What I’ve Learnt About Value

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If I had to pinpoint my defining trait, I would say it’s my compulsion to find meaning in everything, I place my faith in signs and symbols, searching for a pattern to cling onto. A lesson I’ve learnt this year is that just because something has meaning, it doesn’t mean it has value. 

I’m super busy this semester, therefore my time is limited. On top of this, I am a neurotic control freak of an overachiever who doesn’t know how to relax. After a month of constant busyness, I decided the way to make things better is to consistently wake up at 5:30 each morning and go to the gym. I then calculated how many hours I spend doing which activities each week, and planned out my days almost down to the minute, because I felt I wasn’t using my time wisely enough. Perhaps I was punishing myself for procrastinating all weekend. Or perhaps I know myself well enough to know that I thrive on discipline. What I don’t thrive on, however, is waking up at 5:30am. I’m three days into this new routine, and I am constantly exhausted.

In spite of the exhaustion, it’s worth it. On top of the smug feeling that accompanies going to the gym at 7am, my new routine has allowed me to place a value on my time. I don’t allow myself to wallow in emotions the way I normally do. I make time for my feelings first thing in the morning, when I write in my diary for half an hour, and just before I go to bed, when I write in my diary again. When your time is limited, you learn to prioritise the things that have the most value.

As the adage goes, “time is money.” My time technically has no monetary worth, because I’ve got a student loan for that kinda thing. But it does have value. Every minute could be spent more productively. It’s the reason I hate it when people are late or cancel plans at the last minute, because it forces me to waste time without any value. But it’s not just the time spent doing nothing that feels wasted.

Humans are selfish creatures; I am a selfish creature. I have an ulterior motive for the majority of things I do. I am a kind, compassionate, caring person, but I’m not selfless in the slightest. I know what I want, and I work to get it, I don’t make any pretences about that. Therefore, I do not value people who waste my time.

I used to be a people pleaser. After eighteen years of being despised by my peers, I came to university and wanted people to like me. I knew that unlike in high school, people here would like me for being myself. The problem was, I didn’t quite know who myself was. So I tried to be likeable. My personality was a performance. I was too much. At the same time, I was not enough. I wasn’t myself. In second year, I improved drastically, but I flipped to the other extreme. I was depressed and anxious and more introverted. That said, I had the largest friend group I’d had in my whole life. I was loved, and I loved in return. I dealt with so much heartbreak over the past year, but I also loved with a capacity I didn’t know was possible.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about love, it’s that it is raw and honest. It digs deep into you and drags up the dregs of your darkest self. Love forces you to own your shit, because you know you’ll never get away with hiding those ugly parts of you. Love doesn’t let you be a people pleaser. If you’re constantly pandering to someone and trying to make them like you, that’s not really love. Some of the people I love most in the world drive me absolutely mad, and frustrate the hell out of me on an almost daily basis, but they hold me accountable, they give me a space where I can be entirely honest about who I am, and not be shunned for it. A love like that holds value.

We can’t choose who we love. In theory we choose our friends, but I think people who are meant to be in each other’s lives are drawn together by something stronger than free will. We choose our outer social circle, perhaps, but not our inner one. I know from looking at the astrology charts of my three closest friends that our friendships aren’t random, that we’re drawn to each other for a reason.

We may not choose which people we bond with, but we do choose how much effort to put into those connections. I am notorious for putting too much effort into people. When I want someone in my life, I work damn hard to keep them there, because I know people aren’t permanent, and I don’t want to be responsible for missed opportunities.

Something shifted in me this semester. For the first time in my life, I have a rock solid sense of self. I know who I am, what I want, and what my values are. As a result of this, I find myself needing people less. I will always need a community around me in order to thrive, and I will always need close friends to confide in. But I have found myself becoming increasingly detached from other people’s lives. It’s not that I don’t care about others, it’s simply that I can finally separate my own thoughts and feelings from other people’s emotions and drama. I don’t take it upon myself like I used to. I can listen, I can give advice, I can empathise with them, but I don’t let myself be consumed by others’ needs anymore; I don’t have the time.

When you are constantly busy, every minute is valuable. I don’t have time for one-sided relationships, and I will no longer pour my whole self into people who don’t reciprocate that effort.

Effort is a tricky one though.

I see my best friend at least three times a week, because we’re in two of the same classes and one of the same societies. She’s practically my uni wife. Technically, I don’t actually put in much effort there, because it’s guaranteed that we’ll spend upwards of 12 hours a week in each other’s company. On the other hand, she is perhaps the person I put in the most effort with. When we’re not sitting together in class, we are messaging each other and talking about every detail of our lives (let’s be real, this also happens when we are sitting together in class). I put in effort, she puts in effort. There’s a reason why we’re best friends (other than our mutual penchant for drama, and the circumstantial factors that constantly put us in each other’s company).

