If you would take a moment and imagine me screaming the title of this post while jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch like Tom Cruise before his fourth divorce, please do so now. This post is about values. And how seemingly nobody has them. And how that ruins everything. But before we get into that, let’s go back to Tom Cruise for a second.
One of my favorite movie openings is the beginning of Jerry Maguire. Tom Cruise plays the eponymous main character: a top sports agent who is beginning to question the ethics of his job. In the opening credits, we see Jerry question whether he is really representing the players’ interests or whether he’s just trying to get the biggest paycheck possible.
One night Jerry can’t sleep. His conscience won’t let him. So Jerry gets up and begins writing a mission statement. It’s about how to represent athletes in an ethical way. As he writes, he begins to “rediscover the simple pleasures of the job,” and remember why he took it in the first place. He writes about how agents should be obligated to their clients regardless of their physical condition, how they should put the players’ health and happiness before money. What begins as one page turns into 25 and soon, the sun comes up.
The next morning, Jerry hands out copies of his new mission statement to everyone at his firm. He’s revitalized and for the first time in years, excited for the future. He believes they can set a new standard of how athletes are treated and dominate the industry by offering more ethical, holistic representation.
And he’s immediately fired.
Modern capitalist society sometimes doesn’t reward having strong personal values. In fact, it sometimes punishes you. Everyone gripes about politicians and their lack of values. But an inherent flaw of democracy is that it rewards those who parrot what people want to hear rather than those actually who stand up for their core values. What we get are presidents who talk about peace and go to war, and senators who talk about family values but hire prostitutes or get caught cottaging in an airport bathroom.
Society rewards the valueless with superficial benefits. But developing strong core values are the foundation of lifelong happiness and fulfillment.1 They’re the prerequisite for any semblance of a healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise. They’re the compass that always points toward your life’s purpose. In short, they’re awesome, and you should know what yours are.
Values are the ideals and standards that you live by, regardless of external pressures or incentives.
Your values are what you’re unwilling to give up despite what other people say or do. Values are the ideals and beliefs you’re willing to fight for, or sometimes even die for.
People who suffer from weak boundaries tend to lack strong core values. Men who exhibit Nice Guy Syndrome lack sturdy personal values. When one lacks values, one is liable to get run over by other people. When one lacks values, they’re likely to base their feelings of success and worthiness based on how well they meet the needs of others and not the needs of themselves. This is codependent or needy behavior. It repels people. And it invites all sorts of problems into your life.
How to Screw Yourself Over in One Easy Step
Recently I received an email from a friend. Before I read a word, I knew what I was in for: drama. The lack of punctuation, the horrible formatting, the smattering of four-letter words in all caps bulging out of the wall of text like zits on a teenager’s face. Rows of exclamation points and question marks running all over, screaming and screaming into the internet void.
“This is going to be a mess,” I thought.
And it was. The woman he had been dating didn’t want to see him anymore. In fact, she had gone back to her ex-boyfriend, a guy who was (apparently) a horrible, evil, child-murdering, small-dicked, rapist who drank the blood of puppies and masturbated to episodes of Gilmore Girls — basically a terrible, terrible human being.
I barely get halfway through the email before giving up. I’m unable to summon sympathy for these types of situations. In fact, all that comes up these days is anger. I want to reach through the computer screen, through the email, through the frenzied exclamation marks and question marks, and shake him. Shake him like you’re not supposed to shake a baby. Shake him hard and then scream, “Where are your goddamn values!?!?” like Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch.
I never like to proclaim ‘cure all’ solutions for people, and I sure as hell hate it when other people do. But this may be the closest thing I ever post to a cure all. It’s like a magical bandage that fixes all wounds: knowing your values and standing up for them.
In the thousands of dating advice questions I’ve gotten through the years, probably a solid 1/3 have been some variant of the following:
“I met this girl. She was great. We dance/kissed/talked all night. She was way into me. I texted her to ask her out. She said sure. I texted her again to plan the date and never heard from her again. What do I do? How do I get her to respond? What did I do wrong?”
Ladies, this goes for you too. I’ve had plenty of female friends in this situation over the years as well: meet handsome guy, have a great time, never hear from handsome guy ever again. What should she do? What did she do wrong?
For a long time, my answer was this: Nothing. Do nothing. Forget about them and meet someone else.
As you can imagine, people really didn’t like hearing this. In their minds, there had to be some way to “get” her/him to respond to them. There was some secret or trick that they were missing. Or there had to be a mistake. Maybe they lost their phone, or they saved their name incorrectly, or they’re mixing them up with the other Dave they know and hate. Maybe if I text them a few more times they’ll remember.
In almost every single case, this is insecure delusion. When you do this you are protecting your ego because the truth hurts. It hurts to know that you liked someone more than they liked you. I get it. It’s happened to me tons of times too. And it’s not fun to admit.
In Models, I point out that honesty begins with yourself. And you must be honest to yourself in these situations: they don’t like you enough.
But recently, I’ve skipped even bothering with this advice. I skip explanation and go straight to indignation:
Why would you ever put effort into seeing someone who has demonstrated they don’t want to see you? Why on earth would you ever make time for someone who is unwilling to make time for you? Why would you invest any energy into someone who will not invest energy into you?
Where is your self-respect?
