When growing up, being cool was all about fitting in. It meant having the right haircut, the right shoes and smoking the right brand of cigarettes behind the school shed. It meant moulding yourself like plasticine into the shape of someone who was just like everyone else.
From a very young age we all learn to conform. We learn to do what others expect of us. We learn we can live a safe, comfortable life so long as we don’t rock the boat, stir the pot or ruffle any feathers.
But follow the herd and you may end up far from where you truly want to be. As a teenager you might have ended up getting a horrible haircut, pulling on some heavy Dr Marten boots and gasping on a Winnie Blue. As an adult you might have ended up feeling stressed, worn down and boxed in.
So rather than keep following the herd down that well-worn path, why not follow your values? Following your values can be harder work, but it has a major advantage – you get to go where you want.
When you follow your values you can stop doing what’s expected and start doing what’s important. You can be your authentic self.
All too often we are told what we should do and what we should have. The unrelenting messages come from friends, family, co-workers and a multi-billion dollar advertising industry. You should have stylish clothes. You should have wrinkle-free skin. You should have washboard abs. You should have a shiny SUV. You should have smiling, happy children. You should have a big house, a pool and a cripplingly large mortgage.
What really matters to you? What are the values you really want to pursue?
Trying to keep up with everyone’s expectations is exhausting, but when you take action in line with your values all those other things may suddenly seem far less important. Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t concerned about his wrinkles. Nelson Mandela didn’t think too much about the latest fashion trends. When Martin Luther King said he had a dream, that dream wasn’t about owning a bungalow on a quarter acre block.
These great figures are admired and respected because they pursued their values. They rocked the boat, they stirred the pot and they ruffled plenty of feathers. They didn’t choose to fit in neatly and live safe, comfortable lives. Instead they took action. They did what they thought was meaningful.
Of course, to live a life of value you don’t need to lead a movement with millions of people. In fact, it’s best to start with small, simple steps.
If you value music being part of your life you may not instantly quit your job and make plans to headline Glastonbury. You might however decide to dust off that guitar you used to love playing and start practising a few times a week. If being closer with your family is important, you may commit to having them over every Sunday for a meal. If there is a subject you want to know more about, you may decide to enrol in a course. Whatever value is important to you, there’s an action you can take.
These small, simple steps will start to take your life in the direction you want. When you keep pursuing your values, life’s journey will become far more rewarding.