My other two best friends are studying abroad this year. Where I would have seen them at least once a week last year, I’m now going to see them maybe once in the whole year. Maintaining these friendships requires a different kind of effort, because we can only communicate through the internet. As you may have gathered from the fact I’m currently writing a blog about my feelings (and have done so for seven odd years), I like writing about my life, I like communicating.

With one of my friends, it comes naturally. We don’t always write to each other every day, but we communicate consistently, and fill each other in on the details of our lives. I can explain the ease of communication astrologically, in that she has mercury in taurus and I have mercury in capricorn, which means our mercuries (which rule communication) are in harmonious aspect to each other. Furthermore, they’re both in earth signs, which means our communication styles are both grounded and structured. When it comes to communicating, we both know how to put the effort in.

The issue with effort is when you’re dealing with someone who has an entirely different communication style to you. For me, effort is communicating with someone regularly and consistently, and talking about deep and serious topics. Friendship, for me, is about the people you don’t have to hide yourself from. But I’m realising more and more lately that even if people care about each other deeply, their values aren’t always aligned. I don’t know how to be light, I bond with people through intensity, and sometimes that’s not what people want from me. It’s different in person, because when you see people regularly there tends to be a more even mix of shallow and deep. When you can only talk to someone over the internet, communication can become really disjointed. There is so much room for miscommunication.

Human nature is bizarre at the best of times, but when you’re battling different time zones and communication styles that will never be in sync, it becomes even more baffling. If I want to talk about whatever serious topic is weighing upon my mind, and the other person has decided they’re only capable of communicating in gifs, it’s a recipe for disaster.

But we don’t choose who we bond with, and we don’t choose their communication styles either. What we do have to choose is whether or not we continue to choose each other. Sometimes people come into our lives for a brief time, to shake things up and force us to grow, and then they leave. Often I cling onto those people long after they’re gone. I never know how to let go. Other times, people enter our lives and stay for the long haul, but that only happens if you choose each other over and over, if you both put in the effort. As a recovering people pleaser and person who constantly gives more than they get, I can tell you this: effort is a two way street. If the other person is only putting in ten percent, you can’t solve your problem by putting in ninety. It doesn’t work like that. Yes, people are different, but compromise is a thing, and it only works if both people compromise.

In astrology, there is an aspect called a quincunx, which I only learnt about the other day. It’s an aspect of 150 degrees, so one sign away from being an opposition (which is a tug-of-war energy between two signs that oppose each other, such as Leo/Aquarius, Cancer/Capricorn). The energy of a quincunx is that of adjustment and redirection, or an area of compartmentalising. For example, my sun is quincunx my ascendant, which means I would compartmentalise my “real” identity and the way other people see me. Or that some adjustment is required for those two parts of me to coexist.

Perhaps quincunxes serve as a metaphor for the give-and-take needed in friendships and relationships. Compartmentalisation doesn’t solve problems. It’s easy to be like “this is how I am, this is how you are, and I’m not going to change” but you’ll keep banging your head against the same wall, and never learn your lesson. All compartmentalisation does is postpone the fight, and put off the resolution. Adjustment, however, eases the problem. If you approach it from “this is how I am, this is how you are, let’s try to meet in the middle”, arguments can be avoided, and conflicts can be resolved.

The reason astrology holds so much value for me is because it helps me understand people that would otherwise have me pulling my hair out by now. On the most basic level, each sign of the zodiac has a symbol. I couldn’t fully understand why Cancer placements can be so evasive until I watched a video of a crab (the symbol for Cancer). Crabs walk sideways. The symbol for Aquarius, on the other hand, is the water bearer. If we take water as a symbol for emotions, this symbolises holding space for other people’s needs. I have four planets in Aquarius, but right now I’m thinking of this in the context of my moon, which rules emotional wellbeing. The symbol of the water bearer suggests that I carry other people’s emotions, that I hold space for them, perhaps at the expense of my own.

A few weeks ago, my sister and niece came to visit. I had to carry my niece’s half empty juice carton whilst she had a nap, because my sister’s hands were full. I was fine with this at first, but when I’d been carrying this sticky juice carton around for an hour, accidentally spilling it on my hands multiple times, it became frustrating. That damn juice carton was my nemesis, and I couldn’t wait for Sarah to wake up just so she could finish the stupid drink. In this scenario, I am the Aquarius symbol, the juice is other people’s emotions, and my niece is the people who are letting me hold space for their emotions. At first the weight is light, but it becomes heavier the longer you carry it. It can’t be sealed, it spills out. And you’re waiting for that toddler to wake up so you can hand it back to them, but you have no idea how long they’ll be asleep for.

