There are two ways to read my rule above. One is as a definitional truth, that is, that the way values are defined is by how much time or other resources we devote to them. In other words, my values aren’t what I say they are. Rather they are what I invest in. So, if I say I value my family, but spend little time with them or effort on them, then I’m not living my stated or hoped-for values. My behavior suggests that what I really value is, for instance, spending more time at work than I really need to, or working on personal interests or projects, or zoning out in front of the television.
Which brings me to the second way to read my rule above: as a prescriptive rule. This means that I treat it as an actual rule I commit to following. My rule states that I need to spend my time and other resources on what I truly believe I value. If I truly value my family then I need to devote myself whole-heartedly to them, and that will be demonstrated – or not – by how much time and other resources I shower on them. Or, if I value scholarly inquiry in my field then I need to spend my time reading, writing, and researching rather than reading novels or watching Netflix.
I’m not a morbid person – at least I don’t think I am – but I naturally take a Stoic view of life. Concepts that play a large role in Stoicism, as do in my life, is the realization of the inevitability of change and the finitude of one’s life. One Stoic practice is called negative visualization and it entails imagining the loss of what one holds dear, including one’s life, as a way to gain appreciation of what one values and as a reminder to devote oneself to those things.
So, I like the quote, “Death is coming!” from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. From stardust to stardust. Once I’m dead nothing will matter (to me). But for now it matters a lot (to me). I don’t judge myself by my thoughts, plans, or desires but rather by my actions. I’m a naturally entrepreneurial person, but as I get older I force myself to say “No” to things more often. I have to choose more wisely and not chase (or imagine chasing) every business opportunity. My touchstone for what I invest my time in is what activity will add the most value to other’s lives and, by extension, my life. I’ve never felt more motivated, resourceful, fulfilled or connected.
Until next time,
“The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.”
– Jose Ortega y Gasset
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson