Are You Trying to Live Up to Other People’s Values?

eating disorder

Do you often feel guilty about things that you aren’t doing – or things that you are doing? Do you find yourself saying “I really should…” or “I know I’m supposed to…” or “I must…”? Are you trying to live up to someone else’s values?

There are so many pressures on us to conform. You might think that you have your own priorities straight (and that you’re failing to meet your own standards), but chances are, you’re being influenced by a lot of external pressures. These could come from:

  • Society as a whole, and the media
  • Your colleagues, friends or classmates
  • Your parents, grandparents and extended family

The problem with trying to live by someone else’s values is that you’ll never feel as though you’re managing it. You can’t please everyone – and you shouldn’t be trying to. At the end of the day, what matters is that you live up to your own values. (In many cases, these might coincide with those of your community, friends or family, of course; but be clear where differences lie.)

Values from Society and the Media

Using the word “values” might seem odd in connection with modern society and the media (often criticised for not holding values or morals). Sometimes, what we take for common sense or received wisdom is really a value so ingrained in us by society, we can’t step outside and see a different point of view.

For example, consumerism is encouraged by the media (because they exist due to selling not only newspapers and magazines and other products, but by selling advertising). Our society is obsessed with appearance – just think of all the ridiculous attention paid to whether celebrities are gaining or losing weight.

If you’ve set yourself a goal of earning an extra $5k this year, or of losing 30lbs, ask yourself whether you’ve done so because of your values – or because this is what newspapers, television and advertisers are telling you to do.

Values from Your Colleagues/ Friends

When I was at school, there was a lot of talk about resisting “peer pressure” to misbehave. Your peers are the people who are like you – whether they’re in the same job, at the same college, or simply your group of friends. The danger is that our social instinct and need to belong can push us to adopt values which aren’t really ones we’d otherwise prioritize.

For example, if all your friends place a high value on entertainment, enjoyment and partying – and you value being frugal and making a contribution to the world – you might end up living what feels to you a shallow lifestyle. If your classmates at college are all focused on career and earnings, your dream of traveling may fall by the wayside. And if your colleagues prioritize getting ahead at all costs, what happens to your values of honesty, kindness, and mutual respect?

When you’re buying a new gadget, accepting an invitation, or stretching the truth to make life easier, ask yourself whether you’re being drawn away from your values by your peers.

Values from Your Family

In many cases, we share our values with our close family members. If your parents placed a high value on family relationships, chances are, you do too. And if your family have always prioritized helping out in the community, you’ve probably been involved in various volunteering opportunities all your life.

Sometimes, though, you might feel pressurized or stressed because of your parents’ or grandparents’ values. Perhaps you don’t want to hire a cleaner because your grandpa would be horrified by the idea of paying someone to do jobs that you could do perfectly well yourself – but you know that having the housework taken care of would give you time to launch your new business.

Or maybe your dad’s focus has always been on making as much money as possible in order to retire young; you’re feeling pushed towards a “realistic” corporate career when, deep down, you want to pursue a more creative calling.

Once you no longer live under your parents’ roof, you have no obligation to living up to their values. I certainly wouldn’t suggest you go out of your way to horrify, offend or shock your relatives, but try not to fall into the trap of second-guessing yourself because you’re worried what they’ll think. And relatives won’t always react how you expect. When I quit my job to freelance, my mother and I kept it secret from my grandma for several months – but when we finally broke the news, my grandma was full of praise for my entrepreneurial spirit!

Ask yourself whether it’s time to cut the apron strings and live your life: your parents and loved ones want you to do what makes you happy – not to simply follow their values.

Whose values are you living up to? How can you start getting back to your own values?

Photo by bejealousofme

26 thoughts on “Are You Trying to Live Up to Other People’s Values?”

  1. Hi Ali,

    Constantly trying to live up to others values is definitely a sure way to be miserable. Thanks for the article.

    Personal Development Blogger

  2. Ali,

    I thought that was a picture of you! Powerful picture, though. I know what it’s like to be bulimic and believe me, nobody looks that clean, composed and beautiful just after vomiting their guts out. Which made me think that living according to other people’s values (eg “Must look like that”) can literally make us sick, and ugly (as in not the beautiful, whole person we could be).

    1. Not me! (Actually, Peter chooses the pics for posts, so I’m always as interested to see them as the rest of you are…)

      Since I’ve got a fair amount of familiarity with the diet/health blogging world, I’ve come across disturbing concepts like “thinspiration” (when sufferers from anorexia encourage themselves to get thin by looking at photos of extremely thin models). It’s an extreme example of how adopting society’s misguided (and in this case, very wrong) values can be literally deadly.


  3. Nowadays, I’m not really bothered with whether people would agree with me. I’m just more concerned in being true to myself and my calling. I figured that if I don’t follow my heart, I’d most definitely live a miserable life.



  4. Hi Ali – It’s funny how we can be unsure whether or not something is our own. Even our own values and priorities. Ultimately I can tell the difference by seeing if I feel any resentment or not as I’m choosing something. If I resent an act before or while I’m doing it, I’m probably doing it for someone else. But if I feel joy I know I’ve hit on the right thing. Thanks!

