You can’t fake it
When I was little and my relatives or teachers asked me what I wanted to “be” when I grow up, I would say that I wanted to be a doctor, a teacher, a journalist, a lawyer, an astronaut. I always received reassuring nods and smiles. I did not really know what I wanted to “be” or why. But I went off to college, graduated, traveled as a consultant for Alpha Sigma Alpha and then got a job. I made good money, lived in Chicago and had lots of fun.
But I hated my job, was only living in Chicago for my relationship and did not have friends who were truly my ride or die. Every day was a struggle. I felt like I was swimming upstream. I felt like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, “You know what I felt this morning? Nothing. No passion, no spark, no faith, no heat, no nothing!” Life was a chore because I had no meaning in it. I had to figure out what my compass was and how to live by it.
After my relationship failed, I had nothing keeping me in Chicago, so I moved back home. I knew I could not continue to flail about in my life with no direction. I had to figure out what was truly important to me. I had to figure out my values.
Values are deeply personal. They are different from what is simply important to you. Values determine what is important to you. They are non-negotiables. They clear a path for you, so life is not swimming upstream. You feel them in your bones. You go to the mat for them. They shape how you move through the world. They are your reason for being.
So after taking stock of my life, doing a lot of reading, processing with friends and family, I realized what I cannot live without in my life. I need loyalty, significance, positivity, integrity, laughter, authenticity and stability.
Loyalty: I need a bond where I have strong support.
Significance: Mattering. Making a difference.
Positivity: Negativity is poison. I need to find lessons to learn.
Integrity: Do what you say you will do. Be true to your word.
Laughter: Have fun! Don’t take it too seriously!
Authenticity: I don’t do fake. I can sniff it out a mile away.
Stability: Balance. Dependability.
Believe me when I say this is not a one-time task. My values may shift over time as I fulfill certain goals in life. My values are also challenged often. If I find myself needing some help, I run through a “quick check” to ensure I am staying true to myself:
- Do I have clarity in my values when I or they are challenged?
- Do I have resonance I seek so the values make my heart sing? If I do not have that resonance, I feel physically and emotionally different.
- Can I can act upon them? Having values without bringing them to life does nothing but doing the wrong thing can often be just as bad!
There are also times when some of my values may be in conflict. If I know why I am choosing one value over another, I can resolve any inner conflict I may experience. Values may sometimes be situational. In an emergency, I may have no choice but to do something that may not be congruent with my values. But sometimes survival is what may guide my actions.
Here are the lessons I learned:
- My values helped me decide how to live my life. If you are unhappy with parts of your life, or if you are sick, stressed or uneasy with everyday life, maybe it’s time to determine the answers to the questions “What is important to me?” and “How do I want to live my life?”
- Don’t live by someone else’s values. It’s like running in high heels. They don’t really fit right, and they surely don’t give you the support you need. Your body tells you when you are not being true to yourself.
- Living by your values will change your life in ways you never imagined. For me, I found my great loves in my life. My partner, my friends and my vocation. I would never have found any if I did not have clarity around my values.
I know I cannot be perfect and that I often need to compromise, but at least I aim for integrity in living a life that is driven by my values.
So now, if my relatives or teachers were to ask me what I want to “be” when I grow up, I know my answer. It is one word. Happy.
Suzanne Kilgannon, BI