In the same way you don’t notice your breathing until you’re asked to focus on it, we don’t generally notice the values that guide our day-to-day actions until some jackass on the internet starts yapping about how Hitler’s got messed up values and now you’re wondering if you’re also headed down a path of mass destruction.
Some of us may have run away and “found ourselves” in the remote corners of the world, literally and metaphorically. But most of us are likely still caught in the hamster wheel of life, forever running, too busy to stop and wonder what the hell it’s all for.
Well, now that I’ve got your attention, let me ask you a series of questions to help you define your values and “find yourself.”
First question: as our personal values are simply the measuring sticks by which we determine what is a successful and meaningful life, ask yourself:
" What does a successful and meaningful life look like to you? "
Did you grow up wanting to be a pilot? Do you dream of having a family with five kids? When you close your eyes, do you see yourself waltzing down the red carpet in your designer gown, your path lit by a hundred camera flashes?
It’s important at this stage to not judge the vision you see of yourself. (There will be a time for that.) Whatever it looks like, take it as it is. What’s important is that it’s the life you genuinely want for yourself.
Once you’re clear on what that life looks like, ask yourself:
" What is it that I want from this life? "
Do you want to be a pilot because it’s cool? Or because you want to be rich? To make the ladies go weak at the sight of your sexy captain’s uniform? Or are you simply fascinated by the marvel of human technology and want to master the skill of flying an aircraft?
Asking yourself why you want what you want will help you uncover the values that underlie the life you’ve imagined for yourself. Yes, you want the life of a pilot. But is the value you’re really after appearances, money, sexual prowess, or mastery of skill?
Now is the time to judge and ask: “Are the values you just defined good or bad values?” Are they evidence-based or emotion-based? Constructive or destructive? Controllable or uncontrollable? Are you happy to let those values guide your entire life? From now to eternity?
If yes, then good for you, you may proceed as you always have. If not, then it’s time to reinvent yourself and find better values.
More on that later. But not yet, I’m not done with you here.
If you’ve been honest with yourself in answering the first two questions, you will have uncovered your true values. But as we have seen, most of us are incredibly adept at telling ourselves what we wish to be true, rather than what is true.
You may say you want to be a pilot. You can vividly see yourself in that uniform, almost feel the weight of the cap on your crown. But if you’ve spent the past fifteen years climbing the corporate ladder, then your actions contradict what you’re saying. There is a value disconnect.
Remember that one key thing about values? They are constantly reflected in the way we choose to behave. When it comes to values, what you do matters a hell lot more than what you say.
You may say you want a family with five kids. You can shout from the rooftop until your voice goes hoarse that you value family and relationships above all else. But if you always find an excuse to not go on a second date, then it’s very likely that’s not what you value at all.
So, ask yourself those two questions, then do a reality check. Does the value you say you have match what you do? Is there a disconnect? And if there is, what is it that you truly value?
If you’ve never done such an exercise before, it may be difficult to define what values underlie your life vision or actions.