Defining your values? Just the sound of the word values back in high school and college would put me to sleep. It sounds so clinical, prescriptive and scholastic. Why would I want to go through an exercise like that other than when I have to for some stupid assignment? Boring.
In the grand scheme of things, defining values is a topic that can seem to be a waste of time. I used to think all that stuff was a bit boring and only good to put on paper and then place on a shelf. Then I became a real adult and things got messy. Really messy. I had just graduated college, got married, moved to Wisconsin and started a new job. Suddenly there were a lot of life decisions to be made. In some ways I felt like I had freedom but in others I felt stressed out about all the options. Should we buy a house? Should we get a dog? Do we want to have kids now or later? Should I go for that promotion? What was I going to do about the freshman 50 I was still carrying around?
While this newfound freedom felt wonderful, the possibilities were endless. For several years I randomly made decisions in the moment. Most of them worked out but others were not good for me. I said yes to almost any opportunity presented because I wanted to be liked and associated liking with saying yes to people. I also found myself questioning some of the beliefs I was raised with. This was very uncomfortable because of my upbringing and my desire to fully please my parents. You know what, sometimes you must step out on your own and make a decision that may not be popular with others. And that is ok!
What I discovered somewhere around the age of 25 was that I needed a clear set of guidelines to help me make decisions about work, my marriage, kids and my health. Those guidelines are my values. Defining values is an important part of understanding what brings you happiness and meaning in life. Once you figure them out, it is easy to use them to help make decisions about what you say yes to and what you gracefully decline. If an opportunity is not in line with your values, it’s not worth doing. There are lots of “good” things that can be done but if they don’t fill up your emotional cup, you’ll be miserable doing them and feel like you have no time to focus on what really matters. Working through my top three values took time and I had several missteps along the way, but here they are:
My parents instilled a value of family from a young age. We spent time with each other and visited extended family often throughout my childhood. One of the things I really cherish as an adult is cooking for my family. I enjoy sitting down at the table together for dinner every night and at least one brunch per weekend. I prepare a home cooked meal and love hearing about each person’s day. It’s one of the ways that I show I care.
If you’ve ever read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, my love language is quality time. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it and you can find it here. Basically, I value spending time with people more than I value receiving gifts, physical touch, acts of service or words of affirmation. The way this comes to life for me is making intentional time to spend with each of my kids and with Jake. It could be anything – watching movies, hanging out in the pool, playing board games or going out for ice cream. Ice cream is my downfall and luckily my family loves it too.
I also value taking trips and getting away with my family. It’s funny, every time Jake and I start discussing a trip and the travel to and from the destination, he always says, “The kids and I can drive and you can fly and we’ll pick you up so you don’t have to miss so much work.” Ha! No. I don’t think so. I enjoy and appreciate the trip in the car just as much as the rest of the time. He thinks it’s a bore, but we make a lot of memories in transit together. I’m not missing that for the world.
Other traditions I’ve built over time with the kids include taking my son out to breakfast about once a month. He loves going out, just the two of us. It’s inexpensive and the food is simple, but that time is precious and irreplaceable. On the weekends we don’t go out for breakfast he helps me cook Sunday brunch for the whole family. Jake and my daughter like to sleep in, so this time we get together doesn’t take away from them at all.
My daughter likes to go out for afternoons on the weekends and do a little shopping or get manicures and pedicures. We usually go for lunch and it is usually poke (basically deconstructed sushi in a bowl). The boys aren’t as big of fans of poke, so again, it’s something just for us. When we go shopping, I try to be cognizant that this is time for us, not for me. I rarely buy anything for me on these trips and instead focus on her. I want her to enjoy the time and not loathe having to wait around for me to finish shopping. Recently our time has included driving practice. She currently has her learner’s permit and I decided that I’d like to teach her rather than take her to a driving school. Deep down, it was just another opportunity for quality time.
One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to find shows or movies to watch together that everyone enjoys. I grew up watching America’s Funniest Videos every Sunday night and the tradition continues with our family. We also like America’s Got Talent. It’s hard to find family friendly and kid appropriate shows on today so we hang on to the few that there are and almost never miss a week.
One of the interesting transitions for me after finishing college and moving away was defining how I was going to connect with God. Up until that point I had pretty much taken on many of the values and beliefs that my parents held. I was born and raised Catholic with my parents being very active in the church. Jake and I also were very active in the Catholic church when we first moved to Wisconsin. We were on the picnic committee, a major fundraiser for the church. I also sang in the choir and served on the stewardship committee. I met a lot of good people, many whom I still stay in contact with today. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, things got a little sideways with us and our church. This was our opinion and may not be shared by others, and that is ok. Eventually we left the church altogether. It was sad and I really struggled with the change. I still believe in God, but I’ve had to redefine my relationship with Him. In many ways, I’m closer to Him today than ever and I believe that’s because I have accepted myself and allowed myself to love Him. To this day we do not go to a church on Sunday. I do spend every Sunday morning in two traditions though. I speak to my dad on the phone and I go for a walk in nature – where I see and hear God most clearly.
During college I gained the “freshman fifteen”. It was more like the freshman fifty. Jake worked late hours and I found myself with a lot more time for myself. I decided I was going to get into shape and lose the weight. I started walking about thirty minutes per day, then I extended the time. Eventually I started jogging and could go longer each week. If anyone would have told me that I was going to enjoy exercise a year earlier, I would have said they were nuts. One of my best friends from college and I had a saying – if there is a chance of “sweattage”, we weren’t doing it! This was funny at the time, but I realized I needed to eat better and work out regularly. Over time I lost the extra fifty pounds and learned to love working out. Yes, I don’t always feel like doing it in the morning but once I make myself get started, I never regret it. This was a huge lesson for me. I can change my situation and my condition if I work on it and commit to it. It was empowering and served as a lesson to build off for many challenges in my future.
I’m sharing my values not because I think you should have the same ones. Not at all. Each of us is different and we value different things. That is what makes us unique! Take time to understand what really makes you happy. What gives you meaning? When do you feel the best? Then eliminate the things in your life that don’t bring happiness and meaning and replace them with things that will. This elimination process can be achieved through having vital conversations – watch for more blog posts on this topic. Transitioning from my childhood values given to me by my parents and into who and what I value as an adult was a key turning point in my life. It wasn’t easy and brought a lot of guilty feelings that I had to learn to let go of but once I did, I feel so much freer living my best life, regardless of what others think. Part of this maturing also means that you need to accept that not everyone will value what you do. And that is ok. There is no value in judging others. See what I did just there?? Ha!
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Until next time,