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When Your Dreams Change: Let Your Values Guide You

It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ~Roy Disney

It has been four months now since I made the hardest decision of my life.

In the fourth grade, I made a pledge to work as much I had to until I became successful and moved the heck out of Ohio!

That commitment led me to graduate as valedictorian in high school and summa cum laude in college. However, it also resulted in missed recess (to do homework), missed parties (to research), and missed relationships (to study). Of course, I am not upset, for my accomplishments make me proud, but I do regret some of the things they’ve cost me.

At the end of this 14-year journey, my dreams came to fruition: I was offered the job I had worked my entire life to get, in the perfect location!

That’s right—the best private school in Florida offered me a job as Physical Education teacher living just minutes away from the gulf, in a city known for its sunshine, St. Petersburg.

I should have chomped at the bit! Jumped up and down! Ran circles around the house! But I didn’t…

Something was wrong. How could arriving at the destination I had worked so diligently to reach not bring me all of the happiness I had lost in the journey to get there? How could reaching my life’s goal not bring me to tears—not make my heart sing?

It took a while but I finally figured it out: It’s because I’m not the same person who chose my path in the beginning. I have changed.

At one point between now and the fourth grade, I evolved. My life understanding grew and adapted, but my tunnel vision on a preset goal kept me from realizing it.

It’s good to have ambition, but can too much be harmful?

Still, what’s to think about right?

I could stay in Ohio and deal with the temperamental weather or move to the sunshine state where Mother Nature is always smiling.

I could go work my “dream job” by the coast, or bag groceries in the cold.

Well, the decision was actually much more complex to me.

When I was young I wanted to escape my family and move on to bigger and better things than what my small city had to offer. But as I aged, my family started to mean more to me, and my little city became my home.

Moving away for a few years and coming back wasn’t an option either, because in this economy, a teacher with a few years of experience costs too much—and schools can pay less for a competitive recent college grad.

So I had to choose: live life soaking up the sun, or stay near my loved ones, taking any old job that would pay the bills.

My girlfriend Jackie was also part of the equation because all of her family lived here, and, unlike me, she has always loved the four seasons.

The process of making this life choice was long and hard. It weighed on my mind from February (initial interview) through May (offer) and consisted of two weeks worth of visitation to Florida and four different interview sessions.

After spending a quarter of the year driving myself mad contemplating this decision, I declined the offer.

If I had just listened to my heart from the beginning, I would have spared myself the anxiety, stress, and worry I had experienced. On the inside I knew what I really wanted. I knew what my values were. It was my ambition that got in the way.

I am almost gave up the great life I live today because of my past priority of succeeding and accomplishing those things that would make me look good in the eyes of others. After making that horrid decision almost everything fell into place.

  • Jackie, who is deeply passionate about teaching, got a better offer at the school where she student-taught. She has her favorite grade, works at her top pick for a school, and is right next door to her mentoring teacher. (Talk about good luck!)
  • My mom and sister moved back to Ohio, putting all of my family close by.
  • I realized how much I love my cool little town!

Although this 14-year journey didn’t end the way I thought it would, I don’t view it as a loss, but instead a gain. I gained courage, appreciation, and wisdom.

I gained the courage to stand up for what I believe in during the present moment, even if it defies everything my life has lead me to believe.

I gained appreciation for what I already had. My eyes have finally opened, and I can see how wonderful the things around me really are.

I live near one of the country’s most beautiful college campuses (it’s where Paul Ryan went), have a national park five minutes from home, and, most importantly, am surrounded by family.

I feel gratitude every time I hang out with my brother or sister, help my mom, or roller blade with my dad. I smile knowing that I could have made a choice that would have left me seeing my family only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Lastly, I gained wisdom—the wisdom to realize that life is about the journey, not the destination. I’ve always heard that, but I don’t think you ever truly understand it until you reach what you were shooting for.

I’ve learned that you just never know—the sunny beach, the crashing waves, and the sounds of seagulls, might not be near as wonderful as what you already have.

When you let yourself choose what feels right in the moment, you learn who you really are, how to recognize when you are changing, and why it’s so important to respect your values, at all costs.

Photo by chrisstreeter

Avatar of TJ Chasteen

About TJ Chasteen

TJ is the founder of How-toBeHappy.com. He believes that nothing is more important than living a life full of daily happiness. He helps his followers (and himself) design a life that easily produces happy moment's everyday through his website. He also enjoys connecting with his readers on Facebook and Twitter!

