Friday, 30 October 2015

A valued life

I’ve been thinking about value a lot lately. In marketing, and especially in marketing services (though not just services), value is an important concept. What has value to one person doesn’t have value to another. Understanding what constitutes value is important in being able to appeal to a particular client, and to understand what aspects of our services we need to promote. I love teaching value to my marketing training clients, because so many have never thought of themselves or their skills that way. Sometimes it can be a shock for them to learn that who they are doesn’t have intrinsic value to the client. Rather, it is what they do for that client that has value. Though of course, who they are contributes to that.

I think that this is the same in real life, and especially life after infertility. Our perspectives determine what we define as success, and what we define as value. I look at some people I know. They’re worked hard all their lives, risen in the corporate world, but have they actually done anything of value?

Single-minded pursuit of success can be an incredibly selfish thing, and can leave a lot of bodies in a person’s wake. Though not always. Still, maybe their corporation has an important product, or maybe by climbing the corporate ladder they’ve been able to mentor others, or provide their families and others with financial support. The value to me isn’t that they’ve become <insert title here>, but what they’ve done as they’ve reached those heady heights. I admire Bill Gates, not for establishing a hugely successful company and becoming a billionaire, but for what he is doing now, his approach towards eliminating malaria and other diseases, his humanity in action.

I watched Survivor the other night. (Confession: I drafted this months ago!) I thought about Jeff whatshisname. He’s spent 20 years of his life overseeing egotistical people fighting for money, and selling that to the world. Some would say he’s successful. He's certainly rich. But would I want to spend my life that way? Has he provided value to the world doing that? You could argue he has provided entertainment for millions. But if he hadn’t, someone else would have filled the void. Maybe, by being a calm and sensible voice, he has role modelled appropriate behaviour. Maybe he’s used his wealth to make the world a better place. Or maybe not. My point is that his prominence and wealth don't on their own make him valuable. I guess it comes down to how we define success.

In the same way, we can look at other people who are parents. When we are so often feeling less than, simply because we haven’t brought another being into the world, or raised another being when their parents couldn’t, I find it can be useful to think about life this way. I’m not trying to diminish the role of parents, simply put it in perspective. Now, some people will assume that if you’re a parent, by creating another person you are contributing enormously to the world. Others would say that it’s not simply a numbers game, positive or negative. But is being a parent inherently valuable? It depends on a huge range of factors.

Whilst I try not to judge, I think to an extent it is inevitable. We respect some people, and not others. That's human nature, even if we're trying not to be judgemental. In doing this, though, I wish our societies assigned value based on how much better a person will leave the world. On who they’ve helped. On whether they have been selfish, or not. On whether they’ve been kind. On their values. Not just on whether they have been a parent. Or not.

10 comments:

  1. Beautiful post. And you're so right about finding value in a life.

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  2. I think that for me, it boils down to love. To acts that come from love, whether it is a hug, or listening to a friend in need, giving to someone who needs help, teaching, etc.

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    1. Yes, when I was writing this, I was going to include a sentence on love. I'm not sure why I didn't in the end. Distractions, probably! Thanks for the reminder.

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  3. To me, though, the only person's opinion who matter when it comes to life value is the person living it. It really doesn't matter if I think my friends or family or co-workers or strangers around me have value in terms of the larger "meaning of life" value. Whether they've done their life well or put something good in the world isn't really for me to say. It's for them to say. In the same way that I don't really care if someone finds my life as having value. They don't have to live it, you know?

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    1. That's very true, I agree, but sadly it isn't the way our world operates. And I don't know many (if any) people who aren't affected by what the world says about them, or how others see them. It would be nice to not be bothered by it all ...

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  4. I do think we share some ideas about value (or meaning), but those shared ideas live somewhere between culture and the individual. What does value mean, in the end? In economic terms, "The worth of a good or service as determined by people's preferences and the tradeoffs they choose to make given their scarce resources." What will "buy" us the most, in the end? What will we choose to make of what we have? Because I don't think anything has value if we just amass it, without any thought of using it.

    And I think parenting works the same way. I don't think people have inherent value because they produced kids. But if they taught children to continue to help make this world a better place? That's value. Not inherent in the egg and sperm, but in the larger impact. I hope that would be valuable to them, too, as Mel suggests above. Does that make any sense?

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  5. I feel like value is so subjective, and it could be that what's valuable to one is not to another. I like the idea of finding value in our own life regardless of what the people around you may think, but it is upsetting when you think of all the messages that put parents at a higher value than others. I think the love you put out in the world, the contributions you make to the people around you, and your own level of personal happiness are what's most valuable. You can do all of those things without parenting a child. Parenting a child can be of value, but it isn't the be-all that society tends to shove at the masses. I think it's important to determine your own value separate from what society is touting or you could go fairly insane.

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    1. Yes, the whole subjectivity of value is exactly what I have taught to some of my clients, and what I was talking about here. Glad you get it.

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  6. Hmmm, a lot to chew on here. Reminds me of opinion pieces I've read about how society measures so much based on the GDP and other economic indicators. But economic indicators don't give much of a picture of the health & well being of your citizens. I realize those are much more nebulous concepts and harder to measure, but they are important nevertheless.

    I have a friend who worked for a big corporate law firm... those who work the most billable hours are the ones who get the big bucks & big bonuses, and you're expected to increase your billable hours over time. I remember having lunch with her a few years after she'd been working, & she told me she had a meeting with her superiors to discuss targets for next year. She got her knuckles rapped because she put down the same number of billable hours as she'd targeted that year. She pointed out that she did a lot of committee work for the firm, mentored many incoming students, she'd had xx articles published in law journals, etc. Nope, that didn't count because it wasn't billable hours. She eventually stopped actively practicing law & now works (for the same firm) in human resources & administration. Not as much money, but a much more sane pace of life.

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