There is no substitute for value

Making low-value activities more efficient is the opposite of efficiency.

We’re back home after a month of travel and I have drunk a gallon of delicious Puerto Rican coffee every day since we landed. Bless this island, bless these coffee beans, and bless the people who grow and dry and roast it.

We were in Chicago, St. Louis, Zurich, and Little Rock, and many points between. We traveled by train, plane, and automobile. Also: boat (briefly), cable car (really, a gear car but the experience was like a cable car so let’s go with it), bus, tram, and on foot. I loved almost every minute: the last 30 minutes of our last flight back home felt like it lasted a hundred years. Otherwise, all good.

When people say, “I love traveling,” what they often mean is, “I love being in a different/new place.” They love the experience of being in a new/different-than-home place. They tolerate the process of getting to the place as a price that must be paid.

When I say, “I love traveling,” I mean that I literally love the process of traveling. All of it. Packing, preparing, loading, leaving, getting to the point of embarkation (saying words like embarkation), being on the train or plane or bus or automobile or tram or boat or whatever. I love experiencing a new place, too, but sometimes I’m a bit disappointed to arrive; it feels too soon, because the getting there part has ended, and I was enjoying it.

Neither approach to traveling is “right” (or wrong), but it’s an interesting distinction. When you say, “I love to travel,” what do you mean: That you love the process of traveling, of getting from one place to another? Or that you love the experience of being in a place that is new/different from normal? Or both?

Value is or value isn’t

You can find adequate substitutes for a lot of things, but not all things. There’s no substitute for self-acceptance. Love for others, fulfilling work, deep relationships, meaningful contribution, excitement, adventure, even freedom: these are amazing, good things but if there’s not self-acceptance…. there will still be a distinct lack, and all those good things will not be enough to fill it.

There’s no substitute for self-acceptance because there’s no substitute for value. And self-acceptance is recognizing your own value. When we’re blind to our own value, we tend to do a lot of work to make up for what’s missing.

Gain skills! Become popular! Act happy all the time! Take care of others! Never be a burden! Look good! Keep up appearances! Fill a role! Help people! Do good! Achieve things! Be better than ___ at ___! Never need help! Be funny! Be dependable! Make sure everybody else is happy! Be a caretaker! Hide those flaws, and hide ‘em good!

It’s all compensation for the perceived lack of value.

None of it works, because we know what we know (even when we pretend not to know):

There’s no substitute for value.

For example, making something that’s low-value or no-value more efficient doesn’t increase its value. It merely reduces the (energy) cost. Reduction of energy cost can have a long-term negative effect, causing us to tolerate low-value obligations and activities much longer than we should.

I’ve been thinking about efficiency more than usual lately, and that thinking crashed into the minimal approach to social media that I’ve been taking. I’ve taken apps off my phone, been conscious and deliberate with my use, and downgraded the time/attention that social media gets from me; I did so even more while traveling. So much, in fact, that I realized I was making a silly mistake: spending a good amount of energy (in time, configuration, self-imposed limits, set-up) striving to make something with very low value (social media) give me… more value?

Streamlining a low-value activity doesn’t make it more valuable; all it can do is reduce the energy cost.

If there were enough value for me, then reducing the energy cost so I got more for less would make sense. But there’s not enough value to justify any energy cost, really; in fact, what I notice is a net negative, a loss. So I’m trying to become more efficient in order to… gain a loss?

Hmm. Smells like stupid, a big heaping bowl of it.

Note: I’m not saying that social media has no value for anyone; I’m saying that, when an activity has little or no value for you, there’s no point trying to make it more efficient. Just cut the damn thing out.

So that’s what I’m doing. An easy move at this point, and one that won’t have much effect except to close a pointlessly open mental loop.

Which brings me back to another open loop, the one I left dangling a few paragraphs earlier. The loop about self-acceptance. About your value. My value. Recognizing our own value. About what we do when we don’t know our value and love ourselves: all the things. We do ALL THE THINGS to try to make up for the perceived lack of value. None of them are adequate substitutes: that’s the bad news. The good news? There is no lack of value: not in me, not in you, not in anyone. All that’s missing is the recognition, the ability to see and accept our own value. That’s a matter of perception, of finding those internal beliefs that keep us from seeing who we are, of stripping away the lies and expectations and judgments that cover up the reality of self. You’re good, all good. You don’t have to do anything to prove it. But if you can’t perceive that, you’ll keep trying.

Can you sit alone, with all the identities and roles demolished, all the compensations exposed, the covers blown, the appearances tarnished, the castles crumbled, the problems and needs dissolved, and be okay with your self, as you are?

Are you okay with being seen not as you want to be seen, but as you know yourself to be?

If those thoughts scare you (and they’ve definitely scared me) maybe try a step in this direction: not trying to cover up, but uncover. Little by little. Less doing, more peeling away. Less helping, appearing, deciding, trying: more asking why you feel the urge to be more, do more, offer more. Maybe nothing will shift for you, but maybe something will. Maybe your perception will widen and force a crack that runs jagged through the shell. Maybe you’ll be able to look deeper into yourself and see a glimpse of the value that’s been there all along.

Worth a try.


  • What’s your chronic care-taking style? Chronic care-taking is something you fall into when you’re unsure of yourself, of your own strengths and desires, of your own worth. The real story is that you’re trying to prove–to yourself–that you can fix whatever you feel is broken in you. [PositivelyPositive]

  • Why Efficiency Matters for Everyone: Before you put thought, time, and effort into improving efficiency in some way, consider whether it will have any real impact on your life. To know if an area matters or not in your life, consider these four factors. [Teamup Calendar]

  • Balancing the Art of Feedback: Feedback that’s delivered well but instigates no change is as useless as too little, too late feedback. Some essentials must change to make feedback welcome and effective: timing, delivery, and support. [INSIGHT]

  • Unearth the voice that keeps singing: (An old one, but relevant to our little self-acceptance chat. Contains some of the cursing words, so skip it if you don’t like those.) The path itself is predictable: What’s the thing that makes me feel safe, that wraps me up in an identity I can easily label, quickly define? That’s the thing I need to walk away from. [The Urban Howl]