At some point in my life, maybe last Tuesday, I realized that what I, and others, want in life is sometimes very different than what we put our time and energy into. I suppose that I have mostly assumed that people do what they want—within the boundaries of external constraints and opportunities. So, if someone spends a lot of time at work, they main value is getting ahead in their career and maybe providing for others, and if someone else spends a lot of time with their children, their main value is how they raise their children.
There are certainly people that I know whose lives are well integrated in that they know what they want and they put their life into it. But I also know of people whose actions and efforts seem, well, unrelated to what they profess as their values. This could be interpreted as their actions reflecting what they really value, but it could also be just a general sense of inefficacy in this aspect of life—that they never learned or otherwise figured out how to focus long-term on what is most important.
Still others seem to have an inverse relationship between what they want in life and what they do. The more they want something, the more they veer away from it. This could represent anxiety and fear. Important things are scary and taking them on requires self-confidence and often some level of external security.
So, since I like to make figures and tables, we can envision the relationship between effort and value as something along the lines of the following:
Now, I have spoken about it as if there are three different types of people, put really I think that each of us probably has elements of all three models in our lives. In my life, there are some areas where I’m pretty good about putting myself into what matters, but there are other areas in which I’m not and still others that I pretty much ignore because they are important. A good example of the latter is a letter that I have been wanting to write to a funding agency asking for money. I’ve been talking about it for about a year, and it will take me an hour max, and it’s potentially much more important than a lot of other things that I do, but I haven’t/ won’t make the time to do it.
In recent years, I’ve tried to pay more attention to the alignment between how I spend my day and what is really important to me, and I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve needed to change and still need to change. I’ve also realized that, as a parent, I need actively to train my children in how to pursue what is important.
How about you?