The Price of What Matters

In this week’s newsletter I’m musing on Oscar Wilde’s wonderful quote, ‘Nowadays people know the prices of everything and the value of nothing.’ That, and another quote (though this one from a nonfiction writer) that came across my reading this week really kicked my brain into high gear, thinking about the price of what matters, or considering Mr. Wilde’s quote, the price of the value-rich. That other quote was from Giovanni Dienstmann, who wrote ‘Mindful Self-Discipline’, and the quote defines the title; ‘Mindful self-discipline is about choosing your values, choosing yourself, and having the maturity to accept that there is a price to pay for them, in the form of temporary physical, or emotional discomfort.’

Which is pretty heavy. (Giovanni hits self-discipline about as hard as he hits his morning cold shower, trust.) And as I work through the kinks of my own hot and messy life, one of the things I’ve been hitting hard is actually not self-discipline as it is traditionally understood. (Coming from a long line of workaholics, it hasn’t always been a helpful concept. Still, the book is worth it.) Instead, I’ve been working hard to leverage the willpower I have (understanding that willpower is a consumable resource that renews every night, provided I sleep well and am not sick) to build healthy habits that support the lifestyle I want to have (understanding that habits don’t require willpower to perform). (The book to read for this is definitely ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear, which I cannot recommend enough.)

But that gets me to the same place, because on the not-great days, I can run out of willpower at four in the afternoon, and at that point, if it’s not a habit, it doesn’t get done. (On the bad days, I’ve run out of willpower at nine in the morning, which is not great on any level.) And if I’ve run out of willpower by four in the afternoon, then I really hope that what I’ve spent my willpower on that day was worth it, in that sense that Giovanni was talking about; choose who you want to be, choose what you value and then aim for it, and accept that achieving it will mean some discomfort. 

Now, it should be said that Giovanni talks about temporary discomfort. Not permanent discomfort. Not permanent sacrifice. Not turning yourself into a workaholic, or giving up all happiness. Rather, he’s talking about giving up some comfort. (Not even all comfort. What’s the point in that?) When we give up some comfort, we prove that we can survive it, and the experience of that minor depravation was actually far less than our fears made it out to be (hence his daily cold showers – no, I hadn’t been joking, it comes up in the book).

It actually reminds me of camping.

When I was a little girl, I loved camping. It was pure adventure and I wasn’t made uncomfortable that I have any memory of. (Except that one time when I was four and introduced to a latrine for the first time. But other than that.) As an adult, there is a wide variety of things I find really quite uncomfortable about camping. But I give up those comforts because it’s not going to kill me, and my husband puts an exponentially high value on being outdoors, and I’d rather be with him on his pilgrimages. I also enjoy other aspects of it, but not enough to make me want to camp by myself.

For me, there is the price of camping – the extensive preparation (why yes, I do cook one-burner, partially dehydrated, gourmet meals three times a day while camping), extensive resetting once home, the emotional toil of doing it all in the rain, sleeping on the ground, local fauna from mosquitos to bears, and all of the other inconveniences and discomforts. And then there is the value of camping – laughing, playing, and faffing off in nature with my husband for forty-eight hours or more. And the value is far beyond the price, which believe me, I have weighed very delicately.

What about you? Is there a place in your life where the thing you value far outweighs the price you pay for it in terms of your own comfort? If you’re comfortable doing so, share in the comments below. :)

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