  5. Great post! I’ve always kind of done my own thing. If I felt peer pressure, I usually did the opposite. For instance, while in college, the more my friends tempted me to drink, the more I would resist. I like competition so it almost became a game to me.

    My wife did fall into this trap. We moved from TX to San Francisco for her to go to law school. Her whole family expected her to go to law school. This wasn’t because they were lawyers, but because she one mentioned as a little kid that she wanted to be a lawyer. She’s pretty good at arguement (sometimes it’s not a good thing :) ), but it seemed to be a fit. Long story short, I quit my job and we moved to San Francisco. I had no job and she was in school. After the first day of class, she came home crying mainly because she felt bad that she knew law school wasn’t for her and she dragged me out there and I didn’t have a job. We lived out there for a year before moving back to TX.

    Sorry for the long winded comment. Just wanted to share the story!

    1. Hey Dustin,

      Thanks for sharing! Glad that your wife at least figured out what she DID want to do. It’s interesting how different people react – my boyfriend tends to go against any pressures from others, whereas I can be like your wife and end up trying to please everyone at the cost of making myself miserable…

      I guess the key thing is to find a balance: to take advice seriously (and not reject a path out-of-hand just because it’s parents/siblings/etc who advise it) but also to be firm about doing what’s best for *you*.


  6. I forgot to mention — this picture is so moving. I can remember just what it felt like to be that girl (and, at times, I still feel that way). Thanks so much for posting it. It’s a very moving image.

  7. this is a very complicated topic, even if we people consciously understood the differences between their own values and the values they learned from others still they are expected to act in a certain way in order to get a job, to succeed….etc

  8. Thanks for this post. One of the things I do when I find myself becoming overly concerned about my “public image” (usually I find myself wanting to be seen as successful, or a great listener, or something along those lines) I ask myself what would really happen if people didn’t see me that way. Actually looking at the possible consequences (which really don’t exist) is a helpful way to move beyond the fear of “not looking good.” Best, Chris

  9. Hello Ali!

    Wow! Good post and what a powerful photo!

    Attempting to live up to somone else’s standards is a great way to be miserable. One should always look inside and follow their own heart. Good article!


  10. Very ironic- As you noted the pressure can come from society. It is an extremely western notion that ‘I’ is more important than ‘we’. I noticed that personal gratification is ingrained in all westerners while people from the east have a much stronger sense of tribal loyalty and family values. Surely a balanced approach straddling the two is best. One is too selfish while the other is too selfless. Possibly humans biggest fault is the need to swing from one extreme to the other (in all walks of life). The truth is always more complex than we imagine.

  11. It’s important to have values, and we aren’t born with them. We’re born with needs: food, clothing, shelter, affection. Our needs were simple, but they were completely self-centered. Experience and example help us to figure out what it is that we value. We know what we value, on a subconscious level, but sometimes that is so at odds with what what we think is expected of us that we aren’t even clear on what our values ARE. It helps to know, and to make conscious choices whenever choice is an option.

    Have you read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens”?

  12. This reminds me of the Grandstand Effect. We are on the field performing for everyone in the grandstand to cheer us but if we do not conform to their values we get booed.

    My view is that there should be no one on in the grandstand except God. I don’t do things for others approval but for God’s and God’s only.

  13. Antonio Siracusa

    People need to be allowed to do what they want as long as it is responsible and is not intruding on someone else’s values and life.

    People also need to learn to GIVE up CONTROL not struggle to keep it. The pressure from parents, co-workers or friends to want you to do what they want always comes down to a sense of wanting control over you.

    I have a great saying which is: “Why do I have to do what YOU want me to do in order for YOU to feel good about YOU?”

    If someone truly feels good about themselves they won’t care what you decide to do concerning anything. When someone is miserable in their life that’s when they become obsessed with wanting to control your decisions.

    It’s time for people to WAKE UP!

    1. I agree with Antonio. He’s absolutely right in the regard of it being someone’s own personal feelings towards themselves being reflecting in how they treat the people around them.

      When someone is content and happy with who they are as a person, they won’t give two shits what the hell you do. But come across someone who is lost in their mind, or who has never learned to love themselves and what you get are these crazy, insecure, narrow-minded judgmental freaks who are just out to control the people around them.

      Cheers Antonio. I like your style.

      – J.

  14. Hi Ali. Congratulations on recognising that society’s values are just a guide – not an imperative. I gradually came to a similar understanding after struggling to find my place in the corporate world of finance.

    It was not at all how I had imagined it before I embarked on the career. The suits that once looked glamorous and appealing soon became a burden. My tie started to feel like a noose and the corporate politics was pretty unbearable.

    I’ve decided to find myself as a writer and recently published my first article in a magazine which was very exciting. Sadly I haven’t found a way to make a living out of writing as yet but I hope to do so soon.

    Thanks for providing the inspiration through your article.

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