Defining My Values
How learning my core values helped me to trust myself and stop endlessly striving for the next goal post.
With all of the big life changes coming my way with a cross-country move, I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal values and the ways I’m intentionally trying to live them.
I remember sitting in a therapy session a little over 3 years ago way back in 2019, feeling like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d spent the year leading up unlearning the patterns of overachievement and self-improvement I’d been using as a crutch that had served me well up until they didn’t. I focused on a lot of burn out recovery/coping mechanisms, processing CPTSD, learning how to feel feelings, deconstructing capitalism etc., etc., etc.. I was getting to the point where I wanted to throw personal goals and 5 year plans and everything else out the window (I’m still kind of at that point today), but I was also left without a strong sense of self anymore. If I was untying myself from my work and SMART goals, who was I? (I think this a typical enneagram 3 going to therapy experience lol).
I love my therapist because she is very much supportive of how I like to build tool box and use what I like and what works. We’ve never committed to just one style, which I think has been really helpful for me. We’ve used a little bit of a lot of different therapies, CBT, DBT, family systems, somatic, narrative, etc. That day she pulled out a CBT worksheet, we really hadn’t used many since I had first started, but this one I liked because it wasn’t making me rewrite thought processes. It was a Core Values card sort, and she recommended trying that as homework and I could bring in my results and talk about ideas that go along with them next time.
The idea of the exercise is you take a huge list of general values and assign them importance (Very Important, Important, Not Important), and keep refining your list until you’re left with only 3-5 Very Important values. Then it’s up to you on how you want to use them. I linked the one I use above, but you can Google “Core Values Sort” and find a million different versions.
This was such a turning point for me. I realized I could develop a sense of purpose and personality outside of my goals or plans, or what I was consuming or surrounding myself with (this was a big realization for me, but I’m sure this is common sense for others). It was also a duh moment, because one of the reasons I do enjoy working at my current company is that it has very clearly defined core values that I can easily relate to my actions and work every day. If a company or organization can have stated and defined core values, why can’t I?
Ever since digging into who I fundamentally am, I’ve felt considerably more self-assured. I feel like I used to seek a lot of external validation that I was on the correct path or doing the right thing, fishing for feedback on choices only I could make. Or trying to be so flexible and cool with anything so as not to rock the boat or upset anyone. I’ve stopped seeking out mentors, self improvement books, personal/professional development workshops. I’ve had enough. It’s been realizing I’m a human being and not a product to be focus grouped and tweaked to maximize my potential market. I’m decentering my work as my main identity, and have stepped down from committees and noncritical projects. When my director asked me what my next career goal is the other day, I was able to confidently say that I just want to coast and be a good manager to my team, and that the only other thing I’d be interested in is a very specific program I’d want to start that’s completely aligned to my skillset and what I like to do. I don’t want to work on anything else or move up right now. That’s not to say I don’t have areas to develop or that I don’t need any feedback, but I’m really only taking in what’s applicable to my values and goals at this point and not everything available out there.
How I’m Defining My Core Values
Needless to say, I love this exercise, and since learning about it, I’ve done it every year or so, recommended it to everyone going through a feeling stuck personal crisis, and even introduced it to my employees this year around self-eval and goal setting time. I also like doing it together with David to define out family core values and see where we’re at. I think a helpful thing to remember if you do the exercise is that some of it might be aspirational and some of it might change over time. I also think you have to be honest with yourself about what you really care about, without worrying what might be seen as socially acceptable or encouraged.
As I narrow down and select the values, I like reflecting on the following questions to help give me a sense of direction for how I want to purposefully integrate them into my life.
Truthfully and realistically, what have I been centering in my life currently (no judgement!)
Is this an aspirational value? Why do I think that is?
What is my personal definition of each value? What are some examples that go along with each?
What actions or choices am I making that align with each of these values?
What are some ways I could bring each value more into my life?
Why am I prioritizing this particular value now?
My current Very Important Values and what I define them as:
I don’t remember what my first go was back in 2019, but I was excited when I revisited the exercise in the middle of 2021 and narrowed down to these which have stayed consistent with me so far. I know stability has always been on my list, and I know the desire for it was the driver behind a lot of my overachieving before. Now I like to focus on it in ways I can ensure I’m not making thoughtless decisions that could undermine my stability. Some related actions I’ve taken over the last year or so are getting serious about saving for retirement, intentionally thinking through where in particular we want to move to/how much we’d spend to do it, and limiting commitments to things that will drain my time, energy and money allowing me more space to feel at rest and not overwhelmed.
