I have been reading a lot about values lately. I wanted to better understand what they exactly are, how they are formed and what they do to us. Ultimately, I wanted to see what values are important to me and how they guide me in my life.
To that end, I read two different books from the same author, which really changed how I perceive of a few things in my life. The books are “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and “Everything is F*cked” by Mark Manson. I would have never thought that I would like these books for the sheer use of language (not at all my style). But there you go. Two of the most powerful books I have ever read, written by a very wise man at such a young age.
Both books discuss many good things, the latter especially offers a very sobering perspective on the concept of “hope”. The main message is that values drive people, because they give us hope. Hope motivates us, so we act. Then there is a whole discussion about whether hope is a good thing or not and after having read the book, I concluded it is not. I will not change my opinion, and if you disagree, then please you too read the book and then reevaluate your thinking.
Manson says, if a set of values we hold as most important, such as success at work, family, financial strength, recognition…, collapse one day, we die a certain kind of death. Everything breaks, we lose meaning in life, sense of purpose and with that we lose hope. Everything in life means the same thing, namely nothing. Our bodies are alive, while our souls are dead.
Having read the book, I understood. This happened to me. Twice. I died and I was reborn. Twice.
First time was in 2010-2011 when I lost everything that I valued. My marriage, my home, my job and career (which I valued a little too much), my city, my friends. I couldn’t continue to work where I worked, my then husband wanted us to separate, which meant giving up our home and Munich, and I got rejections from a few interviews for jobs which I really wanted including one in U.S and one in academia ( I was so passionate about research and couldn’t see anything beyond). Ultimately, I accepted a job offer in Cologne which didn’t have anything to do with my PhD. I moved there alone and I died.
I remained dead for three years in Cologne until I moved back to Munich. I had lost everything that had shaped my life until then, that I had prioritized. For good or bad, those values were very important to me and in their absence I found meaning in nothing.
How did my death look like? A great void in me, feeling of emptiness, wanting to sleep to not to feel or think, working just because I had to and working a lot to not to think or feel, traveling all the time to not to think or feel, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, feeling vulnerable, unimportant. The only two things that kept me “alive” were my work (I feel to responsible and professional to ever slip work, I was brought up that way) and tango. I was not dancing any good or anything, but tango gave me a channel to come out of my bed and my flat and engage with people if and when I felt for it.
At the end of the three years, a few incidences happened, which shook me out of my death sleep. I realized I had no meaning in my life, which was centered around a job and a career that gave me financial security but no satisfaction. So I decided to go back to Munich and resume my old life this time without my husband.
I had a happy start which unfortunately declined over the course of another three years. At the end of 2015 I died again. This time I died less.
I had fallen into the same trap of making my job and career my my central value, which defined the rest of my life. My job then was terrible, for multiple reasons. I was not succeeding, either. My friends had moved on with their lives, they had other worries and priorities. I had been naive to think that I could continue from where I had left off. With those two values, career and friends, not living up to my expectations and hopes, I lost meaning and orientation again. I realized that old patterns were starting to creep in such as willing to sleep, turning inward, anxiety and I got really concerned. I realized I was dying again and had to change my life immediately.
This is how my new life in Barcelona started in about 6 months after this realization. Having read the book I now understand I went to Barcelona and started my life to find my new set of most important values. To reorient myself and to be reborn. I believe I succeeded. I am reborn and I am quite happy with my third life. What a blessing I have; three different lives, third being the one I have now, fitting in a single lifetime of 46 years. Each time stronger, each time calmer, each time a bit wiser.
Do I know my values now? I believe so, at least those that are most important to me right now. Some of them are health, kindness, service to humanity, respect, friendship, meaningful work (whatever that is), honesty, joy, creativity and sharing all these with other humans. I hold them dear now. When I look at them, I feel they are universal virtues (except for health which is a physical and mental condition) that are hard to collapse.
How good that I died. How good that I was lucky to be reborn again. Twice. Will I die again? Who knows… but if I do, I know that I will be reborn again, stronger.