Values: the starting line

I started this post with the intention of it being a book review, only to find that I wrote almost the entire length of a post about values, which barely even touches the surface of the topic of the book. So, the review has been postponed and instead I’d like to talk about values.

In September I received some professional news which shattered what I believed would be my five year plan. Over night my world turned upside down and I was left feeling like I was living in some kind of warped Matrix universe. I want to say that I immediately took action and shaped the change that was happening before my eyes. But no, I needed to wallow and grieve first. I needed to process my shock, to bury my head in the sand. During this time, I was approached by prospective employers. We had conversations during which they pitched their wares. Some conversations went further than others, but deep down I had an emptiness in response to what they were saying. Did their vision align with mine? Did they even have a friggin’ vision?! I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. Eventually conversations progressed with one entity so far that I thought I’d get an offer, only to find that someone had unexpectedly pipped me to the post. They let me down over coffee and explained the situation. In that moment I was surprised that I didn’t feel upset. Instead, what I felt was relief – a sense of release and an opening up to the possibilities outside of my bubble. It was the first time in my career that my mind fully opened itself to the concept of taking risk, to embarking upon the unknown, to traversing the rocky road rather than the yellow brick one. Without wanting to sound contrite, I felt a profound sense of grace – I had been guided to this place, to see the light.

I’d also like to say that in this moment I had an epiphany and clear understanding of my next steps. In reality I had no idea, but I knew it was within my grasp and I had the power to make it happen. I needed a safe starting point from which I could decide upon a deliberate direction. While I was open to risk, I didn’t want to make a rash decision.

I realised that whenever I feel purpose, meaning and a sense of mission then I’m happy. If I feel that I’m working towards something futile or that doesn’t sit easy with me then I feel a profound sense of groundlessness. Even though I recognised that I experienced these feelings, I didn’t understand what they hinged upon. Base camp was establishing my values and defining my mission statement.

I searched google for a list of values and started the journey. I scanned the 100 on offer and listed 20 which resonated with me. I narrowed it down to 10 by being brutal, then the final two got hacked out as they seemed like synonyms or extensions of some others. I now have 8 well-defined values. Somewhat exposing but here they are:

  1. Achievement
  2. Being Free (dignity/independence/feminism)
  3. Comfort
  4. Happiness
  5. Learning/Knowledge-seeking
  6. Self-discipline
  7. Strength (physical and mental)
  8. Time alone

Once I’d finished I looked at my list for a long time trying to accept the reality – trying to identify examples of my values in hindsight. While looking at my list of values was inspiring, it was also painful; it highlighted the worst parts of myself. The silence of what was not on the list nagged at me. I hadn’t placed value on things which might be more virtuous: connection, faith, service, caring, charity, love, etc etc. But I can’t pretend something I don’t identify with and bend my will to society’s expectations – they have to be 100% my truth. Having said that, I was comforted by the fact that I wasn’t driven exclusively by cold hard cash which is a possibility that I dreaded coming face to face with, especially having worked in financial services for close to a decade – that sort of thing can be contagious.

I can’t pretend that identifying my values provided me with all the answers, but it did provide me with an anchor. From there I could judge all the subsequent choices that were offered to me – in seconds I knew whether an opportunity was congruent with my values or not. It meant that I reassessed how I allocated my time and energy. It dictated how I expended my financial resources. My values became the rudder in steering me through the subsequent months. As a result, I’ve felt at peace with choices that I’ve made, excited about plans that I’m making. I’m not one for taking risk, but I have faith in the fact that as long as I stay close to my values I can’t veer too far off course – they’ll keep me focussed.

Prior to this revelation I had always judged values to be some corporate BS mumbo-jumbo that was put on companies’ websites. I thought that you just had to recite them at job interviews, but that they are fundamentally all bollocks because deep down everyone wants money (including the corporations) unless they’re some kind of raging hippy/environmental organisation. Ah, how naïve I was. I only wish I’d dedicated some time to figuring out what they were earlier and let them guide me through my twenties. Alas, one can’t regret life that has already passed and choices that have already been made. It’s about how we go forward from here and take hold of what lies before us. Do it with your values at heart and in mind.

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