Whether we’re aware of it or not, we live by certain values. How we think, feel, act, speak, and react are shaped by a set of experiences or beliefs, usually a combination of both. The trick is knowing what those formative pieces are and then deciding if the values operating you are the ones you would choose. Without intention or attention, my default doesn’t always align with the way I aspire to live.
About 10 years ago, I lived – survived, really – the consequences of a lifestyle entirely out of step with what mattered most to me. The dissonance nearly killed me. Emerging from that time, not quite dead, I looked hard at where things went so wrong. One of the most jarring problems was a discernible lack of clarity about what drove me. The values operating had little to do what what I thought was important, let alone good and right and just and honorable.
The first step in change is recognizing the problem. The second is acting on it.
I set out to eliminate the ambiguity about what I valued. I asked myself: What do I stand for and with? What ideas do I want to drive my decisions and guide my choices? Who am I becoming and how is that happening? From that reflection, I wrote life values for the first time. These were the things that the adult me was committed to. It was a long list – maybe 15 or so lofty ideas – too many to remember, all with too many words and too many sub clauses. It was a valiant and almost useless effort. Lesson two? Too much was as problematic as too little. Over the years, I got clearer. I paired down the list. By 2012, I had a reasonable set of operating values. Then, inspired by my friend Michael Bungay Stanier’s pithiness, I paired all my values down to as few words as possible. I tried to get them into two, at most three, word combinations. I loved the simplicity this forced and the focus it created. 2016 will be the third year of trying to live into these 8 rules of life. I’ll be honest, I still fail to animate them as naturally as I’d like. I fall short a lot the time but I’m never lost on where I am aiming.