Do your strongest values hold you back?

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I have a thing for freedom.

I don’t know exactly when it started, but I imagine that being on the “controlled” side of an extremely controlling relationship in my 20’s seared it into my emotional consciousness.

I learned that without freedom, the light of the world was dimmed, and fear dominated my life.

So once I freed myself, I became fiercely protective of my self-determination.

Which led to thoughts like:

  • I don’t want to feel obligated to do anything I don’t want to do
  • I don’t want anyone telling me what to do
  • I don’t want to have to conform to a set schedule
  • I don’t want to manipulate anyone

These beliefs have had a huge positive impact on my life.

Escape from Cubicle Nation is certainly a love letter to freedom. 🙂

But I have also learned that my interpretation of the value of freedom can hold me back, if I am not careful.

  • Resistance to do anything I don’t want to do has led me to ignore unglamorous but important tasks
  • Resistance to conform to authority has led me to ignore opportunities that could lead to financial gain
  • Resistance to conform to a set schedule has led to inconsistent work patterns, which affects productivity
  • Resistance to manipulate anyone or appear controlling has led me to underplay my strengths and gifts which affects my impact and footprint in the world

Do your values work both ways too?

  • Does your commitment to excellence sometimes lead to excessive work hours and burnout?
  • Does your commitment to family sometimes leave your own needs totally out of the picture?
  • Does your commitment to creativity create resistance for anything that appears to be structured, whether it is helpful or not?
  • Does your commitment to kindness lead you to allow people to take advantage of you on occasion?
  • Does your commitment to nonconformity lead to intolerance of your own conformist relatives?
  • Does your commitment to productivity lead you to ignore your friends, spouse or children?
  • Does your commitment to adventure lead you to overlook routine responsibilities?

I am not relinquishing my commitment to freedom, for it is part of my highest calling.

I am going to look more closely at my working definition of freedom, to be sure it includes consistent behaviors that contribute to the highest expression of the value.

I am curious, have any of you have found a similar paradox in your most precious values?

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46 Responses to “Do your strongest values hold you back?”

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  2. […] Do Your Strongest Values Hold You Back? Do your values include consistent behaviors that contribute to their highest expression? Pam Slim provides some great food for thought. […]

  3. Lori says:

    You have made me see my unproductive self, and it is not pretty. I will be putting up part of your post in obvious places around my home and office to give me a reminder to get something done. Thank you for giving me this poke.

  4. JUST what I needed to read right now! I think my values of freedom and resisting anything ‘corporate’ have led to me snubbing some very big ticket opportunities that would otherwise be sitting in my lap… and I’d already be able to buy that house of my dreams in the country if I took them. Although I value my freedom and individuality, it’s not really my dream to be scrapping by from gig to gig. I think some of the things I’m resisting are not the specifics of the projects, but success itself maybe?

  5. kat says:

    To echo a fellow “older one” – Right ON!

    This brings to mind that old, somewhat trite phrase, “all things in moderation”. I think this was the precursor to what is referred to as “balance” in today’s jargon.

    I especially appreciate your inclusion of the point on kindness. I am reading so much about kindness and love and offering it almost to the point of blindness to the damage being caused by the object to whom it is offerred. There comes a time when one must assert their boundaries. While there isn’t a need to declare total war on someone, in the necessary keeping of one’s own self respect and health, there is a need to stand up to the derogatory person, especially when it has become chronic. Being a doormat does nothing for anyone, neither the doormat, nor the one stomping on said doormat. There is learning on both sides when the doormat rises up and says, enough!

    Thanks for your insight and willingness to share these most important aspects of your process. What might be seen as flaws by some become assets when viewed in this manner.

  6. I do think my values hold me back at times. I’ve been noodling this start-up idea, but I haven’t gone forward with it because I haven’t figured out a viable first stake in the ground yet. I’ve had offers of funding, but haven’t accepted any. I have a deep respect for investors’ money (most likely they worked hard for it) and don’t feel I should waste it. I know plenty of entrepreneurs and CEOs who would just take the funding, and have no regard for whether the investors’ money is spent wisely or not.

