Are You Trying to Live Up to Other People’s Values?

Do you often feel guilty about things that you aren’t doing – or things that you are doing? Do you find yourself saying “I really should…” or “I know I’m supposed to…” or “I must…”? Are you trying to live up to someone else’s values?

There are so many pressures on us to conform. You might think that you have your own priorities straight (and that you’re failing to meet your own standards), but chances are, you’re being influenced by a lot of external pressures. These could come from:

  • Society as a whole, and the media
  • Your colleagues, friends or classmates
  • Your parents, grandparents and extended family

The problem with trying to live by someone else’s values is that you’ll never feel as though you’re managing it. You can’t please everyone – and you shouldn’t be trying to. At the end of the day, what matters is that you live up to your own values. (In many cases, these might coincide with those of your community, friends or family, of course; but be clear where differences lie.)

Values from Society and the Media

Using the word “values” might seem odd in connection with modern society and the media (often criticised for not holding values or morals). Sometimes, what we take for common sense or received wisdom is really a value so ingrained in us by society, we can’t step outside and see a different point of view.

For example, consumerism is encouraged by the media (because they exist due to selling not only newspapers and magazines and other products, but by selling advertising). Our society is obsessed with appearance – just think of all the ridiculous attention paid to whether celebrities are gaining or losing weight.

If you’ve set yourself a goal of earning an extra $5k this year, or of losing 30lbs, ask yourself whether you’ve done so because of your values – or because this is what newspapers, television and advertisers are telling you to do.

Values from Your Colleagues/ Friends

When I was at school, there was a lot of talk about resisting “peer pressure” to misbehave. Your peers are the people who are like you – whether they’re in the same job, at the same college, or simply your group of friends. The danger is that our social instinct and need to belong can push us to adopt values which aren’t really ones we’d otherwise prioritize.

For example, if all your friends place a high value on entertainment, enjoyment and partying – and you value being frugal and making a contribution to the world – you might end up living what feels to you a shallow lifestyle. If your classmates at college are all focused on career and earnings, your dream of traveling may fall by the wayside. And if your colleagues prioritize getting ahead at all costs, what happens to your values of honesty, kindness, and mutual respect?

When you’re buying a new gadget, accepting an invitation, or stretching the truth to make life easier, ask yourself whether you’re being drawn away from your values by your peers.

Values from Your Family

In many cases, we share our values with our close family members. If your parents placed a high value on family relationships, chances are, you do too. And if your family have always prioritized helping out in the community, you’ve probably been involved in various volunteering opportunities all your life.

Sometimes, though, you might feel pressurized or stressed because of your parents’ or grandparents’ values. Perhaps you don’t want to hire a cleaner because your grandpa would be horrified by the idea of paying someone to do jobs that you could do perfectly well yourself – but you know that having the housework taken care of would give you time to launch your new business.

Or maybe your dad’s focus has always been on making as much money as possible in order to retire young; you’re feeling pushed towards a “realistic” corporate career when, deep down, you want to pursue a more creative calling.

Once you no longer live under your parents’ roof, you have no obligation to living up to their values. I certainly wouldn’t suggest you go out of your way to horrify, offend or shock your relatives, but try not to fall into the trap of second-guessing yourself because you’re worried what they’ll think. And relatives won’t always react how you expect. When I quit my job to freelance, my mother and I kept it secret from my grandma for several months – but when we finally broke the news, my grandma was full of praise for my entrepreneurial spirit!

Ask yourself whether it’s time to cut the apron strings and live your life: your parents and loved ones want you to do what makes you happy – not to simply follow their values.

Whose values are you living up to? How can you start getting back to your own values?

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