Aligning Actions with Values

Zeb Yesterday, my old dog, Zeb, had a bad day. He’s 16 years old and he’s had two cancer surgeries, so I know that he and I don’t have much more time left together. It makes me sad, but it also makes me realize that I need to take advantage of every moment we do have. Recently, this sentiment has been echoed by a friend whose mother is battling Alzheimer’s disease, and last night, several famous movie stars (Oscar winners) reminded us all to call those we love and tell them so – right now. It all got me thinking about what’s really important in my life.

The past year has been an exciting and tumultuous time for me, professionally, with my writing career taking off and my book coming out in a few months. The whole endeavor has been sucking up a lot of my time, and most of my mental energy, but I realized today that it’s not what is most important to me. It’s not even second most important to me. But it gets a lot of my time and attention, and I would say it’s the source of most of my worry and stress.

Then I thought about some other stuff that takes up a lot of my time and attention – email, social media, whatever I can find to stream on Netflix. And these things don’t even make it onto the list of what’s important to me, never mind about being near the top. So do I care about most? I actually had to sit down and think about it for a few minutes.

Relationships – that’s the thing that I value most. Interacting with the people I love; being a good wife, daughter, sibling, friend, neighbor; giving love and compassion and assistance to, and receiving all of those things back from, others. This is what I would not be willing to live without. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. So why do we know that and say that, but act differently? Why don’t I devote most of my time and energy to my relationships? Why are social interactions and family functions and dates with my spouse scheduled in last – around everything else? Why do I sometimes feel jealous of my time, like helping others is an infringement? In truth, I should treasure these opportunities to connect more deeply with others. The rest of my life should be penciled in after these things, right?

My health is the next most important thing to me, because without it, it’s tough or even impossible to participate fully in those relationships and to do good, important work. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eliminating needless stress and learning to manage the stress I can’t avoid – these are the things I should be spending the next biggest chunk of time on.

I would say that my career is the next most important thing, because at this point in my life, I’m doing something that helps others. Through my coaching and writing, I’m able to teach people things they didn’t know, or remind them of things they knew but forgot, and those things can enrich their lives. When I stray very far from that guiding principle, my career becomes less satisfying to me and begins to founder. I feel rudderless and wonder what it’s all for, and with good reason.

Finally, learning and self improvement are important to me. Unless I continue to grow as a person, I can’t be of much use to others. Embracing new experiences, finding the courage to try new things, and having the discipline to dedicate the time to study and practice are traits I need to nurture more.

Those are my values. Defining them was the first step, now it’s time to ensure that my day-to-day actions support them.

What are your values? And do your actions bear them out?

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