Perhaps that’s why I find myself more detached from people this year, because I don’t want to hold their juice or water or emotions. Not because I don’t care, but because it’s not my place to carry their burdens. I used to be too open, too trusting, and I let too many people in. People who were codependent, people who leeched off me in whichever way suited them best. I don’t have time for that now. Literally. There are a select few individuals whose drama I am willing to deal with on a regular basis. Half the time I even tune out of my family’s drama, that’s how low my tolerance is (if you’re reading this and thinking about what a dramatic person I am, don’t worry, I see the irony).

You may be aware of this because I’ve referred to it every other paragraph, but I’m really into astrology. It is the lens through which I understand the world, it is my first point of reference in a new or unexpected situation. I’ll ask people “what’s your star sign?” before I ask “what do you study?” or “where are you from?” But my passion for astrology wasn’t something I talked about openly until recently, because it was something people ridiculed me for. Then I gained this thing called “self worth,” and I decided it was about time to own my passions rather than hiding them from the world.

So I started talking about astrology, and tweeting about it, and mentioning it in my blogs. Once people realise astrology is more than bullshit horoscopes, they want me to tell them all about themselves. It’s something I’m happy to do, because I love astrology. However, I am a perfectionist, and I take pride in my craft. If I give someone an astrology reading, I expect a high standard from myself. But that takes time, and time is a limited resource for me right now.

I want to start charging people for astrology readings, and put a price on the value of my time. But I am only just starting out as an astrologer, and I don’t know if I’m good enough for people to pay me. Furthermore, the lines between business and pleasure are so blurred. Astrology is fun for me, because it’s the ultimate way to stalk people. It is also the tool I use for understanding the world, which makes me wonder: how could I charge people for something that feels like an extension of myself?

My writing is also an extension of myself, and when I one-day publish my novels, I would charge for those. It doesn’t come easy to place a price on the things of value we have to offer. It feels inauthentic, almost. At the same time, the only reason people can make a living out of jobs they love is by putting a price on their work and their time. Art has a price, and any kind of guidance service is also worthy of one. It’s not just the wisdom you’re giving to someone that should be compensated, but also the time you put into it. It’s a matter of valuing oneself.

Perhaps I need to start small, set a ground rule that if I give someone an astrology reading, they have to buy me a coffee (or ten), and build it up from there. It’s okay to carry people’s water if you have a vessel to contain it in, but if you submerge yourself without boundaries, you will drown. Boundaries are not merely restrictions, they are gateways to a healthier life.

I have incorporated many new boundaries into my life this week. The first was that I’m not allowed to snooze my alarm in the morning. It is a challenge to wake up when it’s cold and dark, and leave the comfort of my bed. But when I walk to the gym half an hour before the sun rises, and experience the peace of the quiet city streets, it’s worth it. Amidst the organised chaos of my life, that 25 minute walk through in the cold Autumn air gives me time for reflection, it keeps me sane. If it weren’t for the rigid boundaries I set myself, I wouldn’t have that time.

There are further boundaries I need to set. I need to spend more time working on my novel, less time watching TV, go to bed before 10pm rather than staying up late writing blogs (oops). I also need to go about life more slowly. I don’t mean do less, I mean I need to focus on each thing as I do it, rather than attempting to multitask. I forget to breathe slowly, to eat slowly, to walk slowly. I rush from place to place, constantly in a hurry, out of breath. No wonder the weeks go by so fast, I never take a moment to stand still!

Perhaps life is one giant quincunx aspect, a never-ending negotiation. But I am prepared, because I know what I want, and I know what my values are. It’s easy to be stubborn, and stick so hard to my corner that I forget to look for a median solution. I must be more proactive in my problem solving.

Actions speak louder than words. I always forget this, because I am a writer; I live and breathe language. The words I speak mean more to me than the people I speak them to. Perhaps the first step to meeting in the middle is to present a solution, rather than merely acknowledging the problem. For example, if I constantly tell my friend I miss them, that’s not going to alleviate the feeling of missing them. All it does is convince them I’m clingy, and potentially annoy them. Instead of saying “I miss you”, I should just ask them to facetime, because hearing their voice and seeing their face would stop me missing them so much. By complaining about the problem without presenting a solution, all I’m doing is transferring the weight of the problem onto the other person. Stating the problem does not solve it. For example, instead of writing this blog and mentioning the fact I haven’t made time to work on my novel, I could have just spent the past four hours working on my novel. I’m aware of the issue at hand, but I have done nothing to attempt to solve it.

In the end, it comes back to value. Perhaps this is where the real difference between meaning and value lies. Meaning is something you can speculate about, but in the end it’s nothing more than words you say. Value is something more tangible, something you work for. Value is the solid foundation upon which you build yourself, you relationships, and your life’s work.

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