Nurturance is a value of mine that I think I could devote more time (nurturance lol) to. In a lot of ways with everything going on in life lately, I haven’t been taking as much care as I wish I could, and I feel it seeping into some of my relationships too. I know that when I take good care of myself I am able to devote more time and effort into others I care about, so I’m trying to find an accessible routine that will get me back into that groove.
Leisure was a newer value I focused in on the last time I did the exercise. Something I expressed recently to my therapist was how I was noticing all the ways I try to make everything more efficient. Like efficiency for no reason. Trying to multitask making coffee and breakfast at the same time, taking a shortcut home to save a few seconds, walking really fast, doing the crossword as quickly as possible. I’m naturally skilled at creating and improving processes, it’s literally my career. But it doesn’t have to apply to my whole life, you know? So this value is more of a reminder for myself to take my time and enjoy the ride. I don’t think I’m a naturally silly person, so this is also about me learning to be more playful and have more fun day-to-day. Starting this newsletter just for me is a big part of this value for me!
Beauty is one that I think is a bit of a wildcard when others see it. I can’t pretend that I don’t care about aesthetics. I love walking into a room I’ve decorated and arranged and feeling like it really reflects me and my personality. I like whatever I do or put out into the world to look good, presentable, and be of high quality work — beautiful! I also like taking time to appreciate beauty. One of my favorite date David and I periodically go on is picking up snacks and drinks and then driving around town and looking at architecture, murals, and different neighborhoods for a few hours. When we visit his parents in the Rockies every year, my favorite tradition is driving or walking around the park and taking in the beauty of the mountains and wildlife. Beauty is why I treasure my Botanical Garden membership which allows me to view the flowers and trees beautifully bloom and change over the year.
Genuineness is pretty self-explanatory. I feel strongly about maintaining my personal integrity and taking consistent actions that are true to who I am. I still struggle a lot with vulnerability and I personally feel like it takes me a long time to warm up with people and allow myself to open up, but I want what I do put out to be reflective of who I am, and I want it to be perceived for what it is as well. I think the hard part about this is realizing that just because I’m vulnerable or consistent with myself doesn’t mean it will be accepted by everyone. I’m not liked by everyone I meet. Fundamental things about who I am probably annoy a lot of people! But for the people who get it and like it, and for myself, I want to be the best me I can be and put it out there.
I want to know what you value! :)
If you do this exercise, I’d love to hear about your core values! I’m always intrigued and surprised by the results from others I see, and it’s a fantastic reminder of how we’re all different and have unique strengths and viewpoints to offer the world.
What I’ve Been Up To Lately
Everyone Needs To Grow Up: Don’t let the title hurt your feelings too much. A really interesting argument that the self-infantilization of adults here is great for capitalism and consumerism (not good for us and the collective good).
The Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching: On a camping trip last year, David and I came up with the idea that we’d love to make field guide coloring books for birds and trees native to Missouri. I think my goal for my 30s is to get really into bird watching and actually go through with that idea :)
Lisa Olivera’s newsletter from this week resonated with me and the life choices I’m having to make right now.
After seeing a million TikToks with the Nick Cage and Pedro Pascal meme, I finally made time to watch The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent which was the source material for the meme. Solid action movie and they had great comedic chemistry together.
We watched the first episode of the new/last season of Ted Lasso just like everyone else. For some reason it felt even more saccharine than normal, and Nate’s storyline seems so cartoon villain-ish. I’m still going to watch and like it, but am I more cynical or are they really hamming it up?
Tuesday is the New Moon in Aries, so I’m dusting off the New Moon playlist I made a few months ago for the occasion.
Also enjoying this playlist. A good mix of nostalgia and fun vibes.
I made beer bread yesterday on a whim with some beer I realized was super expired (I wont admit how much) but after a Google search, it should be safe it’s just not as good as fresh beer. Bread turned out yummy though!
I took advantage of the Steam Sale and downloaded some cozy games that I’m excited to dig into later today! I think I might start with Potion Craft.
I’ve been enjoying Cozy Grove on the Switch lately. I like that the developers of the game don’t want you binging it for hours at a time, so daily playtime is really only around 30 minutes with new quests available to do (unless you manually set your console time forward to the next day to get more). It’s been nice for a mental break at lunchtime during the work week.
I hope everyone has a good Sunday! Definitely drop a comment or DM me if you do the core values sort! Take care, and thanks for reading :)