The other day I was leafing through some of my old workshop materials in preparation for my October seminar and I found a “Values” exercise. You might have done one of these before, where you look through a list of words like “Peace, Success, Wisdom, Integrity, Wealth, Time, Fame, Justice” etc etc. and you’re supposed to whittle them down to your top five values (here’s an example or this one). These top five values should then help give you direction in your big decisions. You’re supposed to remember them well enough to live your life intentionally aligned with them.
I look at it now and I think this exercise is flawed. It’s all well and good to think about what we value . . . but I think most of the time, we’ll end up choosing the words we simply like best (hey, these all sound good!). Of course most of these things we want to value. Maybe there’s no harm in that. Maybe it works as a list of values you aspire to.
To get a more accurate assessment of our top five values I think we need to be a little more realistic. My guess would be that if you briefly outlined where you spent your time every day for a week, you would see your top five values quite clearly. If not, maybe your spouse, roommate, sibling or parent could help you out.
I’m guessing this second list based on how we spend our time won’t be quite as noble-sounding as the first list but it will probably be a better starting place for understanding who we are.
For example, if you spend every evening watching shows and are always excited about finding a new series to watch, you value entertainment and relaxation. Which is great. I definitely value those things. I just think they wouldn’t necessarily show up if you asked me to pick my top five values out of a list. I don’t see myself as someone who sits in front of the TV every evening but the reality is that I do spend an hour most nights watching something.
Now, if you spend 80 hours a week at a job you hate, you might be thinking your time doesn’t really show what you value. Maybe not, but maybe it does. Maybe you simply value security or approval from your superiors more than you realize. Change is hard. Risk is well . . . very risky! Maybe you value loyalty so highly, it makes it hard for you to leave no matter how toxic the situation. If it’s paying you more than you could make in a job you would enjoy, maybe you’re staying because you value money or status more than you think.
So here’s an idea for a twist on this exercise: Do the first one where you pick them out of a list. Then spend a few days observing your daily schedule. Make the second list based on what your use of time says you value. Then compare them. Even better, compare them with someone who knows you well and can give you perspective.
- Do they align?
- Where are the discrepancies?
- Are there steps you can take to move your second list into agreement with your first?
- Is that even necessary?
Let me know what you discover! I’ll test it out myself over the next few days and let you know in the comments what I come up with.