Hey friends! Recently I have needed to define my values. Actually, the exercise came about as I thought about my developing counselling business and to clarify the purpose it exists. The reason for my business’s existence in beautiful Adelaide flows from the values that shape the heart of who I am and my particular way of relating to the world from those values.
Have you ever asked yourself, what do I live for? Or what’s the meaning of my existence?
These are called ‘existential’ questions. Few people go through life without asking something like this, because they point to an innate quality of many human beings of making meaning from our lives and experiences. The questions can often peak at important junctures in life such as the death of a key person in our lives, key birthdays, getting married, having children or moving countries because key events and experiences bring to awareness what is important to us to live life meaningfully. These key events may also highlight the discrepancies of who we are and who we want to be.
So what do these ‘existential’ questions have to do with values?
So answering the existential question of what am I living for can be answered when looking at what’s important to you or your values. In fact, looking at your values can also begin to generate the goals for your life. If you’re like me, values may be vague ideas that really only come to life when something happens that goes against them. (I notice this when I get into a passionate rant about an injustice). One thing I am beginning to understand though that in the same way articulating and stating my business’s purpose is foundational in developing it’s goals, identifying my personal values can be the foundation from which my life’s purpose and goals can be achieved.
So what are values?
Values are principles that are deep down important to us. They are beliefs and ideas we have identified with and subscribed to about ourselves and the world we live in, and express as our personal worldview. Though they may not be in our awareness or necessarily articulated, they are often revealed in our life and living by the things, people or experiences that are at our centre of importance. They are unique to each one of us, although many values are shared among many human beings, for instance, meaningful connection. While values may feel like they have been with you all your life, they are shaped from your personal experiences, your family, your culture, your lifestyle, your personality and temperament and a trillion other things that have been assimilated throughout your unique life.
So don’t we live from our values even if we don’t know what they are?
Well yes… and no! This was highlighted recently by a friend who is passionate (and angry) about the way vulnerable people were being treated in her organisation. In her frustration, she wanted to leave that position to a more peaceful job that was less taxing on her emotionally (understandably). What was important to her? Primarily at that moment, peace! And ensuring that vulnerable people were treated fairly, with respect and dignity. In this situation, she perceived and felt she was the only one who seemed to advocate for this in her organisation. She was tired and burnt out and was not able to sleep well. (Incidentally, her organisation promoted the care and dignity of the people as their value and purpose). My friend did not ‘know’ this was so important to her, until she had to deal with the emotional upheaval of her personal value being subdued on a regular basis and her perception of having her hands tied. Her answer for herself was to move onto something less meaningful, thereby depriving herself of the opportunity to live out in her workplace, what is clearly a very important value (that I might add would benefit each person who is directly or indirectly affected by her compassion and advocacy). Another important point to make here, is that my friend’s values matched up with the business’s mission, however there was a discrepancy in the value being implemented congruently with business aims and goals. (This example helps to show the difference between goals and values; goals are an aim, a point to which something can be reached, a value is something that is held to be important). After looking at the pros and cons of possible job opportunities, she became more aware of and defining her personal values which may mean that she actively pursue how best to facilitate looking after herself in her workplace environment so that she may be able to more effectively work from this considerably important value with a sense of support and integrity.
In his book, The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris advocates that a value-focused life can be a life of fulfilment, satisfaction and reward and suggests in order to find the value that is underneath your goals to ask yourself “What’s this goal in the service of? What will it enable me to do that’s truly meaningful?” (Harris, 2008). A goal-focused life can be sweet at the moment the goal is achieved or feel devastating when it is not achieved, and yet you can always choose to live your values no matter where or what circumstances you are in.
So what’s important to you? Is it family, health, education, spirituality, the earth’s sustainability, creating, playing, influencing, bringing joy, creating connection, peacemaking, security? Do you value justice, respect, commitment, curiosity and open-mindedness, compassion, optimism, reliability? What SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals can you choose to commit to do today to take that first step toward what's important to you? For example, I can choose to be fully with the one I love for half an hour in whatever they are doing when I get home from work today without expectation or anything in return. Or I will make that enquiry about study or checking on my health or that hobby I have always wanted to try. Or today I will make sure my plastics go in the recycle bin.
I do want to put it in an affidavit! Lay down the expectation that a fulfilled life is a pain-free life. Moving toward what matters to you takes courage, vulnerability and risk. As Brene Brown comments though “When we spend our lives waiting until we're perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”
What unique contribution can you make in your arena of values today?
Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels
Brown, B. 2012. "Daring Greatly; How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Portfolio Penguin, England.
Harris, R. 2008. "The Happiness Trap; How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Exisle Publishing Ltd, NZ.