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://twitter.com/80Grey AD Grey

    Reading this was comforting. I’ve struggled with a similar ambition to move, but found myself loving a place I used to not and meeting someone who wasn’t as keen on moving as I was. I had to question that dream and figure out why it was there, but also if it was even necessary. Thank you for this post. It gave me a new and refreshing perspective on this issue :)

  • HaleyMia

    I’m so srry to write this on a public forum, n this msg isn’t rlly for the author of this piece, it’s for the person who runs this website who I normally adore & just have the utmost respect for! But here goes…I have to say this post truly bothered me. I’m happy that the author chose the right decision for him, but it rlly just sounded like a cop-out to me. Like fear overpowered ambition, n ultimately, it sounded like a million xcuses dressed up as reasons which rlly sent a bad msg to me & I fear to others as well. Ppl who may use an article like this to validate their own continuation of a life lived stagnantly due to fear of the unknown, rather than at least trying their hand at a new xperience, if only for a little while! I still love TinyBuddha, but this article rlly seems to be the xact opposite of evry other msg other authors have tried to send. I don’t mean to seem rude, truly, because like I said I’m happy for the author if he is, but unfortunately, I may need to take a break from here as this piece has left a bad taste in my mouth : (

  • JJW

    Certainly not what I thought the article was going to be about. I too am glad for the
    author but staying put in the town you were born reads playing it safe to me….stretching out of your comfort zone is what I want to read about. Going for it ! My opinion and my choice I realize….much as I love my family I don’t need to live in
    the same town as they do. I bet they would have loved to visit you in sunny Florida.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi JJW and Haley,

    I just read your comments, and even though I didn’t write this post, I feel a need to jump in and share my thoughts! I personally have immense respect for TJ for choosing what was right *for him*. I suspect that’s why so many people are unhappy–we often think we need to do what other people define as success (leave your comfort zone, stop playing it safe, travel the world, etc). But what happens when you’d genuinely prefer to go it another way? What happens when your priorities and values lead you somewhere else?

    I understand that for some of us, happiness is pushing beyond what we know. But for many others, it’s the exact opposite. We can only ever be happy if we’re willing to recognize what it means for us individually, and then make that choice, whether others agree with it or not.

    Thank you, TJ, for sharing your story!

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/IamCre8tiveSoul Erin Madore

    I understand your view but I think that it’s great he listened to his heart and decided on doing what was best for him. Sometimes leaving is easier than staying.

  • http://twitter.com/IamCre8tiveSoul Erin Madore

    I think you hit the nail on the head “this article is the opposite of every other message other authors have tried to send” – this is a GOOD thing. TJ represents a different voice, a different opinion and I think it’s wonderful that he followed his heart and did what he thought was right. Some people may think it’s a copout but it’s not our place to judge his decision. I believe Tiny Buddah was about expressing our opinions, beliefs, feelings and sharing experiences, and I think it’s great that TJ shared such a hard situation/decision with us.

  • http://twitter.com/IamCre8tiveSoul Erin Madore

    TJ, “Trust the Journey” has been my mantra for the last several months as life has pushed me down and opened up paths I never knew existed. But rather than running from these new opportunities I’ve learned to embrace them and believe in the harmony of the universe. What’s amazing is that this journey has helped me grow into a woman that is more mindful, compassionate and authentic then ever before. It takes courage to listen to your heart and trust the journey. It’s not a weakness, it’s a strength. Good luck in your journey.

  • seekernjb

    Thank you for your thoughtful and polite response to what strike me as highly inappropriate criticisms of this post. To read reflections on the joys of rootedness as an anthem to stagnation demonstrates a bold sort of protectionism, I must say, on the part of the respondents. I don’t mean to meddle or to antagonize, but I do mean to speak against what I feel is unfair and unmerited criticism. Ultimately, if these points of view catalyze meaningful reflection and dialogue in the long run, then so much the better. Thanks to you for facilitating this possibility through this forum.

  • Wright

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve been trained to believe the same values as I think you’ve been, but right now I really just don’t feel it’s the right thing for me to pursue. I’ve been skilled in math and am now currently holding a degree in computer science, but ever since I knew I had to jump the boat to the arts. It’s far off I know, but I guess if I’m going to die the next day I might as well try and be who I want to be before it comes to a point where I personally would want the nurse to stop the life support on my own death bed.

  • ea

    I have lived all over the country and am contemplating a move again. While his choice to stay in his mid-western town is one that would not have been right for me, I respect him for choosing what is right for him. Not everyone needs to move far from home to stretch their wings or take chances. In fact, I think he is a taking a bigger chance by staying where he is.

