“It’s My Prerogative.”

In early-1990, a life-sized cardboard cutout of Bobby Brown loomed in the corner of my room. He wore a brown double-breasted suit with massive shoulder pads and had a faint smirk on his face. As a fan of New Edition, I was thrilled to acquire this from my part-time job at Warehouse Records. And yes, they sold vinyl records and cassette tapes there.  

During Bobby Brown’s heyday, he received a Grammy nomination and consistently dominated the music charts. And his most famous song, “My Prerogative,” was written soon after leaving his group, New Edition. According to Bobby, the song was a response to the criticism he received for abandoning his long-term singing group. Through his lyrics, “Everybody’s talkin’ all this stuff about me…Why don’t they just let me live?” he was telling his critics to back off because it’s his life, and he wants to live it in the way that’s right for him. 

I heard this song again recently while sweating away on the Peloton bike. As I cycled toward my imaginary hill, I started to wonder how Bobby managed to walk away from a highly successful musical act and not follow what others expected of him? 

Cultural Values & Upbringing

The idea of seeking permission, following the rules, and respecting elders stems from my Korean upbringing. Those explicit values later affected my daily actions as I entered the professional world. And at times to my detriment. Early in my career, I thought I had to follow the safe path of getting an education, a stable job, and retiring from said steady job. This linear path was littered with sentiments of doubt and fear. The path was guided by my cultural values of filial piety and respecting my elders. It wasn’t until decades into working in corporate America that I realized I didn’t need to carry those cultural norms into my professional life. No one can find happiness and success if you’re constrained by external forces of society, culture, and people who try to corner you and your freedom. 

Our cultural upbringing can have a significant impact on how we view the world. For example, the desire to make one’s parents proud or not bring “shame” to the family is at the core of many Asian people’s motivation to make choices in life. As a result, I have had to re-assess my values to better align my behaviors with how I want to live throughout my life. 

So when I heard the song “My Prerogative” while cycling, I zeroed in on the bits of wisdom embedded throughout the chorus. 

“I don’t need permission… make my own decisions… that’s my prerogative.”

But how does one make the right decision when we make up to 35,000 decisions per day?

Re-Assessing Personal Values

It all comes down to values. It seems obvious that having a personal set of values will help us make the decisions we need to make. Why do values matter? Simply put, values are linked to our emotions and motivations and ultimately influence our choices. Experimental research on key personal values and how they influence actions date back to 1992.

However, things become tricky if you don’t assess your values periodically. What if I solely operated from my ingrained values of filial piety and respecting elders? I would likely be living from a place of wanting to be accepted by others and to the detriment of my own happiness. 

For this reason, it’s essential to reassess our values. Our view of the world constantly shifts as we accumulate new experiences in life and work. Think about all that we’ve experienced in the past two years? It’s not surprising that researchers are now exploring the pandemic’s effects on people’s values. While values tend to maintain some level of stability, values may shift during times of massive change. In particular, values associated with openness to change includes being adventurous or explorative. 

Where Do You Start?

To effectively lead, contribute, and exist in the world, we have to know who we are and what matters most. In some of the leadership development workshops that I’ve designed and led, I’ve used this format. In the shared PDF, I’ve outlined steps to help you reassess your values. And ultimately determine Your Prerogative so that you can live in the way that’s most aligned with who you want to become.