What do you live for?

I recently got dinner with one of my good friends from college. He’s a very sharp guy and successful business owner. Right now he’s travelling the world and running his business remotely. In the past three years, he’s been to something like 50 countries. It turns out that travelling everywhere in the world can be much cheaper than paying rent in San Francisco.

We chatted about life goals and he mentioned that he would probably stop travelling within the next five years of his life and settle down to start his next business at that point. By then, he will have experienced the best parts of the world in his youth and will start his next company as a more cultured, open minded human. I admire that. We read everywhere about and fundamentally recognize the importance of travelling while young, and he is actually doing it. Most of us dream about seeing the world but never do it.

What hit me in that very moment was the surprising realization that I’m one of those people. I certainly claim to enjoy travelling as much as the next person. However, given ample opportunity to travel, I simply choose not to do so. Somehow, I am implicitly acting on other values that are more important to me. If seeing the world and gathering experiences were truly one of my core values, I am sure that my life would be very different from how it is today.

This lead me to thinking more critically about what my values actually are, and more importantly, whether or not I am living them out courageously today [1]. I strongly believe that our true values are not the noble sounding intentions we announce for ourselves, but rather the daily decisions that we make and life that we lead [2]. And I’ll be first to admit that there is a gap between what I claim to value and how I actually lead my life. By acknowledging that there is a gap, my hope is that I can develop a finesse of narrowing it through gradual refinement in how I lead my life.

I believe that our core values are one of the strongest influences as to where we go with our lives. If our life’s circumstances are our location on a map, our values are something of a vector. The strength and direction of our beliefs directly influences which direction we go and where we end up.

I’m not naively saying that the key to worldly success is changing your mind [3]. However, I do believe that the parts of our lives that we choose - the jobs we pursue, the people we surround ourselves with, our leisure activities - stem from our values, either directly or indirectly. When we value something very strongly, that value channels its way into our thoughts and emotions and can move us in powerful and often surprising ways.

I recently chatted with another friend who spent several years in venture capital before heading off to business school. Upon graduating, he now has offers at several of the top VC firms and an obviously promising career path ahead of him. Instead, he’s elected to pursue his passion for products and to gravitate towards the (financially stupid) world of early stage startups. When we met for coffee, we easily connected over our shared irrationality and ultimately ended up spending most of the afternoon talking about big ideas and trends in technology.

Although my friend faces a plethora of possible options ahead of him, I somehow know that his emotions will lead him to exactly where he needs to be. My hope for all of us that that in this often confusing world of uncertainties, we can know what our values are and not be afraid to follow them.

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

  • Mahatma Gandhi

[1]: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/dying-peoples-top-5-regrets-5348209

Nurse Bronnie Ware, sat with dying patients in their last 12 weeks of life. She found that their number one regret was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.

[2]: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/popejohnpa178863.html

The future starts today, not tomorrow.

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_and_Grow_Rich

Actually the school of thought that desire and determination are the main drivers of worldly success is very popular, as evidenced by the fact that this book is one of the most popular of all time. However, this is definitely neither something that I believe in, nor an argument that I would try to make.


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