Hello fellow bloggers and blog surfers, welcome back to The Octopode.
Last week I posed a hypothetical scenario where you inherit a failing restaurant and work ardently to restore it, and are then asked why you did it. I gave five likely responses you might have given and asked which you think is best. You can read that short post to catch up here.
For the purpose of easy reference, here are the five responses again:
1. “I loved my father, and it’s what he would have wanted.”
2. “It was a great restaurant and the place deserved to be great again.”
3. “It seemed like a worthwhile cause and I was motivated to work hard.”
4. “I needed the money, had the opportunity, and knew how to do it.”
5. “I have a lot of love for the place and wanted to see it shine again.”
These five responses are all likely to be what a person in that situation would say when asked why they spent years of their life working hard and throwing all their time into the goal of restoring the restaurant. They all seem sort of similarly simple and nice, right? They all evoke a positive emotional response. You might hear any one of these responses and think, “Good for her/him.”
But what do each of these say about the values held by this hypothetical you in relation to the topic? They might all seem similar in sentiment, but in fact in some cases their meanings are near opposites.
In the same order, here is what the speaker of these statements is saying about their own values:
1. “I set aside everything of importance to me to dedicate all my time and effort to doing something that a dead person would have liked to have seen done were they still alive. That is what my life is worth.”
2. “The restaurant itself, a thing and not a person, has somehow earned improvement. All my time and toil went to improving an object, not because I or anyone else cares about it, but just because. That is what my life is worth.”
3. “No one wanted the restaurant to be restored, not even me. I happened to be motivated to labor at something, and have no other goal or direction to aim my work at. So at random, I decided to do this. That is what my life is worth.”
4. “I saw a workable means to financial success and tossed my all into it. That is what my life is worth.”
5. “I personally value the restaurant and restoring it would make me happy directly, so I did that. That is what my life is worth.”
The subtext changes things, doesn’t it?
In all five cases the responder is naming the value that informed their decision to dedicate years of their life to this particular goal. Yet what they choose to declare that value is, tells us volumes about them as a person.
1 and 2 pull a common trick: they assign the value to a non-existent valuer. In 1 it is a dead person, incapable of valuing anything. In 2 it is the restaurant itself, which is no more capable of valuing or deserving anything than the dead person is. What does this throwing-off of the value say about the responder’s own estimation of themselves? Why do they omit themselves as the valuer?
3 makes the case that the choice was somehow completely random. This is a similar trick to 1 and 2, except that no re-assignment of the valuation is declared.
4 and 5 are morally OK in my estimation. In 4, the responder names the choice as a career goal, for themselves. This blanks out the fact that the responder values the restaurant, which is a bit of an omission as it is very unlikely that they do not value it, but still, they are naming a real goal of their own and saying that this choice was congruent with it. They are saying, “I valued the goal implicated in this choice, so I did it.”
In 5 the responder states something that makes sense and seems completely honest. Here’s the kicker: all the responder said, in essence, is, “I wanted to.”
In those three little words, they own the choice. They own the foresight, the labor, the accomplishment, the credit, the admiration, and the prosperity.
I wanted it.
To say “I” and have it contain all the meaning and significance of the true self, one must be at peace with themselves, their choices, and their value. And this is not as easy as it sounds. But if you cannot accept that choosing what’s right for you is the right thing to do, you may omit yourself in your declared goals and values.
And what exactly do you think of yourself if you believe that you should not do what is right for you?
Looping back to the point I stated in Part 1 of this blog series, I posit that that one should look to the range of their own life to inform the scope of their goals. Can you see how saying that your dead father would have wanted you to work on his failing restaurant is a cop-out? And how saying something so simple as “I wanted to” attaches all meaning and significance to the action and tethers it directly to your sense of self?
And the scope of this goal is carried right along with it. It is contained within your own existence. “I restored the restaurant because I wanted to.” Good for you. Congratulations. Good job. You are a success story. There are no other reasons for restoring the restaurant that prompt these well-deserved sentiments. And when you no longer want it, e.g. when you die, your want will not rightly be anyone else’s reason to take up the same goal. It ended with you, rightfully. If the restaurant is to continue, it must be because it is valuable to someone else. And to them will go the credit.
So if there’s a message in all this, it’s this: decide what is important to you and what you will do with your life with the knowledge that the betterment of your life is the goal. If that means helping others, making spreadsheets, or restoring a restaurant, do it with the understanding that this goal is yours, and its arc begins and ends with your valuation of it.
If you can do that, your goals will focus, your esteem will cohere to them and to you, and success will become more attainable than ever.
Mmmk, end of topic. Thanks for reading. If this got you thinking, let me know! I love to hear it.
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Until next week!