Have you ever worked so hard toward something you thought was really important…only to feel empty or frustrated when you got there?
This can happen for a number of reasons, but what you were working toward might not be as important to you as you thought.
It might not be in alignment with your values.
I spent my school years straining after accomplishment. I took the hardest classes because they were hard, not because they interested me. I went to the most academically challenging school that accepted me because to do anything less would be taking the easy option and hinder my chances at accomplishments down the road.
But all those accomplishments didn’t mean much to me. They made people proud of me, but I wasn’t proud of myself because in all my accomplishing I wasn’t honoring my values of connecting with people or making a difference in a meaningful way.
Furthermore, I started to believe that I didn’t like school and learning. Actually I love learning and growth is one of my core values. But the way I approached school made it about achievement instead of a true pursuit of learning.
So why do we work so hard toward things that aren’t meaningful for us? Maybe you’ve picked up on someone else’s values or expectations for you and adopted them as your own. Maybe you’re trying to live up to what society thinks you should do.
But how do you know?
Let’s look at a few questions that get at the roots of our values and see if any of the values on your list might actually belong to someone else. If you haven’t read posts one and two on values go ahead and get caught up before joining us.
Pick a value from your list. (You can go through this process with as many values as you’d like, but you may want to start with some of the values that resonate most strongly with you since we are trying to narrow your list down to your top values).
Think about when and how you learned this value. Did someone teach you it was important? Who taught you and what is your relationship with this person? Or did you develop your understanding through your own experience and observations? When did you learn this value and what were the circumstances around that time?
Think of a time when you really embodied this value—either choose a memory or use your imagination. How do you feel? Now imagine the same situation, but with your chosen value absent. Now how do you feel? Did your actions or emotions change? Do you feel frustrated…or relieved?
Think about your life right now. Is this value part of your life? Does it guide your actions and decisions? If not, what is preventing it? What would change if you made this value a guiding force in your life? How do you feel about that?
After you’ve spent some time thinking about the above, ask yourself the big question—is this value really mine? Does this value drive the actions and decisions that demonstrate your most authentic self? Or is it something that you think should be important to you? Should can be a very key word here. It may indicate that value is something we’ve picked up from someone else. We can believe that a value is important without having it as one of our core values.
So…how did that go? Did you uncover any values that you thought were yours, but maybe aren’t really yours at all? Did you gain some clarity on which values really are yours and which are most important to you?
By now you’re probably getting your list pretty narrowed down. If you still have a long list, spend a little more time thinking back over the previous exercises and see which values really resonate the strongest. Feel free to check in with me if you’d like more help.
Remember, our values are a foundational part of our identity. This isn’t a topic to spend an hour on and never think about again. The work you’ve done is so important, but you can continue to refine and evaluate your values list throughout your entire life. Come back next time for some thoughts on how to make your values a more integral part of your life.
*I just want to note here that certain values aren’t necessarily better or worse than others. The most important thing is not what your specific values are, but knowing which values are yours.