Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been. When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day. What follows is one piece of that advice. I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.
Beliefs constitute the basic stratum, that which lies deepest, in the architecture of our life. By them we live, and by the same token we rarely think of them.
—José Ortega y Gasset
Your values serve as your internal compass. They guide your actions. When you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsure of what to do, your personal belief system will tell you what is right to guide your actions.
This compass will be vitally important in countless situations throughout your life, especially when you find yourself under pressure. If you have a hard-wired set of values, you’ll be more likely to act in a way that you’ll be proud of afterwards.
In order to reap those benefits later, however, you have to take some time now to define for yourself what your values are.
You already have a set of values; you just need to clarify them in your own mind. Your values have been influenced over the years by your parents, teachers, mentors, role models, and friends. But while others have a hand in the process, your values must be your own—nobody else’s.
Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers once wrote, “I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on children—certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment.” That also holds true for adults, but it has never stopped people from trying—just human nature, I guess.
So the challenge for you is to separate the beliefs that belong to others from those that are really your own. Use your best judgment and try to sort through your own biases. Just as it doesn’t make sense to simply accept your parents’ values without testing them for yourself, it also doesn’t make sense to blindly reject those values out of youthful rebelliousness or a desire for independence.
If you believe something to be true, then it doesn’t matter where you first heard it. If it’s true, it’s true. Just make sure you can reconcile that truth in your own mind.
Understand also that your values and beliefs are likely to evolve over the years. But once you are clear about what you believe, you will find that the answers to tough questions will come much more easily.