“Sometimes your life has to burn to the ground for you to realize what — and who — is important.” — AH Tweet this
So we continue on the topic of transition phase that started here — the ones that result from life adversities such as graduating, getting fired, or going through a divorce, or all of the above.
I love saying that you’re the triple integral of your values, experiences and environment. So let’s break this down;
Your values are fundamental. They’re a part of who you are, and are not defined by external factors like what house you live in, and what job title you have. Knowing your values is significant as that helps you make decisions, prioritize tasks and streamline your life.
I’ve noticed two things in the Arab world when it comes to values. The first one is connected to self-awareness (or lack thereof). What people say they value is different from what they actually value. [This is connected to the whole anti-kalam katheer concept I wrote about here].
For instance, they might say they value things because they’re communally acceptable; honesty, hard work, and kindness but then dissecting their behaviors, you recognize they only like the sound of those values, but don’t live them at all.
The second thing is how discussions about core fundamental values don’t come up when people make important choices like who they marry. In our society, where many marriages are still traditionally arranged, the main concept is that the girl’s pre-disposed values don’t really matter because she’s just going to have to change them to match her husband’s after marriage.
But you simply can’t make that assumption about people.
But even if people don’t expect their spouse to change after marriage, the discussion doesn’t come up. The last time I tried to tell people about this, someone told me, “We don’t do this kind of thing in our culture.”
And all I could think of, “Then you wonder why you have lots of broken homes.”
The next parameter is experiences. You know how they say, it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters? I don’t like the term ‘react’ because it implies a knee-jerk reaction and those are always a bad idea. I’d rather rephrase the term to “consciously respond to”.
When it comes to responding to what happened to you is the story you tell yourself whenever something happens. A lot of times we default to the narratives of our parents/close friends because they’re what we know (that’s why environment is also important). Instead, learn to consciously track your narrative and adjust it if needed.
It’s very easy to become a cynic or a pessimist when bad things happen to you. It’s easy to say, “Trouble always follows me,” and then change our behavior accordingly, but I’ve learnt a few lessons in life with regards to that;
1.You are in control of the narrative that is inside of your head. So change it to be empowering instead of disempowering. Always ask yourself, is this narrative doing me any good? Is it serving me? Iterating what’s already been said, “Don’t just react.”
2.You can’t form a conclusion from one data point. A lot of us judge situations from bad experiences and stories, and although it is important to reflect back on what happens and distill the lessons learnt, we can’t extrapolate that one datapoint to sweeping statements like “bad things always happen to me…” Because it is just one datapoint — and sometimes two or three or four — but the reality of life is, there will be good days and bad, good people and bad. So don’t form conclusions from a few data points.
Last but not least is environment and I don’t need to sell you on why environment is important. Even if we skipped that lesson in biology about high-altitude adaptations in humans, we’ve all been susceptible to peer pressure, whether it’s in the form of doing stupid things just because our friends did them or keeping up with the Jones or the Arab versions of the Jones.
So as a conclusion, to reiterate, you’re the triple integral of your values, experiences and environment. In optimizing for life, you might want to focus on the first two parameters and be aware of how the third one affects you so you can adjust it accordingly.
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Also, check out my short story collection, “All Bleeding Stops and Other Short Stories from the Kenyan Coast,” and the non-fiction book summarizing a lot of ideas in the personal development field if you want to change your life but don’t know where to start, “Mine your inner resources”.