    The point of this article was to listen to your own heart. Sometimes it’s not logical, but trusting your heart (or gut instinct) over the ‘logical’ choice is frequently the hardest thing to do since it often involves making a choice we didn’t plan on choosing. To the critics, please remember that what is best for you is not what may be best for someone else. Your heart sings a different tune than all others. Follow your tune and please respect others for following their tune.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome, and thank *you*. I always admire when anyone has the courage and generosity to share their experiences and insights. I encourage discussion of different ideas, but criticism of someone else’s choices doesn’t generally sit well with me!

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Thanks AD,

    Sometimes you must ask what it is you were looking to accomplish with a certain dream you had in mind. For me it was happiness – when I realized one route offered more of it than the other, I had to trust my heart and go for it! Life’s too short for anything else.

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Haley,

    I am glad you normally admire Lori as she is a truly wonderful woman! I understand that a post can only go so far in explaining a situation, but let me say the cop-out (for me) would have been taking the position. That would have gave me a certainty – an easy to follow path (that looked successful in the eyes of outsiders), but would have been a miserable existence for me.

    My definition of success is enjoying life – If I were down there right now I would not be… The fear and what made the decision so difficult was staying where I wanted to live and facing uncertainty – trusting that things would work out.

    Erin,

    Thank you, I like how you see value in my message that differs from the ordinary! You’ve got it right, this post represents 800 words of my existence, which is far too less to make a judgement call on what life and happiness is like through these eyes! :)

    Best to the both of you,
    TJ

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Hi JJW,

    To be honest I did leave the small town my family lived in (but it is only an hour away, so I clumped this description while writing the post). The place I am referring too is the one I’ve lived in for the past 4 years.

    I live in a very beautiful town, it’s voted to be one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, has won the Arbor Day Foundation award (for trees) and was once voted the third best community to retire in!

    It gives me the small town feel I like and still brings the big city enjoyment. Michelle Obama, the Dali Lama, Bill Cosby, Paul Ryan, Bill Nye, and more folks have stopped by to give speeches (3 minutes away from my house). Not to mention a killer hockey team and other sports/events to attend.

    I truly love where I live and am sorry if this article seemed to depromote ambition, as that wasn’t my intention.

    I even got lucky and landed a job working for the city planning the community events since the time I wrote this post. :)

    Sunshine is great, but I’m more of a country-boy and need my trees and hills to climb.

    Best,

    TJ

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Erin I think that’s the tao of life. I have changed so much since making the decision I describe and it has been a shift towards what you describe here. It hasn’t failed me yet!

    I heard a quote that I’d like to leave hear as I think it highlights some of what you said:

    “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the
    more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be
    pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side
    effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or
    as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
    Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let
    it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your
    conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of
    your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the
    long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had
    forgotten to think about it”

    Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

    With my new job, I have never felt more authentic in my life – I wish for everyone to live in a way where they can truly be themselves!

    Best,
    TJ

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Haha, well said Wright. The fact is that life is short, why live to any other person’s mantra than your own!

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Thanks so much. I have always went with logic over heart and the last few weeks have awakened me to the mistake that has been in my life.

    Best,
    TJ

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Thanks to the both of you for your support. I think that due to the highly rare character I possess, INTJ on Briggs Meyer (if anyone’s familiar), or easier said, “straight-arrow, super nerd, over-achiever, etc.”, it can be confusing to understand why the decision I made was so difficult and yet so much more rewarding.

    I honestly appreciate everyone for their criticisms as it has helped me learn how to be more clear and direct when trying to express a message of my life in such a short writing piece.

    Best,
    TJ

  • Amber Hess

    Absolutely TJ! We grow and change and learn and love and all of that is a factor in what our gut and our heart tell us is the right thing at the given moment!

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    :D Thanks Amber

  • Pam

    Thank you for sharing your story TJ. It is so refreshing and comforting to know that not everyone out there is all about GOAL GOAL GOAL and to admit that the value is in the journey as much as it is in the destination is fantastic. Your emphasis on values is important too. Thank you for making your points so well.

  • travelholic

    May I share my own experience. Since i was 16, I always wanted to move to Europe as I am fascinated by it. When i was 23, I spent 5 months in Finland as an exchange student and I love it. Europe is the place for me. I took German Classes at my own expense and applied for a graduate school in Germany. However, in the past months, after I have graduated, I am not sure if I would want to move overseas. Suddenly, I feel that I have to repay the “debts” due to my parents, the Asian culture. Right now, I am still working on my plan to move overseas within the next 6 years but down the road, I may not even want to leave my home if my parents need me. Things will change and I respect TJ to share his experience with us.

