To be brutally honest, I am in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. I have a stable, successful career ahead of me if I continue on my current trajectory – but I have no idea whether or not I want to! Almost every day I think of some new job or career that sounds fun, so I research the heck out of it, only to find that it is not as ideal as I originally imagined… I’m so preoccupied with how I should live my life that I’m missing out on living my life! So I’ve had to take a step back in order to decide, to make a true decision, and purse the career ahead of me.
The step back I took was to figure out my values and after finding them, I can see whether my life aligns with those values. But how does someone figure out their values?! For that, I needed a little help. This help came in the form of a values worksheet which contained a list of 40 common values. I normally hate these cookie-cutter types or worksheets. They tend to generalize us humans whereas each of us is so ridiculously unique that no one word can describe ourselves accurately. But for starters, this worksheet got me brainstorming.
I iteratively perused this worksheet. First, I went through crossing off the values that definitely did not apply to me, namely: adventure, assertiveness, excitement, intimacy, supportiveness… not that these are bad values, just that they are not what I value most in my life.
I went through again – this time looking at what sort of applied to me. I circled fairness, health, independence, dedication, humor, honesty, organization, persistence, commitment, skillfulness, loyalty. Then I brainstormed. These values definitely applied to me, but they didn’t encompass my whole self. I thought about the environments I thrived in, I thought about how much success I found in grad school, this purely academic environment. I thought about the reason I chose to become an engineer: because I love math and science. I thought about how my best weeks at work are the ones I spend in a class or training rather than in my office. So I added my own values: knowledge, learning, education, and intelligence.
Okay, so there were my values. But it didn’t paint a clear picture of who I was. There was simply too much going on still (which violated one of my top values: organization!). So it was time to consolidate.
Well, several of my values seemed to be very similar: dedication, persistence, commitment, loyalty. So I lumped them together under dedication.
Health seemed to be very unique, and nothing could consolidate under it, but it could not be eliminated either. I highly value health/wellness/fitness. I spend a huge chunk of everyday working towards excellent health and learning about how to be even healthier. So health stayed on the list.
Independence was another unique value… but this one didn’t seem to be very present in my current life, and that frustrated me. When I think of my ideal self, I see a strong, unique, independent woman. I thought, perhaps this is one of the values I need to bring back in order to get more satisfaction out of my life. So I kept independence.
Humor was another unique value – and one that I had ignored up until recently. It is now fully ingrained and highly valued in my current life – which naturally lifts my spirits and helps me feel content from day to day.
Then I came to the values I added myself (which proved that one of my core values was independence/uniqueness): knowledge, learning, education, and intelligence. I found that these could easily be combined into the broad value of knowledge.
Now I had to narrow down the list further… while I do highly value honesty, organization, commitment, and skillfulness, they just didn’t compare to my other values, so I crossed them out. What I was left with were my core values:
Knowledge, Health, Dedication, independence, and Humor
I looked at the values and smiled, acknowledging that they felt right for me. And know that I have a knowledge of my values (ironically reaffirming my value of knowledge), I can pursue my life with purpose. For each opportunity, I can decide whether or not it aligns with my core values.
If you are in the middle of a life-crisis (no matter where you are in your life!) I would highly encourage you to take a step back and practice this simple exercise of defining your core values. It’s not easy, but is definitely worth it.
Just keep in mind, this is not a final exercise for figuring out who you are or what life to pursue; it is one of the first steps of your journey. And you may even have to do this exercise again later in your life, as your priorities and goals shift. Life is truly a journey.
The values worksheet I used can be found at www.actmindfully.com.au