Almost two years ago now (practically to the day), I discovered, as if by accident, that I had no idea who I was. I felt lost, alone, unsure of what to do next, where to look for inspiration, who to turn to for encouragement. I searched for some feeling of lucidity within myself, but could only feel a fog. It was a humbling feeling. I'd portrayed myself as a know-it-all at work, and seemed (at least from my perspective) to have my stuff together. Inside, I was fragile, and like cracked glass, just waiting for the right amount of force to topple me over so I could explode in a million pieces. Somehow, out of the emptiness came an idea. It was all I had, so I went with it. It came to me that I should sit with my journal and a pen, and just wait to see what happened. I'm not kidding here. Eventually, as I sat, I got the notion I should write what I thought my values were, what I believed in. That day was July 17, 2008. This is what I came up with (in the interest of complete honesty, this list is unedited):
· Honor is important.
· Honesty works.
· Respect your mom and dad and be nice to them even if they annoy you.
· Be wary of people who would lead you astray: STAY AWAY.
· Marriage is a commitment and should not be given up on lightly.
· Value money—don’t let it overpower your thoughts, but don’t throw it away.
· Treat people with dignity and honor.
· Be kind to animals.
· Avoid trash TV and limit TV in general.
· Embrace physical activity.
· Don’t ask anyone to do what you wouldn’t do yourself.
· Be the kind of person kids can look up to.
· Be inclusive, not elitist, make all welcome, especially kids.
· Accept others and don’t judge them, you have not walked in their shoes.
· Be humble, pride is for lions (Present day note: dorky and grammatically incorrect, I know, but I promised word-for-word honesty!).
· Accept that you do not know everything and be willing and open to learning from all.
· Always help friends and relatives in need with time and advice. Be careful if they want money, it can ruin relationships.
· Resist trying to control everything. Serenity comes in understanding that some things cannot be controlled.
· Surrender. Let go, let love, let God.
· Never resort to name-calling.
· Never betray a confidence unless someone’s life is in danger.
· Understand the world does not revolve around you.
The really amazing thing about this exercise is that it really gave me a picture of myself. It helped me see what was important to me and what I saw as the kind of person I wanted to be. To be truthful, I wasn’t actually living up to more than half of those ideals, but over the last two years, as I saw what values I really wanted to uphold in my life, this list gave me a goal to strive for.
Another important thing I got from this list was an understanding of where to place my personal boundaries both for myself and for the people in my life (I’ll do a full post on this later, but wanted to address this briefly here). For example, when I see that I am spending money willy-nilly and not watching my budget, I know that I am violating a personal boundary. This gives me pause to question why I am not acting according to my values. Am I feeling out of sorts? I am trying to soothe myself by shopping? Often, I can tip myself off to underlying issues that I am trying to medicate and can stop the ‘bad’ behavior and deal with the root cause directly. Or when I interact with someone who is awful to his or her parents without trying to at least understand why. I know not everyone has had great parents, but to be openly and outright mean makes me question that person’s character and whether that is someone I want to spend a lot of time with.
Today, I can say that I keep these values close to me at all times and that I succeed with almost all of them almost all of the time. Surprisingly, as time has passed, I realize that the values I had when I wasn’t sure at all of who I was, are the values I still uphold and believe in today. I wouldn’t change anything except that I may add a few:
· Respect yourself.
· Ask for what you want, ask for you need, celebrate the no (post coming on this value, it’s a guiding principle of my life).
· Make learning a lifelong endeavor.
· Cultivate your compassionate nature.
· Respect your time and the time of others.
If you’re feeling lost or a little unsure of yourself, I highly recommend trying this process for yourself. You may be surprised at the values you have. I was certainly surprised at some of the things I wrote down. And, more than that, you may find it to be a helpful framework for the kind of life you want to lead.
Discover your values, embrace your joy, do it today.