It's easy for me to make decisions. That's because I have a clear definition of my personal values.
Sounds obvious, right? I mean, we all have values. Of course! Except when I was first faced with the question of what my values were a couple of years ago, I was caught off guard. I stammered to my coach something like, "Oh sure, I know my values... they're ... ah .. ummm..." I didn't have words for them, though I knew they were somewhere inside me.
After a couple of sessions with my coach and a bunch of independent work that changed. I had a clear list of what really mattered to me for the first time in my life. I knew that "Being a Great Dad" was my most important value, that "Creating As Much Fun As Possible" was right behind that, and that "Slowing Down to Connect More Deeply" was also in my Top 3.
I ended up creating a list of eight values. I used the style above - a phrase that starts with an active verb that helps me understand what my values look like when they're in motion. And because I'm a bit of a freak about structure, I put mine in order.
Of course there's no "right way" to create your values list - that's just what worked for me. I know other people who use a single word for each, like "Joy" or "Autonomy". And there are plenty of other ways to format them. In the case of values, style isn't what matters. It's that you have them and know what to do with them. That brings me to the point of this post:
During a crisis situation our values are a powerful tool for staying grounded.
Here's an example. A few weeks ago, when it became stunningly clear to me that the coronavirus pandemic was going to have a major impact on our country, I started to freak out. In an instant, workshops that I had already scheduled were postponed and other promising leads vanished. I feared that my business wouldn't just suffer. I feared I'd go under.
At that point, I paused. Rather than go down into that fear spiral, I checked in on my values. Here's what I did, in the order of my values:
With my kids out of school indefinitely, I saw that had some extra "Dadding" to do. So I committed to Being a Great Dad and focusing my time and energy on my kids. That created some immediate relief for me.
I also learned that all of my upcoming improv shows were cancelled. Rather than be upset about that new limitation, I started brainstorming with my castmates and director about ways we could run our show online. A week later, we did our first virtual improv show. We were Creating As Much Fun As Possible for people, including some we never had been able to reach before!
For the past couple of years I've resisted doing "consulting" work. Yet I saw that I had a wonderful relationship with one of my coaching clients, for whom I'd recently completed a side project to get a 360 degree view of his company. Rather than run around and try to find more coaching clients or hunt opportunities for virtual workshops, which would have required a lot of energy with people to whom I wasn't as connected, I had a conversation with my client. I found by Slowing Down to Connect More Deeply that he needed some deep work that I was well positioned to offer. A week later, we had agreed to a contract that stabilizes both of our businesses at a critical time!
Since I was feeling pretty grounded by all of the above, and I didn't have a full slate of work yet, I decided I had something to give back to people who were struggling. Among other things, I offered my services for free to a couple of my favorite non-profits to help them adjust to doing business in virtual settings. Being of Service to Others wasn't just the right thing to do with my extra capacity, it made me feel great!
In a crisis, it can be tempting to go into bunker mentality. My value of Taking Risks to Learn and Grow pushed me in a different direction. By the time this pandemic passes, I will have completed two online courses to build my skills. And I will have stretched myself by offering a completely new series of workshops and courses that expand the ways in which I can help my clients.
Since I'm still working on filling my extra capacity, I am Surrendering to Life's Flow. Rather than stressfully trying to force matters, I am finding ease by paying attention to what is appearing and actively seeking to be in the flow with that. I take walks. I cook meals. I follow the leads that show up in my work that interest me.
This value should probably be higher on the list, because it comes in so handy at all times. I don't know what to expect in this upside down time, so by Daring to Laugh at Myself I get to take what could be an intensely stressful time and make it feel more normal. (Having my teenagers around more provides ample opportunities for me to honor this value.)
Finally, by living into my values and being grounded in a turbulent time, I hope that the energy I'm putting out into the world is Building Trust and Seeking Love at Every Opportunity. In a time of crisis, we need to trust each other. And more than anything else we need to turn away from fear, which divides, and towards love, which holds and connects us.
One last practical thought: Creating a list of my values isn't enough. I have to be actively using them, which means I need to check in on them regularly. Here are some ways I've kept my values present in my life:
I do a monthly "Values Check-Up" to see how well I'm honoring my values and if there are any tweaks I need to make.
I've told people close to me what my values are, so they can help me be accountable to them.
Until I had them memorized, I had a printed list taped up next to the door in my bedroom so I'd see them every day.
I have a series of journals that align with my values, so when I write I am often exploring how my values manifest in my life.
I hope that you, dear reader, are safe right now in the midst of this pandemic. I also hope that you found this post helpful in some tangible way. That would make me feel great - because I'd be honoring a few of my values all at once!!
Jim Young is a coach, facilitator, and (...ahem...) consultant. He lives with his kids (half the time) in a lovely little city in Western Massachusetts, from which seeks to create as much fun as possible (all the time).
When he's working, Jim focuses on encouraging people from all walks of life to bring out the leaders that live inside them, because we need more leaders! When he's not working he's often playing - performing an improv show (on stage or virtually) or just goofing around with his kids, who are SUPER cool and funny.
If you want to make him laugh, or share your story about values (maybe even both at the same time), Jim can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Jim loves parentheses.)