Is Your Life Aligned With Your Values?

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“Still don't know what I was waitin' for and my time was runnin' wild; a million dead end streets and every time I thought I'd got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet.” ~lyrics from ‘Changes' by David Bowie

There are times in life when we feel lost. Something seems off, but we can't put our finger on it. These feelings can manifest as boredom, restlessness, or even depression.

When this happens, one common scenario is to push harder. You put on a great game face and tell yourself that this will pass, to just ignore it and it will go away. Sometimes it does go away briefly. You fill your life with activity and distractions, and maybe you feel better for a while. But in the quiet moments, the emptiness creeps back in.

Another reaction is despair and struggle. That lost feeling makes you claw around like a drowning man, grasping at salvation wherever you can find it. You ask friends, go to counseling, read self-help books, trying this or that method or formula for happiness, peace of mind, and for the elusive “thing” that will provide them.

The strange thing about happiness and peace of mind is that they are ephemeral. You finally think you have found them, and then after a few months or years, they float away inexplicably. And you're left stunned, because you really thought you had it right this time.

The wonderful and terrible thing about the human psyche is that it is constantly changing.

We silently (or sometimes tumultuously) drift into a new phase of life, but no one tells us to expect upheaval. Or if they do, we don't believe them, because we have our particular life under complete control.

confidence course

And then it happens. You step into the shifting sands of a life transition, and you are stuck. The more your flail, the more stuck you become. This has happened to me many times during my adult life. During the first few times, all I could do was wonder, “What's happening, what's happening?” It was totally unexpected and frightening.

In more recent years, I've come to expect these upheavals. All of that early flailing about wasn't a complete waste. I did learn some things from the reading and searching. The most useful thing I learned is that it's much better to go with it than fight it.

I also learned that this is the time to reevaluate. This is the time to embrace that everything you once valued as most important may not be what you value now. (Did you notice that the word “reevaluate” has the word “value” in it?)

When you are in the midst of a life transition, or even when you're not, it is essential to regularly take stock of your values, and then do whatever you can to align your life with your most critical values. Living in harmony with those values creates the fertile environment for happiness and peace of mind. Some people call this living authentically.

When you do the exercise of assessing your values, you are helping yourself in two ways:

  • First, the flailing about stops because you gain a sense of control over your destiny.
  • Secondly, you discover that you always have the answers for yourself if you take the time and space to search for them. You will save yourself a lot of time and angst if you begin inside instead of outside.

Sometimes we need some cues to help us define our values. In my coaching work, I ask clients to review a list of value words to begin defining what's important to them.

If you'd like to try this exercise now, here's a good list of value words. Print out two copies now so that you can work with it as you read this article.

Value Words List

Here's what to do:

1.  First, go through the list of words on one copy and circle every value word that feels important to you for your life in general.

2.  Then, go through the second list and circle every value word that feels important for your career or work.

3.  For both lists, pick your top ten values, and write them down on two separate sheets of paper. Title one sheet “Life Values” and the other “Work Values.”

4.  From each list of ten, pick the top five that are absolutely non-negotiable in your life. This may be hard, as all ten might seem that way. But you have to narrow the field to create a usable compass for your life and career.

5.  Now get two more sheets of paper (one for Life Values and one for Work Values), and list each of your top five values, leaving a good amount of space for writing between each value.

6.  Under each value, on the left side of the page list all of the ways you are currently living in alignment with this value. On the right side, list the ways you are living out of alignment with this value.

7.  Now flip the papers over and list the values again, leaving space in between each word. For each value, think about actions you could take to fix those “out of alignment” situations. Write these down for both life and work even if the actions seem impossible right now.

8.  On both lists of actions, make a check mark next to the actions that are doable for you now or in the near future. Break these actions down into even smaller, easily manageable actions.

9.  Pull out your calendar and plot these small actions into your schedule in a way that is easy to accomplish. You don't have to rush through this because you want to give your psyche time to catch up with your changes.

10.  As you accomplish some of these smaller actions, you may want to revisit your list to see if you feel ready to tackle some of the harder ones.  Use your feelings of emotional strength and self-confidence as a guide.

