We are value projection machines

Nothing makes a person project their values more than being a parent.

My single mother worked full time jobs while starting businesses on the side.

Instead of encouraging my sisters and I to follow her path, she wanted us to get advanced degrees and pursue stable, high status careers 1. Both my sisters became doctors – and I’m damn proud of them.

Imagine my mother’s dismay when I left a corporate job to become a UX designer, then again when I experimented with making money online and being a digital nomad.

Here’s a common theme when I talk to second-generation kids: immigrant parents who take considerable risks in life desire stability for their children.

Cuban exiles who arrived in Miami in the 1960s and 1970s engaged disproportionately in self-employment relative to non-Hispanic White Americans. However, the self-employment rate among their children declined by one-half. (Statistics Canada)

After many debates with mom, I realized that she was just projecting her values onto me 2.

We are always projecting our values into the world, and onto others.

To my chagrin, I realized that I was constantly projecting my own values.

Whenever I got obsessed with something, I’d think everyone else should value it the same.

  • When I read the 4 hour workweek, I thought everyone should be entrepreneurs and digital nomads.
  • After I became a UX designer, I thought everyone should adopt design thinking. It was “UX this, UX that” for many years.
  • Yes, I got into the crypto craze and thought everyone should buy Bitcoin and Ethereum. (Still kinda do, btw)

In a way, this entire blog is a value projection machine.

You might be wondering, “So what Oz? Isn’t this the same as having preferences and being excited about them?”

But the dark side of projecting values is judging others for having different ones.

Here’s how I would do that subconsciously:

What I valuedHow I would judge others
Entrepreneurship40 hour cubicle jobs are lame
Health & fitnessUnfit people are lazy
Design thinkingEverything should be user friendly
Crypto & fintechYou’re a dinosaur if you don’t have crypto

The way I was living my values gave me a binary view of the world: if you don’t agree with me, then you’re not cool.

We view ourselves as works in progress, and others as finished products.

Not only was this unfair of me to do, but it also closed myself off from new opportunities to learn and grow.

The Solution is Self Awareness

Self awareness is the 80/20 solution that’s helped me process (most) of my psychological misgivings.

After realizing what my values were, and that it’s OK that others had different ones, relating to other people felt more like meditation.

Here’s the tweak I made to my value projection machine:

The Judgment – Self Awareness Loop When Interacting with Others


  1. Realize that judgment comes from values.
  2. Have a conversation to understand the other person’s values.
  3. Learn and adjust: re-evaluate values.

Step 1: Realize that judgment comes from values

If you find yourself judging someone, pause to remind yourself of what your values are.

From: “Ugh damn hippies!”
To: “My values differ from this group of people.”

Conversely, when someone judges you, try to identify the values that are important to them.

From: “Ugh judgmental mofos”
To: “This person values money and prestige more than I do.”

I agree with Mark Manson that how we judge others is how we judge ourselves. How we judge others is primarily just a reflection of what we find to be important.

Step 2: Seek to understand other perspectives

It’s easy to judge silently. It’s an order of magnitude harder to initiate a conversation to understand someone else. Even if you have seemingly different values.

From: “You seem superficial AF.”
To: “It seems like you’re really into cars. Why?”

Talking about our values can help us understand who we are as people, and why things become important to us rather than make us have these fixed, static identities. It humanizes us.

Conversation conquers condescension.

Our values are only as strong as we are open to having them challenged.


If we’re afraid of talking about our values, maybe they’re weaker or outdated, and could use a revision. Which leads us to…

Step 3: Learn and adjust

When I first graduated, I wrote down a list of life goals I wanted to accomplish. One of them was someday becoming a millionaire.

Revisiting this list years later, it occurred to me that my goals have changed. I questioned why I wanted exactly a million dollars in the bank.

I realized the value behind being a millionaire was actually the freedom to do what I wanted, so that I’d never have to worry about starving to death.

(Life experience often reveals the superficiality of values.)

Freedom became my strongest value, and money only serves as a tool to help achieve that freedom.

Strong opinions, loosely held

A few things can happen as we re-evaluate values:

  • worldviews are expanded
  • old models are (hopefully) swapped out for more optimal ones
  • we learn to agree to disagree

Knowing that values can be strengthened, weakened or changed gives us the humility to understand others and improve ourselves.

Our value projection machines

As an immigrant, my mother valued stability for her children. More so than happiness or fulfillment, which are fuzzy ideas that are hard to measure.

After realizing that stability was my mother’s #1 value, I was less prone to anger in conversation and more receptive to different points of view.

It gave me a way to agree to disagree, and just listen whenever she’s dishing out advice.

On the other hand, tweaking my value-projection machine has freed up more energy to create a social community with shared values, rather than forcing them on people I don’t get along with.

If there’s one takeaway from this essay, it’s simply to realize everyone has their own values, and that we’re all prone to projecting ours onto others.

_ _ _ _ 

  1. Education and professional credentials may be a preferred route to economic success among the second generation. Kasinitz et al. (2008, p. 181)
  2. I’ve heard that parents care more about their children’s stability than their happiness. Kinda makes sense: if the human you raised dies or suffers, that feels much worse than an unhappy living child.
  3. They’re strong enough to bother educating others.
  4. Pew Research “Second-Generation Americans: A Portrait of the Adult Children of Immigrants”http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/07/second-generation-americans/

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