One summer I went on a river rafting vacation through the Grand Canyon. It was a week long trip rafting on the Colorado River and camping out surrounded by the ancient rock that is the Grand Canyon. You can get your perspective tweaked a little on one of these trips…
When vacation was over, I returned to my job selling used cars at a dealership in Tucson, Arizona. When I arrived for work it was already over 100 degrees. As I looked out over the lot, heat waves shimmered and the sun’s reflection off the top of the cars was literally blinding.
My mind went back to one morning in the canyon when I awoke before dawn. A thin sliver of moon was being kept company by a single star, probably a planet. All was silent save for the sound of the river flowing.
“You’re up Ted”, one of the salesmen said, shaking me out of my day dream. It was my turn to help a prospective car buyer.
I just stood there. “Go get ’em!” the salesman said. I stood looking out over the field of metal and asphalt. “You can have it” I replied. I turned around, went straight to the managers office, and quit.
It was not a smart thing to do. I hadn’t worked for almost two weeks while I was in the canyon. My wallet was thin and hungry. But I just knew that I could not spend another day at that job.
It wasn’t that I hated it, and it wasn’t that I was bad at it. It was just that there was a voice inside of me that had been getting louder and louder and it was saying: “This is not you.”
The same thing happened when I tried selling life insurance. I ignored the voice all the way up to getting my license. Finally I had to admit “this is not me.”Let me be clear: I’ve got nothing against selling cars or insurance. It just wasn’t me, and something was not right.
I changed jobs often when I was younger. I was constantly beating myself up, wondering why I could not get it together, and seeing myself as a failure. But it’s easy to quit a job if you’re single with no expenses…
One day in the late 90’s I sat down and wrote a list. It was a list of my values. It was a list not of what I wanted, but who I wanted to be. This is some of what I wrote:
- I want to be honest in all personal and professional relationships.
- I want to be of service to people with my unique contribution.
- I want to live my life with purpose and live it consciously.
- I want to value my health, integrity and close relationships over acquiring more “stuff.”
- I want to have relationships with and be surrounded by people that are positive, happy and loving.
- I want the primary purpose of my life to be always learning how to be happy, positive and loving.
A lot of what I wrote I didn’t understand. I had read it in books and it sounded good to me. But from that point on, I tried to measure my jobs, relationships and activities by what I had written. I was not always successful in adhering to my values, but I was clear when I was not.
In 2003, I enrolled in hypnotherapy college. I spent 5 minutes thinking about it. I knew it was me, and I knew it was in line with my value of helping people. In 2005, with a child on the way and not much in the way of savings, I turned in a letter of resignation at my last job working for someone else to do hypnotherapy full time. My brother told me “You’ve got a lot of b***s to do that with a kid on the way.”
But it wasn’t that. It was that I had come to a clear idea of what I stood for and had finally found a path that supported that; a path with a heart.
So here we are in the third week of 2013. You may have written down goals or resolutions or not. To move our lives in the direction we want to go, goals are helpful. But I think an even better place to start is to be clear about what you stand for.
Let me ask you:
- Are you clear about what you stand for?
- Can you articulate your values?
- What is your highest value?
- Is there a nagging voice in your head telling you that you are not in alignment with what you feel is right for you?
- Are you involved with institutions or organizations whose values don’t align with yours?
- Can you be honest with yourself about what you would like to do differently?
- Do you have a sense of purpose?
- Are you willing to go courageously down the path that is right for you?
It’s easy to be pulled off course by the fog of societal hypnosis and the transitory winds of our culture’s dominant values (which often differ from it’s stated values.) Are you a leaf in the gale or are you firmly rooted in what you know is right and true for you?
I’m sorry that I can’t offer you tips about how to live in alignment with your values or even how to be clear about what they are. I know that it takes honesty, and courage and an ongoing effort. These days the conversation about values seems to have been co-opted by politicians and divided into right or left or blue or red. There is little real discussion about values in the mainstream media.
My only suggestion is to listen to your own voice and be willing to be challenged by it. It takes courage to find your true, authentic self, but I believe it’s worth the search because your values are the roots that anchor you in a life of purpose. Good luck.