    This was a very thought provoking post.

  7. I do think my values hold me back at times. I’ve been noodling this start-up idea, but I haven’t gone forward with it because I haven’t figured out a viable first stake in the ground yet. I’ve had offers of funding, but haven’t accepted any. I have a deep respect for investors’ money (most likely they worked hard for it) and don’t feel I should waste it. I know plenty of entrepreneurs and CEOs who would just take the funding, and have no regard for whether the investors’ money is spent wisely or not.

    This was a very thought provoking post.

  8. Ryan says:

    This is an extremely important post.

    Pam, I LIKE YOU! Very smart of you to be conscious of these kinds of things. Certainly your values are great, they’re what fuel your ability to effective be an entrepreneur but definitely, they can get in the way of things.

    I’m currently in the process of managing a lot of those mental processes. I’m a loyal fanatic of the idea of productivity from a mental perspective so I totally align with where you talked about that.

    Another great post.

  9. […] here I am: potential pariah in the great culture of parenthood, whose aversion to “normality” makes it difficult to make a deeper connection to my body and the process I’m going through. I know I feel more attuned. I know that ignoring myself […]

  10. Darren says:

    Very insightful post! My commitment to finding meaningful and profitable work that I love sometimes leads to “working” too many hours.

    At times this leads me to neglect family, friends, and relationships a little bit. The challenge for me is to keep work in its proper place, so it doesn’t become an unhealthy obsession.

  11. So I guess by now you already know that what you wrote has definitely hit a mark most (if not all) of your readers. I believe that each of our strengths has a downside to it. I can see myself in you…yet at times I still give in to conforming to society esp if my decision would hurt someone dear to me. I guess the saying is right, “we can’t have everything”. I think those are just minor consequences for choosing FREEDOM over anything else. Great site!

  12. I’ve definitely experienced this, many times.

    A lot of times I chase my own life freedom. But sometimes I get stuck in this idea that I have to work nonstop to achieve it.

    It’s like a story I once heard. After an exec has a heart attack, he goes to visit a small fishing village in Mexico for time off. One morning, he talks with a local fished and discovers that the fisher lives a great, relaxed life of fishing in the morning and spending the rest of his day with his family. He does nothing else and loves his family, and lives very modestly.

    The exec says,”this is the life I want to live.”

    The fisherman says he should. What’s stopping him?

    The exec says he first needs to start up a company, build it up, sell his stake. Then he can come live the life of this fisherman.

    I think we all have paradoxical ideas of what we want in life.

  13. bang on Pam – freedom and flexibility is why i do what i do, and i love every single bit of it. excellent thought provoking post yet again

  14. Pam,

    Excellence has always been a primary preoccupation of mine. I definitely work longer and harder than most people to produce an excellent product or service. (This is not to say that I am trying to create a perfect product – I have learned that this is counterproductive.) I have also experienced frustration when my work is not appreciated because “less excellent” products or services are available at a lower price. But I have tried to lower my standards, and have found that I cannot. So I live with the consequences.

    When I feel close to burnout, I pull back in whatever way is most convenient and effective. Sometimes it means postponing a deadline, but health (physical and mental) trumps all in terms of importance.

    Today is “one of those days.” As soon as I finish typing this, I am going to curl up in bed with a good book and hopefully fall asleep before I can turn the first page!

  15. Paul says:

    Freedom is an individualistic pursuit. No one can dictate to someone what the value of freedom is. I have met people that are oppressed that feel free because they value the oppression beyond what other options they have. Liberalism is another expression of freedom that mystifies me. To be able to do what you want at the sacrifice of others is not freedom it is tyranny. The only true freedom is conservatism which values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  16. This is the most thought-provoking post I’ve read in months. You rock my world, my friend.

  17. Great post. Sometimes my focus on perfection on all the small things mean that I miss the bigger picture.

  18. Renita says:

    Wow, you really nailed it with this one, Pam.