  • elle

    Thank you for writing this! I, too, know the feeling of being so set on the end goal. I wanted to be in the music industry. And so I was. I accomplished all of my five year goals and became the person I had always wanted to be. One day I woke up and it wasn’t for me anymore. I took this realization as a stinging failure and sunk into a pretty deep pit. It’s taken me a long time to start dreaming again. The problem is now that I don’t necessarily know what is for me. I clung to that dream for so long, became one with it; now I don’t know how to be passionate about any career path the way I was with music, including music. I’ve never been in this space before and there are still moments where I don’t know how to deal with this uncertainty. Is having an imperfect dream and a false sense of control better than not having anything at all? I’m not certain I know the answer. I appreciate your advice to focus on all of the beautiful things that are happening in this moment, despite this nagging sense of loss. It’s gotten so much better, but it’s still something I deal with everyday. Namaste.

  • TL

    I, too, am glad the author felt peace in staying put …
    However, I hope he does not find himself “stuck” – as so many of the teachers in my hometown say they are.
    I met with a lot of opposition when I began to explore and teach around the world – but like the author, I was following my heart. I have never once regretted my decision.
    Through my travels, I have been able to host family and friends in places that enriched their lives as well. With time off, I was able to hop back to my home or travel with these folks all over the world.
    Equally important, I have gained an understanding of cultures beyond my own and brought those into my classroom – enriching the lives of my students. I believe I am a better teacher because of it. I know I am a happier one.
    I am always amazed and saddened by how busy classroom teachers are – and how little time they have had to broaden their own horizons. Combine that with taking on the cultural norms of house payments, car payments, etc. and often there is little time left to really “grow” in this world.
    I hope the author continues to listen to his heart – and leaves a few more options open from himself as his goals continue to change…They will, my friend. They will.

  • JJW

    Are we not allowed to have an opinion on Tiny Buddah without being judged as bullies ? TJ shared his opinions and my response was my opinion. We do not
    have to agree. Disagreeing is not always negative. I feel we are the ones being
    criticized for commenting .

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi JJW,

    Everyone is welcome to have a different opinion! I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but my intention with my comment was not to imply you are a bully. In reading Haley’s comment, which addressed me directly and referred to TJ’s choice as a “cop out,” I felt a need to share my opinion. I added your name in my response because you expressed a similar sentiment, however, I didn’t find yours to be insulting to him personally. I suppose to me there’s a distinction between sharing a different opinion and directly criticizing someone’s choice (which you did not do).

    I hope you will continue sharing your thoughts on the site!

    Lori

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    I believe it wasn’t your “ambition that got in your way” as much as it is letting conditioning guide your choices. From before we are even born everyone in our lives has been conditioned by the media, the educational system, and government to push us in a particular direction. Congratulations on gaining the wisdom to see that your values are more important.

    Your writing this post may give others the insight and courage to throw off their conditioning and think about what is truly important in life. I have a hint for them. It is not fame, fortune, or more stuff you don’t really need.

    To decide you prefer to stay where you were born is not “playing it safe”. It is deciding that close family and friend relationships are more important than climate TO YOU. Ask yourselves this question: What is the source of your desire to travel or move to the big city? When you find that answer you will realize that many of your “desires” have been programmed into you by media of all kinds including fairy tales and video games to get you to do what others want you to do.

    Declare your freedom to escape your conditioning. We are born free, but all our lives people try to convince us that everything is a “privilege” we have to beg for and that we should clamour for control over others that takes away our own freedom.

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    Those who criticize are the most conditioned. It reminds me of the story of how crabs are caught. They crawl into open baskets. Why don’t they just crawl back out and escape? Because the other crabs keep pulling them back in. Those who are conditioned do not want to know there is any other choice. They want you to stay in that basket with them.

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    Hi Elle,

    TJ shared the insight that will bring you peace:

    “Lastly, I gained wisdom—the wisdom to realize that life is about
    the journey, not the destination. I’ve always heard that, but I don’t
    think you ever truly understand it until you reach what you were
    shooting for.”

    We’ve been programmed to focus on goals and those who do it best often sacrifice everything else in life and have no balance – and if they are honest – no peace or happiness – in their lives.

    Look outside yourself for your new direction.

  • Pavithra

    TJ, each and every sentence written were so heartfelt. I was really nodding my head when I read your words – “the wisdom to realize that life is about the journey, not the destination”. Keep writing more, would love to have pleasure & joy post reading it.

  • Cheryl

    Criticism full of spelling errors is difficult to take seriously…