I took my first job out of college partly because I needed the money and partly because it seemed like a reasonably good fit for my personality and skills.
But I was unhappy.
I really didn’t know who I was or what my values were. If pressed I probably could have listed some off. But my uncertain list would have reflected who I’d been told I was or was supposed to be.
I thought my job wasn’t satisfying because there was something wrong with me that prevented me from wanting the things I was supposed to want. Or because work is just inherently unenjoyable and unfulfilling.
In reality, the fact that I didn’t care about the things I thought I was supposed to care about was a red flag indicating I didn’t understand my core values and was living out of alignment with them.
While the highly repetitive and precise nature of my work appealed to the parts of me clinging to perfectionism and control, I soon grew dissatisfied because my values of growth and creativity were being stunted. And my values of connection and making a difference weren’t being satisfied as I daily struggled to convince myself that my work was helping people in a meaningful way. Living out of alignment with my values led to frustration and lethargy and my work and happiness suffered.
Everything in me cried out for something more. I wanted satisfaction and fulfillment. I wanted to grow and make a difference. But I didn’t know how. I thought maybe it just wasn’t possible. I thought I didn’t want the right things. I thought that was a failing.
But what was the real problem?
I wasn’t aware of my core values. And I wasn’t living in a way that my behavior and feelings matched what was important to me.
But how could I not know who I am or what is most important to me?
We can’t help but be influenced by the world around us. Our values can easily be buried under expectations about who we are supposed to be, social norms, false beliefs, and even our own history. Unless we take the time to explore our own values, we might find ourselves living our lives guided by values that belong to someone else.
Last time we read through a list of values, highlighting all the words that resonate with us. Then we looked for values we could group under one umbrella word. Today we’re going to dig deeper into your condensed lists and look at what our feelings can tell us about our values.
Our values are one of the key components of our identity. Often the way we feel can give us a strong indication of whether or not we’re living in alignment with our values.
Our values guide us in the right direction. When our values inform our important life decisions we chose things that are in line with what is most important to us and who we want to be. When we’re living in alignment with our values our outward behavior matches our internal beliefs. We are likely to feel content, satisfied, and strong.
Think about times when you’ve felt fulfilled, joyful, or truly yourself. Can you identify what aspects of those experiences led you to feel that way? Were any of the words from your list strongly present? Mark the words that stand out the most.
On the contrary, when we are feeling anxious or upset it can be helpful to ask if one of our beliefs is being challenged. Behaving in a way that contradicts our beliefs leaves us frustrated, depressed, unsettled, unmotivated, or even angry. Sometimes we are choosing things that don’t line up with our values. We may also face uncomfortable feelings if our circumstances or the people around us are squashing our values.
Think about times when you’ve felt most regretful, angry, frustrated, or apathetic. Can you identify what was at the the root of those feelings? Were any of the values from your list noticeably missing from those situations—whether because of choices you made or expectations placed on you by others? If you could choose to add any of the values from your list into the situation, which ones would make the biggest difference? Mark them.
Take your time. Really try to paint the pictures of your memories in as much detail as possible. Sit in those memories for a while and try to get to the essence of your experience. It can be so easy to answer the above questions with the values we’ve been conditioned to admire or the answer we think makes the most sense. You’re going to get the most out of this exercise if you take the time to dig deep and be really honest with yourself.
Check back next time for further evaluation of your values list. Our core values are foundational to our identity and guide our choices. It’s worth taking our time.
So tell me…how did that go? Are you getting a clearer picture of which values are the very most important to you? What have you learned about how your feelings indicate how well you’re living in alignment with your values? Have you discovered anything that surprises you?