    Reminds me of what Abraham-Hicks said: we are so free, we can choose bondage. I had seen commitment to a particular value as more of an all-or-nothing decision (even if it leads to “cutting off nose to spite face” kind of results). Thank you for pointing out that it can actually be more fluid…

  19. Denise Green says:

    Incredibly put Pam. I too so value freedom so much that I marvel that I ever took a full-time job. And I’m sure I caused many headaches for my managers with my freedom-fervor. As one commenter put it, it’s about choices and giving up something. When we say yes to something, we say no to something else. For a long time, I wasn’t ready to say no to predictable pay, a 401K, and a sense of security. Until the day I could. Thanks for the post Pam.
    Denise

  20. Danny says:

    Very well put. I believe freedom means we have the CHOICE to do whatever we want, but it is up to us to CHOOSE to make choices with good outcomes. I can CHOOSE to sit on my couch and watch TV all day, but that doesn’t do myself or my family any good. As we break free from a cubicle, it opens up more choices that will have positive outcomes. We can decide how our time is spent as we try to be happy. We are still bound by the consequences of our choices, whether good or bad.

  21. Michelle says:

    Wow, this really rings true with me! One of your best blog posts ever. As I grow and change I start to realize imbalance in my life and I overcompensate. Just last night I sat down to reflect on what comes next, and I realized that for whatever path I choose to go on next, it all boils down to finishing a class necessary to finish my degree. My thirst to learn more about everything has distracted me from learning and passing the one class that could be the key to getting to where I need to go. And so I start on the despised thing now.

    It is all about balance, isn’t it? Again, great reminder today – thanks!

  22. Nomalanga says:

    Wow! This rang so true-I think that us women see and are sometimes subjected to so much controlling behavior that when we finally say NO, we jump all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum! Great post-we do need to find a happy balance 🙂

  23. Oh yes – been there, done that.

    The “excellence” really rang true with me. I’ll sit there and burn myself out dominating whatever I’m doing and then end up burnt out and able to just barely put an “80%” product together for the next thing I’m doing. But I still try and end up exhausting myself in the process, forcing (a good thing?) rest…only to redo it all over again.

    I started looking at many of the obligations I have and ended up carving a lot out, as well as cleaning up a lot of the stuff that hit my inbox and drained me even more. It’s helped quite a bit. I’m still not there (“optimal balance”)…but I’m a whole lot closer than I was six months ago.

    Love the posts!

  24. Naomi Niles says:

    Ooo, great post, Pam!

    The kindness one *raises hand sheepishly*. Working on it though, working on it. I think that not allowing yourself to be taken advantage of doesn’t mean you need to stop being kind. I’m trying to learn how to not misappropriate it.

  25. Yes, yes, YES, Pam!

    I’ve had a love affair with Freedom for many years, myself — and only recently noticed that sometimes I work against my own better interests because of it. I’m learning to pay attention to what my rebel-heart really wants in a situation – and finding new ways to define and honor Freedom in each situation (ok, I’m TRYING to do this).

    Thanks for the brilliant reminder!!

  26. John Jantsch says:

    Hey Pam, Here’s a question someone asked me and it’s still haunts me to this day whenever I think about things like this.

    The question is (and don’t take it at face value it’s a lot deeper if you think about it) – What are you willing to give up in order to have what you want?

    I think you have to challenge yourself with this kind of question because some will look at it say okay John wants me to give up eating cupcakes at lunch in order to . . . but it can apply to freedom – or the shackles of freedom that you so eloquently describe.

    For me, I have to give up the need to be right all the time – my life and business changed dramatically when I realized that.

    Okay, just more cupcakes for thought dear!

  27. Tim Berry says:

    Right on, as we used to say.

    I spent my formative years questioning authority, protesting the Vietnam war, believing in a new age of peace and freedom for all.

    Then as I started building my company, hiring people, and managing a team, my sensibilities related to being in a position of authority interfered with leadership and management. Leaders need to wield authority comfortably and communicate clearly both expectations and their assessment of actual performance. Looking back on 30 years of management, I was too concerned about equality and not comfortable enough with communicating the negative as well as the positive.