Even small, incremental changes that align your life with your values will create a huge shift in your feelings and attitude. You will have a sense of direction, a blueprint for your life and work that feels authentic to you, even if you can't act on it all immediately. This is incredibly empowering. You will still have times of transition and upheaval, but this gives you the tools to navigate yourself to calmer shores.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 25 comments
  • Beau Hodson

    Great post Barrie! This is a topic that needs more attention, the act of a person discerning what their chosen values are and setting out to live by them. Or in other words, living with integrity! My project is working to spread awaresness about this and many other ideas related to integrity. I would love to re-post your this article to my blog if that’s ok. How would you prefer me to do it?
    Your Integriously,
    Beau Hodson

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Beau,
      I am so glad you like it. Thank you for your kind comments. Sure, you can use it on your blog. Either link to it, or if you publish it in its entirety, please put a sentence at the beginning noting me as the author and linking to my blog. 🙂

  • Devon

    Barrie, I cannot tell you how much I needed this post today. Thank you so much.

  • Jason @ Stop & Breathe

    Powerful post. Thank you.

    In retrospect I realize that the times in my life when I felt “stuck” were often when I was living based on other people’s expectations, desires or values and not my own. But it can be hard to reevaluate what you truly value in your life. The tools you’ve provided are a great way to help discover your intended path in life.

      Barrie Davenport

      Thanks Jason! I agree that many of our choices are based on the expectations of others. And sometimes it can be painful to break free from that. But once you become aware that you aren’t living authentically, it is nearly impossible to stay stuck.

  • Justin | Mazzastick

    Everyone will experience times of upheavals in their lives. It’s best to just bend with it and learn what you can from the experience.

  • Living the Balanced Life

    I have been at this very point, where I had to determine if what I was doing for a career lined up with who I was. It didn’t!
    Great post!

      Barrie Davenport

      So glad you figured it out before you took the job Bernice. Good for you for doing that work in advance. Many people don’t.

  • Dr. Cris Green

    I agree that looking inside first is the key to dealing with life changes as well as for gaining insight and wisdom for being your authentic self. Beautiful post.

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Cris,
      I am so glad you like it. It’s nice to have the stamp of “professional approval!” 🙂

  • Beth Wilson

    Wow, Barrie, your post really resonates with me! It takes me back to June of 2009 when I woke one day and thought, “What am I doing?” The follow-up thought was, “Do you want to live the second half of your life as you have the first?” I was stricken because I thought I was doing what I wanted to do with my life and yet, I was restless and dissatisfied. It took hitting a hard emotional bottom to realize that no, I wasn’t living for me but for someone else.

    By the latter part of July, I knew I had to leave the comfort of a long-term relationship and the midwestern state where I had lived my entire life. By the end of August,
    I was living in Dallas and flying by the seat of my pants! For the next year, my emotions ping-ponged between the emptiness and sadness you write about to complete joy and freedom. The upheaval was enormous, and absolutely necessary.

    Today, I’m happy, content and at peace with the life I am living–for me. Within the last few days, I’ve recognized that I’m hovering on the edge of another big change and I believe it has to do with a major career shift. Your exercise in assessing values comes at a perfect time because I think I’ve slid into a comfortable set of life values and now perhaps it’s time to examine my work/career values.

    Thank you for your insight, for the way you present word pictures that capture my heart, and for being the beautiful person that you are.

    Beth |

      Barrie Davenport

      Dear Beth,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Life is often just as you describe — you think things are chugging along and then you hit a brick wall. I applaud you for making those scary changes, knowing that they were for your own good. I am glad you are past the “ping pong” stage of emotions and living life on your terms. That’s wonderful. Please keep us posted about your career change. How exciting! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

  • Amy

    I love this exercise–I’ve printed my two copies and I will be doing it tonight. 🙂 I can’t wait to see what it says! 🙂

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Amy,
      I’m so glad you like it. It’s a great exercise to help you redefine where you are in life and what needs shifting. 🙂

  • Athina

    I am quite new to your work but it impresses me a great deal every time 🙂 Thank you for this post, focusing on values is very important… I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
    I think I will be doing this exercise over the weekend.
    Thank you.

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