Time flies when you’re middle-aged.

One minute I’m listening to Nine Inch Nails and studying for finals in college, the next I’m married for fifteen-and-a-half years and wondering how to get sober and have a stable family like Trent Reznor.

What happened here? And how did Trent Reznor get a fantastic career and a caring family while I’ve spent the past few years struggling to get my act together? Well, I read a few interviews. It seems like he invested his time and energy in activities (and people) who align with his values.

What are Values?

Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior. Values are the sum of what is important in life. And if you don’t know your values, you’ll never be grounded enough in your own beliefs to be of service to someone else.

I’ve been on a quest to figure out my values. I want people to have better experiences with me — my husband, my family, my friends, my colleagues — and I want to add more value to the world.

Like most middle-aged quests, the journey of self-improvement involves a ton of coaches and therapists. People who have expertise in human psychology and individual performance. And there have been crackpots who want to sell me trinkets and tokens to be a better person.

And, along the way, I’ve been reading a ton of books and collecting one-sheets. Boy, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that psychologists and licensed clinical social workers are like marketing professionals. They love handouts.

The other day, I was given a needs and values map. The instructions are simple: rate your experience with your partner and then rate how important the value is to your life.

Here’s what I love: If you look at this document, you can swap out “partner” and put in “employer.” This is a useful guide for whether you should quit your job.

Needs & Values Map

What Are Your Values?

Work is a relationship, just like marriage or friendship, and healthy connections are based on values. Your experience as an employee is different from your experience as a partner or family member, but not that much different.

And, if you’re unhappy at work, it affects all areas of your life.

Feel free to use this document to look at your current work situation. Does your employer understand you, your feelings, and who you are? Is your employer loyal and honest? Does your employer show responsibility for things important to you?

Does any of it matter? To what degree?

If there’s a gap between what you experience and what’s essential to you, it’s time to close that gap. Unhealthy habits form when we get lost in the gulf between who we are and what we value. So, be like Trent Reznor. Get your values defined and aligned, figure out what’s important to you, and go make whatever version of art you’re put on this earth to create.

The time is now.

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