In this article I discuss core values and how they are vital to establishing a clear sense of identity, making decision making easier and helping us to enjoy a greater quality of life.
Let’s introduce ourselves: Hi, I’m Vicki. I’m married, I’m a stay at home mum, a sister, a daughter, a neighbour, a friend. Tell me about yourself. How’s life treating you?
I bet you start telling me about your job, your relationship status, where you live, your kids and so on. It’s the go-to conversational opener because it’s easy, it’s factual and there’s little risk or vulnerability. Yet none of these things reveal who you really are. Let’s start again: tell me what fires your heart; what hill you would be prepared to die on, what you must do or have to feel that life has meaning. Me? I’m a writer, a creator, a dreamer, a communicator, an educator, a comforter, an encourager, a listener. I need to connect in meaningful relationships with like-minded souls and share experiences so I can learn and then share what I learn with others. I believe in justice, fairness and kindness although I can be selfish, lazy and entitled. I get bored easily, I have a quick temper, I fear rejection and loneliness. All this is me, in all my glory and flawed humanity.
Friend, I know myself, and as a result I am happy and at peace with myself and the life I have. I also have a strong and clear vision for the future. I believe that when you know yourself it becomes easier to love yourself and identify what you need to do to give yourself a satisfying, fulfilling and happy life. Five years ago I had not yet learned this and I was living a very different life. I was arguing with everyone about everything! I was stressed, angry, and burst into tears frequently. I felt squeezed into the role of a stay-at-home mother caring for a young child with special needs – a stressful and demanding role with no time off and little appreciation. I had no physical or mental energy for writing or even thinking beyond the next chore or demand being made of me; over time the creative spark within me died and, with it, my joy. I tried to socialise but the few friends I had were busy and their lives got in the way whenever I tried to arrange dates, so I sunk into resentful isolation. Things went from bad to very, very bad. Let’s just say I had no quality of life and get back to talking about you….
If you’re struggling to find the joy, might I suggest that perhaps you’re neglecting some part of you, as I was? If this is the case, how do you work out what it is? A great way to start is to list everything that is important to you, ie your core values. I recently did a review of my values and my current list consists of:
These are what I need and value in life, to various degrees. Rank your values in importance; I would suggest that the top five are the ones that drive your decision making, even if it’s subconsciously. This is what you really want and who you are trying to be, underneath your roles and relationships. The nearer to fulfilling these values you come, the closer you are to being authentic to your identity. If you’re feeling dissatisfied with some part of your life, the clue will very probably lie in any rift between your values and your lifestyle, just as it did with mine. I wasn’t connecting with anyone socially and I wasn’t using my creative skills, and that isolation and disconnection from my creative self was killing my spirit. So, if you’re not satisfied with your life or who you are right now, what part of you are you not honouring or expressing? What role or relationship have you become lost within? What value are you neglecting?
Being clear about your identity is vital when life decides to throw you the odd curve ball. Maybe you fall ill with a long-term condition, or you lose your job, or a relationship ends. It’s easy to find your self-image bruised and if it’s a big change to your circumstances you could find your sense of identity being challenged. Isn’t it the case that when we grieve a relationship we’re partly grieving the person we were in that relationship? And when we celebrate the end of a relationship, we’re celebrating leaving behind the person we had become that we didn’t enjoy being? In Philosophy For Life, Mel Thompson writes, “Relationships establish a sense of identity, and the closer the relationship, the more significant will be its influence on the sense of self.” Work, school, family, friendships: these relationships play their part in who we see ourselves to be and when these circumstances change, we have to incorporate that change into our self-image. There’s a crucial difference, though, between self-image and identity: self-image is how you perceive yourself, identity is who you are. It can be the case that there is quite a rift between the two. My self-image was terrible; I saw myself as an ungrateful, selfish, angry, unpleasant person who couldn’t get along with anyone and I was making knee-jerk decisions based on how I saw myself rather than in connection with who I really was and what was important to me. By identifying your core values you can ensure that the actions you take honour who you are and you can start to shift any false image you have created of yourself over time. You can make decisions, set goals and follow a life vision, regardless of obstacles, challenges, fears and self-doubt.
Hang on a minute, you may be thinking. Isn’t the point of personal growth …. growth? And doesn’t growth mean change? Does that mean our identity changes? Yes! Indeed it does. It’s an inevitable part of life that the experiences we have will change us as we come to new understandings, form new beliefs, attain new insights into ourselves and those around us. We may find that the values we prioritise change or that we adopt new values and let go of others. Keep reviewing your values as your circumstances change and those all-important decisions will be easier to make and will feel “right”. I believe the key to enjoying a higher quality of life satisfaction is knowing yourself, loving yourself and living life in alignment with your values, what Abraham Maslow called “self actualisation“.
You may be thinking “it’s all very well knowing myself but what if my circumstances won’t let me take action? What use core values then?” In the next article I’ll discuss self-image and limiting beliefs, the roadblocks to self actualisation.
Until then, why not identify you core values and have some fun getting to know yourself a bit better?
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