“At the end of your life” a friend once asked, “What do you hope to have happened?”
I thought it was a great question and decided to give him a thoughtful answer, so I pocketed it for later and bought myself a month for the assignment.
For a while my mind flooded with questions of plot. Will I fall in love? Will I have kids? Will I know passion in my work? Will I touch lives? Will I change the world for the better? What will my regrets be? Where will I have traveled? Where will I have lived?
Will I have really traveled? Will I have really lived?
When I was a kid watching movies, I used to shout during tense scenes, “Ah! What’s gonna happen?” My dad would laugh, “How should I know? I’m watching the same movie you are!” I wasn’t really asking him. But the uncertainty is unnerving.
It’s so tempting to ask questions about how things will turn out, grasping at some kind of assurance in a constantly changing world.
But the answers are not here, not now.
They’re waiting patiently at the end of the story, relaxing in the shade. Probably sipping lemonade. They’re not going anywhere. So perhaps it’s better to let the questions go and just give in to the possibilities.
“Will I this? Might I that?” I let all those questions go, and soon a new question began peaking around the corner of my consciousness.
Rather than asking what life I hoped to live, I began wondering how to live life. The assignment had changed for me, from one of story telling to an inquiry into my own personal values.
Finding My Personal Values
For most of my life, I believe I inherited my personal values from my context. Looking back, I can see that in the years before getting into a good college, the most important thing to me was just that–getting into a good college.
Once at Brown, it was the grades. After graduating, I spent two years working and living, proving my independence to…myself? I think?
And then I came to work at Facebook, a company with deeply embedded and well-articulated values. I believed in the vision and my coworkers, which was enough for me to adopt the values of the company as my own.
Efficiency and leverage became important to me, along with openness, connectedness, and impact. These were the things that kept me up at night.
What should’ve kept me up was my dad’s cancer. He’d been diagnosed sometime while I was in college, but I mostly pretended he hadn’t, because that was easier. I assumed he’d just get better.
But then one day, during my Facebook years, he got worse. X-years-to-live type of thing.
I was tempted to push the news aside again and go back to helping democratize the world’s information (also known as processing my email) when something inside me flipped, snapped, woke up, and sang out.
I saw in an instant that I was living a life on autopilot. I was asleep at the wheel and I had been for… could it be? Forever? So, what do I do now?
That day I put in a request for a six month leave-of-absence, needing space from my own life in order to see it. And to spend time with my parents.
In the two years that followed, I began, super slowly, to start following my own heart. As unpracticed as I was, it often spoke in low tones, gave me mixed messages, or long bouts of silence.
This is still true, but the more I listen, the more I hear. And now that I’ve spent some time living in accordance with my own intuition, I can look back and see a new cohesion take shape, my very own personal values are becoming clear.