It’s a memory that is forever burned into my mind. Looking back, it may actually have been the straw that broke the camel’s back and ushered me into a period of my life during which everything changed.
In a single moment, weeks of building trust, hours of finding solutions, more conversations that stretched long into the evening convincing the client we had a way forward that would get them back in the game were undone. A split second in which every promise I had made, every reassurance I had given, became meaningless. Became empty. Became a lie. A split second, when two of my core values were shattered. A split second, in which I was shattered.
Driving back to the office, my boss’s words instructing me to direct the outcome in a totally different direction from the one I had just assured the client I would take, the anger that raged in my soul threatened to eat me whole. I pulled into the staff car park and just sat, staring. More than 200 people would lose their jobs. People would lose their houses, their pensions, their investments – everything they had toiled so hard to secure. Because of me. Right then, right there, staring at the bland, flaking paint on the car park wall, I have never hated myself so much.
In fact, this clip from the movie Changing Lanes pretty much captures what was racing through my mind in that moment
It took several months, but eventually, I threw off the self-loathing as I realised that, actually, it wasn’t because of me that things had played out as they had. I had acted in all good faith. I had followed the remit. I had found the solution. I had prepared the way forward. It was my boss who undid all of that. It was my boss who drove a cart and horses through my core values.
Maybe I should have stood up to him. Maybe I should have cried foul. Maybe there was more I could have done. It would most likely have changed nothing, but maybe I should have tried. Maybe. But I didn’t. And, a few months after I learned not to hate myself anymore, my world came apart at the seams as the tension between the world I found myself in – the lies, the deceit, the subterfuge, the self-interest – collided with the world I longed for – a world of integrity, honesty, authenticity and compassion.
What followed was two years of deconstruction and reconstruction. Two years of self-discovery. Two years of realisation and new perspectives. Two years that laid the foundation for this epic adventure – the adventure into becoming my best self – that I am still on today.
Why was that moment so pivotal? Why was it the straw that broke the camel’s back? Why did it create so much disgust and discontent deep within my soul? Simply because of this: it broke everything I held to be true – everything I counted as important. It broke my values.
Values, according to the dictionary, are “principles or standards of behaviour” or “your judgment of what’s important in life”. In other words, values are about expectations – what you expect from yourself and the other people in your life – and the things that matter to you – that you see as being important. Or put another way, things that you value. And those things that you value play a huge part in determining whether you pursue the adventure of your real life, or play out your days existing as an interpretation of the real you.
You see, living your real life – the life you were made for – involves not just knowing what your values are, but living them each and every moment: playing out every day in a way that aligns the things you do, the things you say, and the things you think with the things that truly matter to you. A life anything less than that, and the best you can hope for is an approximation of who you are meant to be, but more likely you’ll end up as a very pale shadow of the real you – an almost unrecognisable interpretation that may fit with who other people want you to be, but is a long way off who you know, deep down, you really are.
That’s what my job back then required of me – to become an almost unrecognisable interpretation of who I truly am – an interpretation that fit with who other people wanted me to be, but was a long way off who I knew, deep down, I really was. And that is why my world came apart at the seams.
So how do you discover what your values are?
Start by looking across three stages of your life (childhood, teenage years, and adulthood) at the things you loved, things you liked, things you tolerated, and things you disliked or maybe even hated. Make lists. And then look at those same things in your work life and in your leisure time.
Then focus on the things you loved. What values does each of those things reveal? Once you have looked at each thing you loved, take each of the values revealed and look for themes. Then repeat that process for the things you liked, tolerated, and disliked (or maybe even hated).
Now, armed with an idea of what truly matters to you – your values – it’s time to see how well your life lines up with them – time to figure out your Value-Activity alignment For each value you identified, ask yourself what you do that allows that value to be expressed. And how much time do you spend on those activities? What does that tell you? Which values do you need to use more? Which values do you maybe need to focus on less? And what adjustments do you need to make to line things up better?