First, why care about values at all? Time and time again I run into intellectuals and therapists speaking about how our actions should reflect our personal values. Mark Mason, the popular author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck writes extensively about values. Well how can we know whether this is true or not if we haven’t actually narrowed down our values? Also, it is extremely attractive to me as a bit of a control freak to have a mission or goal to accomplish. Values are each of our own personal life mission. It’s the “when you lay dying” test, what do you want to have accomplished. So I had great reasons to have values, but figuring them out took some DOING and honestly, sure my values will never be fully static.
My partner and I have been working on defining our personal values for… years. We tried the method of starting from a long list and picking 20 that resonated. Mine were:
Empathy, Curiosity, Simplicity, Balance, Generosity, Playfulness, Openness, Integrity, Kindness, Trustworthiness, Eco-Consciousness, Cooperation, Listening, Prudence, Compassion, Dedication, Contentment, Accountability, Patience, and Selflessness.
Then we tried honing in on our true personal values from scratch, without a distracting list. This led to a decent list we both made and forgot about for a year until we reviewed it a few months ago Mine were: Compassion, Unconditional Love, Wellness, Dedication to Family, Financial Responsibility, Strength, Accountability, Integrity, Service . They were not exactly what I felt I lived my life for. Eventually we discovered that we didn’t actually know what values were. We looked to webster, “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” and finally a different source, “a person’s personal set of ethics.” This changed everything. “Wellness” wasn’t a personal ethic.
I woke up Christmas morning with an a-ha moment and an image in my mind. I realized there is one phrase that defines what makes life worth living- “Being in service of others,” and that this phrase has three essential parts. My family, my local and national communities and the planet. Why on earth am I on this planet if not to leave it better than I found it, to give love and support everywhere I can? This begs the question- what about boundaries? This is where self-compassion or self-love comes in. There are boundaries we all need to make to ensure we are not over-committing ourselves far past our comfort zone and abilities. We have to have enough love for ourselves to know when to say no, when to slow down and when to take a break. There are moments when in order to truly love and support others, we have to focus on our own wellbeing. So for now at least, I think I’ve found my personal values. We have started talking about values with our kids and that will be a different post, but it feels good to begin to have some clarity on what I want my life purpose to be.