    Tim

  28. kim says:

    Love your inspiration!

  29. Melissa says:

    This post is spot-on with so many things that affect my personal and business success. Commitment to excellence (or it’s extremist sibling, perfectionism) is a major focus for me, but I’ll spend double the time to fix something that is not to my high standards, or procrastinate because I lack the confidence/know-how/desire to rework something so it is closer to my ideal.

    I could go on and on…. but I just want to say thanks for writing this post. You have another follower!

  30. Jeff Harbert says:

    Insert requisite “How long have you been watching me?” question here. I struggle with many of those bullet points but wasn’t really aware of it. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m going to print out this post and tack it to my wall.

  31. Al Smith says:

    Wow ! Great post Pam. I understand and agree. Even with the entrepreneur spirit and freedom, I need to be more consistent with the simple, seemingly unimportant tasks.

    I am on a mission with this new venture and very passionate about making a difference, but the most important thing for me is to keep it simple, be grateful, stay positive and keep it all in perspective. Thank you so much. Great reminders.

    Al

  32. Carol Anne says:

    One of the values that was taught to me was to work hard. I translated that (with some parental help) to a bad case of perfectionism. I’ve mostly slayed that beast, and I am working hard to pass those lessons on to my kids who also have strong perfectionist streaks.
    I am now fighting the productivity and organization beast. I thought that to be productive and organized, I had to be constantly working, working, working. There’s a difference between working hard and working smart and efficient. I think I’m finally got the “smart and efficient” thing down. I’m finding more time for my kids and my crafts. I’m still creating a lot of output at my two jobs, but it doesn’t take me as long.

  33. Kim says:

    I relate to your experience, as I too experienced an oppressive relationship in my 20’s into my 30’s. Now on the other side I have swung from co-dependent to extreme independence (I don’t need no one telling me how or what to do with my life). Thankfully, after years of testing out boundaries, being good to myself, and coming into my own I m able to live my dream life with people who are safe. I pay attention to what energizes me, what next steps I need to take and where I can give out of my abundance or when I need to rest and fuel up.

    Freedom is the knowledge that we have choices. All the time, in every situation. Sometimes those choices are those mundane steps that get us where we desire to be. Freedom is tapping into our passion, and creating our own reality. Freedom is taking risks that move us out of our comfort zones into possible solutions.

    -kim

  34. Adam says:

    Absolutely true. So many times I can see myself pushing off great opportunities to stick with my own principles. It is great to see and hear about others who struggle with the balance of creating a good life and achieving success. Thank you for keeping the realities of striking out on your own and doing what others say is impossible real and attainable.

  35. fas says:

    Freedom can at times help in better decision making and doing things you might not have done.

  36. This one hit me Pam, thanks for the reminder sometimes looking for excelence leads me to burnout which in the end leads me to mediocre work. I guess part of excelence is knowing when to stop 🙂

  37. One of the earliest values taught to me was to “play by the rules”. It has been good in a sense because it has kept me from making very..unwise decisions. It has been a hinderance because:

    -I went to college because that was what the rules required
    -I’ve worked many jobs, working for other people, because that is what the rules told me to do
    -I’ve not questioned many things, esp. religion because I believed that would be going against the rules and I just “did what I was told to do”

    And I’m so sick and tired of it, I could spankin’ scream!

    I’m committed now to break free of the rules that hold me back from being the real Jermaine. Thank you for causing us to be aware of how our values, while good, can be a little too good.

  38. It’s one of the truths we tell our entrepreneurs. Everyone’s strength is their weakness. No value, skill, or personality characteristic works in all situations. And that’s why I didn’t last at Intel:-)

  39. Thanks for this Pam. I’ve been a bit burnt out, too lately (at the ripe old age of 25), and actually shared your sentiments in the post I wrote on balancing work/life today, Passion Precludes Prosperity: Practice, Practice, Practice >>http://j.mp/dSdCdv.

