When I first became passionate about living my own life, it was because I was unhappy.
As I mentioned in my article on No Sidebar a few weeks ago, it was a profound sense of “not rightness” that made me think about what I valued. I started to question what was truly important to me, and came up with a few things that generally make everyone’s list—family, friendships, health. Then I realized that there were a few more—creativity, momentum, sustainability. As I moved forward, I uncovered ones that I didn’t even know existed within me—spirituality, beauty, motherhood. The more I thought about it, the more I was able to identify what I valued. That was the easy part—the hard part was realizing how much my current life didn’t match up.
The most important work was changing my life to fit these values. It was empowering, realizing that it was really up to me. Aligning my life with my values was my choice—I could continue on my current path, to no one’s detriment but my own. Or I could do the work, make the changes, and improve my life. I encourage you to choose the second option.
But how do we determine our values? Here are a few questions to get you started:
1. How would you want your friends to describe you?
Family-oriented? Ambitious? Creative? Giving?
Jot down a few adjectives that you’d want your loved ones to use while describing you to a stranger. Notice if there’s a theme or pattern. Perhaps some of these descriptors can be consolidated into one common value, like “relationships.”
2. What’s your Wall Street Journal?
When I was in high school, I took a tour of a few reach colleges in the Northeast. While touring the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the guide made a statement that has stuck with me to this day: “our students are the kind of people who like to read the Wall Street Journal every morning.” It struck me that I was definitely not that person, and made me reconsider the business major I was planning.
It also got me thinking about my “Wall Street Journal”—what was the thing that motivated me every morning? What sorts of things did I look forward to learning, and how did I choose to spend my time?
Examine how you choose to spend your day, and you’ll know your priorities.
3. As long as I have/have done [xyz], I’ve left a good legacy.
At the end of your life, what would you like to have accomplished? For some, the most important legacy you can leave is through the memories you provide to your family. For others, it’s the fulfillment of a burning desire to change the world in a certain manner. Most of us have several missions in life—what are yours?
Your fundamental values are largely fixed throughout your life, though how you prioritize those values might change depending on your season. When you have a newborn, personal growth might take a backseat. If you’re embarking on a major life change, you may sacrifice a bit of security. Living a meaningful life is all about maintaining balance in how we spend our time, and ensuring that our actions are always corresponding with our values.
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