Feeling directionless is a common occurrence these days. Luckily I’m not absent of directions per se; I’m simply unsure of which direction to run. Perhaps direction-confused is a better way of phrasing it. Whether bred from intentionality or sudden necessity, facing these existential questions is never easy. In these moments of uncertainty, I return to my list of values–or the principles in which I’ve decided to orchestrate my life–for guidance. Crafted from a space of clarity, I recorded my values to help direct all decisions: accepting a job, starting a relationship, or purchasing a product. The goal is not rigidity, but authenticity.
This was the first time I formally thought about my life values. Yes, in my entire life. I’ve subscribed to a variety of beliefs and communities throughout the years, but recent adulthood gave me plenty of new experiences and people to draw from. Neighbors, friends, authors, bloggers, family members, and co-workers past and present have helped me weave a narrative of beliefs for myself. I’m indebted to so many people around me and the world at large for provoking thoughts and challenging sentiments. They shaped me into the man I am today–a man eagerly distilling essentialism.
Delving into the concepts of simplicity and minimalism, I was led down paths of solitude on a constant basis. I tuned into my personal needs to live a happy and fulfilling life. Solo road trips, quiet moments at home, or periods of reflection all became routine. They filled newly carved voids in my time and space. For an extrovert, this was an uncomfortable lifestyle shift. Like so many of us running on constant stimulation, this meditative state seemed threatening to my identity. To be alone was to be unproductive.
The Journey to Identifying My Values
As it turns out, this personal investment was critical to matching desires to reality. It modified the filter through which I directed my time, money, and energy. Between my resources and my reality is what I’m calling designing essential. It is here our values reside and subsequently impact our decision-making. Who you spend time with, what you choose to own, how you view work and play, and how you respond to fear and discomfort. All these tangible aspects of our reality were crafted from our resources. To bring this concept to life, I’ll boil things down to the following flowchart.
We’re allotted a certain amount of time, money, and energy–often exchanged for one another. Your reality, or personal lifestyle, is the end result of how you use these initial resources. I believe this is why two people can be given similar resources, yet yield completely different lifestyles–it all comes down to their values and ultimately their behaviors. So how can we design this filter to live more authentic lives? For me, it started with a list.
Create Your List
MindTools is an organization offering online management, leadership, and personal skill training to help people excel at work and life. I want to share their value assessment exercise as an effective way to identify your values.
Before you get started, it’s important to find yourself in a place of tranquility. Perhaps a Sunday morning at home or Friday afternoon at the park suits your fancy. Anything worth doing is worth doing intentionally. The exercise begins by asking you to identify times in which you were the happiest, most proud, and most fulfilled. For me, this yielded a list of experiences such as: working with the Simplicity Project, hearing stories of personal change, photographing exotic landscapes, deep conversations with friends, and crafting a new life in Seattle. As it turned out, almost all of these moments were with others. Of the times I was alone, the event usually involved overcoming difficulty. After perusing their list of suggestions (of course, feel free to add your own), I narrowed my list to ten:
My Top Ten Values
- Ambition — the driving force behind my projects
- Community — for long-term happiness
- Efficiency — my brain was made to optimize
- Freedom — right now, my highest of these 10 values
- Growth — being a life-long learner
- Intellectual — my thirst for knowledge
- Intentionality — an examined life is a life worth living
- Simplicity — how my everyday life should feel
- Vitality — live with passion and vigor
- Vulnerability — a key to deep relationships
It’s critical to acknowledge the fluidity of this compilation. Who you are today and five years from now will be different. Freedom has its place, but in a decade or two, freedom may not be worth prioritizing in all my decisions. On the other hand, there are many overarching traits I hope to retain for the entirety of my life such as vulnerability or intentionality. Therefore, revisit your values every so often–perhaps while goal setting. Even better, join a friend, partner, or community in discussing what they deem important in their life.
Speaking of others, I found it interesting how differently we interpret words. I view efficiency as a welcomed method of optimization while others see it as cold and mechanical. As it turns out, each of us place different value on values. Remain open-minded when crafting this list and take interest in conflicting opinions.
In my mind, all these words sound fantastic–and that’s because they are. Because of this, I found narrowing my list to be difficult. Compassion? How can I cross off compassion?! Simply because you part ways with certain values doesn’t mean they aren’t worth pursuing. Even if my compassion scale isn’t as strong as yours, I know I can add value to others in a variety of ways. I took solace in realizing the complexity of our gifts.
Unfortunately, my last takeaway overthrows listing your values entirely. As lovely as this reflection sounds, I came to realize the list itself isn’t the whole point. While I reference it occasionally, the act of mindfulness is the real victory. This is just one exercise we can leverage in choosing authenticity over automatic. Training your brain to constantly reference your beliefs is paramount for designing essential and opting against default choices. Turning off automatic, getting clarity, and making an intentional choice is what it’s all about.