Values vs. Goals

Before I came to Oregon, during the first year of the Trump administration, I watched 15 years of hard work be devastated with one executive order after another; clean air, clean water, recycling, garbage dumps all garbaged by someone with the power to throw them away.  It was very depressing. I had fought to keep the environment safe one legislative victory at a time.  This was in my early years of the 80’s to mid-90’s, when I then switched to working on justice issues.   If you would have asked me why I did it, I would have told you it was to better the world for my kids. I wanted to leave them a beautiful world. But in the meantime, I left my children for days at a time. Not only did I miss those years I could never get back, but I was surprised how goal oriented I had been as  I watched the laws and protections get struck down one by one.  Someone reminded me that if I lived by my virtues, goals being struck down will not be as painful – they were right.   Dr. Russ Harris puts together videos (among many other things) about this kind of goal-seeking behavior and why it burns us out.

Setting goals is like plotting a map while living into your virtues is like a compass.  Virtues can lead us when we are lost or when we are confused about which way to go.  When we don’t have any goals, or if those goals or completed or lost.  We know that our spiritual hearts will lead us in the right direction.  It isn’t to say don’t trust your head or don’t ever set goals–of course do both: use your mind and set up goals for your life, but don’t make your goals more important than your virtues.  You might need a map to stay on track, but you need virtues to enjoy being on that track

Living into our values helps us to remain happy on the journey of life. Reaching a goal can be very temporary but living your values is about your core, not one or two major moments. Goals are something to reach for; virtues you already have and just act out of them.  Future based goals can be nice to reach for, but while you are reaching don’t be absent from the present attaining them like I was.

Living by your values ensures a more lasting legacy. As you can see, my goals were easy to override, and maybe for years they had kept water and air clean and garbage dumps out of poor communities. People closest to me don’t remember me for the bills I worked on. My ego got in my way.   I wanted to be seen as formidable and unable to be beat professionally.  I was much more competitive than I was thoughtful.  All the negative things you hear about politicians you could probably accurately say about me at that age with two preschool kids at home learning how to use a microwave.

People will always remember if you were kind or compassionate, and if you were there for them.  Formidable and competitive are a dime a dozen. Formidable and competitive are not virtues.  They are values and way I wanted to be remembered, but they are worldly values that overrode my virtues, and made me a much less virtuous person.  Worldly values based on ego and greed keep us from being ourselves.  They are defense mechanisms to keep us from being authentic, and to keep us attached to monetary or hierarchical goals.  They don’t support equality.  They don’t support simplicity.  They don’t support humility or integrity or honor.

If people remember a house you lived in, they might not remember anything else about you. You can say riding through an old neighborhood, “That is where the Smith’s lived.” And that can be all you remember.  But what if the Smith’s had come to your home and visited, and while there were funny and kind? What if funny and kind were just in their nature? How would you feel when looking at the Smith’s house in your old neighborhood. Goals without values or where the goals are more important leave us with a superficial moment of happiness.  Values give us joy and a sense of peace.

Virtues, spiritual values or testimonies, are about our identity — the kind of person we are, and if you do something kind for someone, they might remember you forever.  But the major thing is that you get to be authentically yourself and living your spiritual values when you support virtues over worldly values.

And when we live out of who we authentically are, we grow and are satisfied long term rather than just while the goal stands — it can be the source of joy in our lives with a deeper sense of accomplishment than just reaching a challenging goal.  It is a challenge to remain compassionate at all times.  But with work, we can live out each of our virtues in all that we do.

It is important to keep it real – and make it about what our own virtues really are and not doing something as an “I ought to” be living for this or this should be important to me.  So what are your gifts and what are your values?  Being aware of your gifts and the values that dictate your decisions help us to have a much more productive and satisfying life.  Taking account of our virtues and our gifts in life can lead to clarity and help us in making decisions

Parker Palmer says in his book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, “I’d tried to live by the precepts of an impossibly out-of-reach ethic – an ethic framed by other people’s images of who I ought to be and what  I ought to do. What I needed was honest insight into what is true, possible, and life-giving for me, just as I am, broken places and all. Those external oughts had long been the driving force in my life.  When I failed to live up to them…I judged myself as weak and faithless. I was stuck in that stage of moral development where one has high aspirations and equally high levels of guilt about falling short —-“aim high, hit low and feel lousy about yourself as you go” As I took on various issues and causes, I never stopped to ask “Does this fit my sense of who I am” Or “Is such-and-such really my gift or my calling?” As a result important parts of the life I was living were not mine to live, and thus were bound to fail.”  

Sometimes the simplest way to live into our authentic selves is to stay home or focus on what seems so mundane and unproductive.  Mother Teresa said that if you want to teach the world about love, you first stay home and love your family.  Living your values can also allow tough choices to be made, and they are also natural to our natures and will be soul filling or fulfilling on a much deeper level than ego and status fulfillment.  Many times we try to live by values we see in other people we admire.  But those are their values.  What is good about you?  What are your good qualities outside of ego and status-building?  What gifts do you bring with you to this meeting?  To your home?  To your workplace?  Those who are retiring, what virtues do you want to this next segment of your life to reflect or to be based on?

Dr. Ross Harris, who made the little video, also said, “If you are feeling guilty, ashamed, overwhelmed, hopeless or self-critical – stop looking at goals and zoom out” (like with a camera) and find the values that truly fit.  We are more than our goals. We act on values day in and out.  Get a perspective for what is important to you and what is really how you feel and what you should be doing. Surround ourselves with doable goals, but be authentic with what you believe. You may be known for what you have done in work realm—but surround yourself with friends with the same chosen virtues rather than the same successes. In part that is what church is about, having a community of like-minded people to interact with as we walk this spiritual journey. A golfer knows better than to play with a worst golfer because it will decrease his playing ability.  If we know this about a golf game, what should we surround ourselves with when it comes to everyday living? Surround yourself with good people who are healthy for your soul.

It is easier to stay present if you are living your life by virtues.  You aren’t necessarily on your way to a goal.  You are instead present in your virtues.  And virtues remain when we retire or when we are sick or can’t do something.  We can always be a simple person, or a compassionate person in any role in our lives.  The roles in our lives change but our values only grow deeper.

If you find yourself in a goal oriented habit and you don’t reach your goal there are four outcomes, says Lori Esner, PhD.  Give up on the goal and complain that something isn’t fair or not your fault (sour grapes), beat yourself up for not being good enough like Parker Palmer did, blame others, and lastly the choice is to take a step back and not focus on the goal but on the virtues you lived by while doing it.

I have a quote about values and you can guess who said it, “Values are like fingerprints.  Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything that you do.”  Elvis Presley

Who are you?

What Gifts do you have?

What are your important virtues?



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