I’ve been trying a lot of new podcasts lately. Last week I listened to Andrea Owen’s interview with Kathleen Shannon. In it, Kathleen talks about using her core values to help her make decisions.
I immediately started planning to download a workbook or invest in a programme to figure out what my core values are. I like making lists of things I “need” to do, but it turns out (as with 95% of everything) what I needed was to listen to and trust myself. After a few days of having the idea of core values in the back of my mind, I had realised what mine are.
With a couple of them it took few iterations to find the right word. What started out as “adventure” turned into “curiosity” as I mulled over how this value has played out in my life. Essentially, I like to take the more interesting option, and this has been a core part of how I’ve lived my life to date.
I’ve been thinking about how my value of curiosity has driven a lot of my decisions over the past decade.
In 2008 I was immersed in the world of student activism. I had latched onto “making the world a better place” as an identity for a number of reasons, but the one that stands out to me with hindsight is that being involved in the campaigns I was involved in took me to interesting places to meet interesting people. After all, there are a lot of ways to have a social conscience, and not all of them involve picking your friends up from a police station after they’ve blockaded a nuclear submarine base.
In 2009 I decided to go to India for 6 months after I left university instead of applying for any graduate schemes, or regular jobs. When I returned in 2010, I sought work for meaning rather than money. I decided to rent a room you needed a ladder to get to, in a house that was also being used to grow marijuana. There were many rooms available on Gumtree, but this is the one I chose.
After being made redundant in 2011, I switched track from my environmental campaigning career, and took a job in an art gallery. These were not currently my people (nobody was boycotting anything) but I was craving change, and by opening myself up to new perspectives I made one of my closest friends.
I started dating the most interesting character I knew, and although in some ways this was not a good decision (interesting is not the same as trustworthy), with him I was able to experience things I never would have thought to alone. We travelled in a spontaneous way, taking a road trip from Durban to Cape Town, and then from Pretoria to the Mozambique coast the following year, without planning where we would spend each night or how long we would be away for.
In 2012 I accepted a job 50 miles away from where I lived and spent a lot of time in my car. When my relationship ended I didn’t move full time to Oxford right away, choosing instead to see what life felt like with minimal possessions and no permanent base. Then in September 2013 I moved to Oxford full time.
In this year I also dated somebody very different (both to myself and to anyone I’d dated before), had my first one night stand, and started online dating. By 2014 I had realised that I hated online dating, which is one of many reasons it made no sense to start an open relationship. Except that I was curious.
In 2015 curiosity led me to leave my job for a lower paid one at a less well known charity. In 2016 I started my Masters degree because I craved more structured learning.
In 2017 I started my first relationship with a woman, which meant coming out to more of my friends (and the internet) about being queer and polyamorous. Except that I’m not really polyamorous, which I think I knew, although it’s always clearer with hindsight.
However, I was curious. My experience with women had previously only consisted of hookups and crushes, and a small part of me was disappointed to have married a man without knowing what dating a woman was like. And she was beautiful, interested in me, and already dating my partner – what could go wrong?
I tried to make it work. I did all the things I assumed I was supposed to. I even signed up to go on holiday as a threesome plus his family, which I knew I didn’t actually want to do (and therefore massively backfired) but was certainly the most interesting choice. I was confused – I loved them both a lot, but this wasn’t enough when I knew deep down that this wasn’t the lifestyle that I wanted. I never should have put myself in a position to fall in love with more than one person if I wasn’t prepared for the consequences – and complications – of that.
Which is, of course, the downside of living a life driven by curiosity and a desire to be interesting – you can end up really hurting people. I hurt my parents by getting married without telling them, and I hurt both my partners by entering into a polyamorous relationship out of curiosity rather than real commitment to make it work.
Part of me cringes when I talk about how important identifying values has been to me – it sounds self-indulgent and self-helpy. But identifying curiosity as a value and as something that influenced my decisions has been really helpful in making sense of my past behaviour. Having at least a partial answer to the exasperated “But why did I do that?” question has helped me to release a lot of shame, especially around money, and “wasting” it.
I do still regret hurting people, but now I’ve identified curiosity as a value that drives me I can recognise when I’m going down the path of putting that ahead of people’s feelings. I won’t ever stop being drawn to people and experiences that I am intrigued by, but I’ve learned that I need to counter this tendency with compassion – and have named this as another one of my values to hold me to account.
I’m currently satisfying my need for curiousity through my thesis research, alongside voracious reading and podcast listening.