If you sold guitars and someone said, “I don’t want to buy a guitar,” would you follow them around and keep trying to sell it to them? No! You’d be a dick and a bad salesman. So why would you do that with dating?
I have a simple value in my life: I value my time and I expect people to respect my time. Therefore I won’t make time for people who won’t make time for me.
It’s as simple as that. And no, ‘flakes’ like this don’t bother me anymore. And, in fact, I get far fewer of them, because I make this value clear when I meet someone new. I don’t tolerate it, so they don’t do it to begin with.
Here’s another example. This time from business:
Many of the people who get into internet marketing and online business begin to make money and find that, to their chagrin, they’ve merely created another grind for themselves. Instead of chained to a cubicle, they’re chained to a laptop and third-world countries because they can’t afford to live anywhere else.
They have to wake up, work hours upon hours on a project that they don’t care about, merely to sustain their lifestyle of drinking cheap beer on beaches with anonymous backpackers and travelers who they’ll never see again.
Awesome life for a year. Shitty career path.
They suffer and stagnate because they haven’t built the business on their personal values. They built it on expediency and getting themselves enough income to leave as soon as possible. They don’t believe in what they do. Therefore once they hit a plateau or get burnt out, they lose interest or feel stuck.
Many of these entrepreneurs sell their businesses off within a few years and go get a desk job. Others perpetually start new ventures, and even though they may make good money here and there, they’re never totally satisfied and they never feel any job security.
Define Your Values
The values that remedy the situations above are:
- My Time – I respect my time and expect others to respect it as well.
- Contribution – I only invest in a venture that I believe will benefit myself and others in a meaningful way.
If you value contribution in your business from the get-go, you never find yourself in a position of aimless burnout, because you’re doing something you believe in and that you believe helps the world. If you value people showing respect for your time from the beginning, then you don’t even bother getting phone numbers of people who aren’t that excited to talk to you or who seem unreliable.
People who do not define their values concretely end up drifting around in life, pulled in the direction of any external validation they get their hands on.
They get a nice job out of college because that’s what their parents always pressured them to do. They commit to someone because they’re the nicest/prettiest/smartest/richest one who makes themselves available. They take a job so they can get enough money to match their friends’ purchases. They put up with manipulative and disrespectful behavior from their partner because they’re afraid of being single again.
This is why I think everybody, at some point, should sit down and hammer out some of these values for themselves. I’ve been having most of my consultation clients do this lately and it’s been helping them a lot.
Make them concrete. Then stick to them. It will make your decision making so much easier, and it will remove so much ambiguity from your life. You’ll also develop more self-esteem and feel like less of an asshole all the time.
1. Relationship Values
Take five minutes and write down the values that define your relationships. Imagine your dream relationship, your perfect relationship, what qualities would define that relationship? What qualities would you refuse to compromise on? Write them down.
- My Time: I will not make time for people who don’t make time for me.
- Boundaries: I will define clear boundaries and stand up for them.
- Authenticity: I will not tolerate dishonesty or manipulative behavior.
2. Professional Values
Now do the same for your career. Imagine your dream career, what values would define it?
- Contribution: I believe in earning money by providing tangible benefits to society, to the best of my knowledge.
- Respect: I will not tolerate disrespectful business relationships or unethical deals for the sole purpose of more money.
- Expression: I will work on something that allows me to express myself and my creativity.
3. Personal Values
And of course, do not forget to take care of yourself. This is possibly the most important set of values. As your ability to set expectations and interact with others begins with how you set expectations and interact with yourself.
- Health: I will take care of my own fitness and hygiene.
- Forgiveness: I will not get overly angry or critical of myself — I will meet my own flaws with compassion.
Making Your Own Bed
As I said, I didn’t finish my friend’s entire email. For one, it was such a garbled mess that reading it was a strain on the eyes. But I stopped reading primarily because I have developed a low tolerance for the kind of thinking it exhibited.
Toxic relationships don’t just occur because you engage the negative or manipulative behavior, but toxic relationships can also happen simply by tolerating the manipulative and negative behavior.
As I shot off a quick tough love email to my friend, it was clear he got to this position by tolerating such behavior.
When he started dating the woman, he knew she was still involved with her ex. Yet he didn’t do anything. He framed his relationship with her as something casual and on-the-side so he could continue pursuing other women. He regularly blew her off and ignored her in favor of opportunities to meet other people. When she was dramatic and falsely claimed her ex-boyfriend had raped her to get him to become jealous, he engaged her manipulative behavior by trying to “fix” the problem.
So, no — no pity. None. He made his bed. He was lying in it. Not only did his lack of clear values fail to define his relationship with her — allowing him to become far more emotionally attached than he realized — but his tolerance of her manipulative behavior also led to him being hurt by her.
And my quick reply? Sorry, not tolerating it. This situation was entirely of your making. Take responsibility. You’re responsible for handling your own emotions. Not me or anybody else.
That is one of my values. Sympathize? Sure. It sucks to see a friend upset. Advice? Of course.
But I will not validate his self-inflicted pain. I will not be dragged into his drama. He’s my friend, but those boundaries between him and me are non-negotiable.
And the fact that I set them and he doesn’t is exactly why he ends up in these situations, and I don’t.
- Sagiv, L., & Schwartz, S. H. (2000). Value priorities and subjective well-being: direct relations and congruity effects. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30(2), 177–198.↵