    Our values certainly are our greatest blessing…and burden. Often it’s about disciplined principles over emotional attachments – balancing effectively managing organizational demands with inspiring confidence in others. Managing business, leading people. No easy task…

    Always refreshing to see others have similar vision, stripes, colors

  40. I’ve believed for a long time that to understand one’s biggest weaknesses, just look for the downside of one’s greatest strengths.

    There’s no such thing as being perfect, or having a perfect personality. We can just try to be better at some things. Smooth out the rough patches and understand why we tend to go farther than others in some areas (for better and worse). It’s finding a personal balance that’s important.

    Great post!

  41. Julica says:

    OK, that’s just scary. Pam, will you please get out of my head? (And: did I have to read this post right before I’m going to bed?! I cry mercy.)

    So: yes, yes and yes. If you exchange “controlling dad” for “controlling relationship,” pretty much every other word you have written resonates to my experience.

    In the past, I have found myself on some kind of pendulum, swinging in response to my previous overcompensation. Something like “I’m doing it wrong!” – swing to the opposite side – “this is wrong too!” – swing back to the first side, or a new approach. Whether it’s freedom-structure, or workaholism-extreme self care, or family-self, or any other perceived duality, I was often in reaction to previous patterns. And who am I kidding, often I still am. But I like to think (and actually have some proof) that now instead of reacting to a painful previous experience, I am giving myself a little more time and space to notice what I’m doing with curiosity, and a little less judgment. Instead of “I’m doing it wrong!” I can also say, “huh, look at what I’m doing now.”

    Thank you for reminding me of this commitment, and for giving me much food for thought — though hopefully not all tonight!

    I look forward to following your explorations on freedom, and will continue with my own.

    And did I mention how grateful I am to have you as a teacher? You rock it, lady.

  42. Sharon says:

    Hi Pamela,
    Great post. I discovered the same awareness of the challenges and joys of Freedom as a value. Was it Aristotle who said that the virtues were means between extremes? It helped me to define what those extremes were so I knew when I’d strayed too far from the best expression of my values. For me, Freedom lay between controlled and flighty/flaky/frivolous… defining it makes it easier to know when to knuckle down and get ‘er done, even if I might not feel like it at the time, and when it’s best for me to break free.

  43. Yes, you know only too well how my values of freedom and adventure have led me from place to place, leaving dust in the wake. I learned something new last week – Love is freedom. Freedom is love. So here’s to having them both from now on 🙂

    I also thought I had a problem with commitment untill I realised my highest commitment is to myself, so really I am AWESOME at committing to my growth and experiences! Tjis commitment to self has kept me from commitment to an intimate relationship though so now I am spreading it outward to flow into other areas of my life.

    Here’s to And-And, hey! xo Tia

  44. Oh yes! This is spot on. I, too, put a very high value on freedom. And not just the theory of freedom but the feeling of freedom. So I avoid (or sometimes quit) things that make me feel unfree or obligated.

    I have come to realize anything I want to do is going to involve doing things I don’t want to do. I guess keeping a healthy balance is important. If I am feeling more unfree than free in the overall task maybe its worth not doing? I don’t know. I am trying to find balance but its definitely challenging. I sometimes regret not getting an arduous task done because it would have provided me with certain freedoms that I don’t currently enjoy. Ugh! Its complicated. 😉

  45. Bryan says:

    These are all “real” questions each of us should more or less battle from time to time. For me it’s the constant struggle to find the balance of life in work and out of work. I find being able to maintain humility is both areas forces a better balance.
    http://blog.ontheplantfloor.com/2011/02/27/the-balance/

    I also find that if I force myself to “do the things I don’t like to do” I am a lot less of a hypocrite for riding others about not completing mundane tasks.

    Everyone has a boss – for most it should be our customers but if you are self-driven to the point of being self-employed – it more of less “you” driving “you” beyond the normal limits.

    Maintaining a childlike wonderment remains my key to creativity. Never underestimate the power of discovery by keeping your eyes wide open in each day of adventure on and off the field.

    Thanks and I enjoy your work and thoughts!

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