse ending. So, maybe you better make sure you are writing your own story.
Now, this is bloody hard. But, it's what we mean when we talk about aligning with your values. These aren't just some token niceties. That won't do. That won't get you through the hard work. It won't help you out of bed in the morning.
You have to be honest with yourself first. Only then can you start to formulate a plan.
Aligning with your values is not just some basic thing, like making a plan around work or your career. This is not just a set of goals. It's not just about being happy or being any one thing. This is you sitting down to make a plan so you can set the world up around you to be the best for you. Could you honestly sit down and say, “ok, I have plenty of years to do this, what world do I want to create around me?”
This is not “wishing things into existence”. It's not “the secret”. It is taking a level of responsibility for your life, and giving yourself the chance to care enough to do something about it. Because unexpected things are going to pop up and problems will arise. If you've never worked out your own values, how can you react problems when they do come up?
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens - Carl Jung
Sounds simple? You've done the hard part already, right? But it's not. The problem with working out where you want to go is that you then start to set the conditions for yourself to fail. By defining what success looks like, you create a framework that you can fall out of. And this is scary. This is why so many of us avoid setting goals or, better put, why we are so scared of walking this path when we can exist in the fog. In the short-term, being blind is definitely less painful, but in the long-term, you're blind. Without your plan, without your ability to step outside your framework, you'd never get the chance to fix things when that happened. You'd never get the chance to repair yourself or repair your plan.
The question is, would you rather risk failing, or remain in ignorance and wilful blindness, a bit player in someone else's life? Why wouldn't you want to consciously approach your life and make it as good as possible, instead of just acting things out randomly? Why wouldn't you choose to put yourself in control, to the extent that you can?
So, where the hell are you going? And do you care enough about yourself to make the difficult choice?
*This post is very much inspired by the presentation and ideas Dr Peterson discussed. His program can be found at https://www.selfauthoring.com/