Choosing to value who I am, not how I feel

“What are your values?” I thought I knew. But it turns out I’ve been wrong for my entire life. I just needed to shift my perspective.

Waaaaaaay back in my past life as a headologist, in the wilds of 2013, I was doing some business planning. But not your usual, make-a-speadsheet-and-color-coded-calendar kind of business planning. This was deep stuff.

What do you most want to FEEL in your business?

I’d never considered that before, even in terms of my personal life–everything was framed as how I didn’t want to feel. The question sparked my curiosity, and I spent the next hour searching my soul and abusing the thesaurus.

I finally came up with four core desired feelings: affluent, sovereign, dynamic, tapped-in.

Mixed media artwork of my 4 core desired feelings for business

These words felt perfect. They reflected not just the limited scope of my business, but how I wanted to feel in my life as a whole. I breathed them in, letting their promise wash over me, seep into my blood, and become reality.

Except I never did get there.

I shuttered the business not long after, disillusioned by how tiny and helpless I felt in the face of trying to “make it” as a solopreneur.

Flash forward to last week.

I’m surrounded by a couple dozen of my nearest and dearest at a women’s workshop about dreams. The kind you set aside to go to school, to start a career, to change cities, to take care of the kids–because life happens and you discount your dreams as less-than compared to everything else. The kind of dreams that break your heart.

“We’re going to discover our core values,” the presenter says as volunteers hand around a list of 100 words. “Knowing what you value will tell you who you truly are. And when you know who you are, those stalled dreams can start moving.”

Inwardly, I roll my eyes. I’ve beaten this particular bush many times since that first go-round and not much ever comes out of it. Whatever I end up with seems to crumble too fast or change too often for me to build a real dream on. But I’m here and determined to stay open, so I play along.

We get two minutes to read through the list and circle the ten words that leap out at us right away, the ones that we think most strongly represent us.

Doing my best to dig deep and be honest, I choose accomplishment, connectedness, creativity, curiosity, ease, joy, orderliness, spirituality, truth, and understanding.

But the next step makes me realize this isn’t my mama’s values-finding exercise.

“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your top three core values. The ones that represent your truest self.

“You have thirty seconds. Go!”

My brain leaps into panic mode. How am I supposed figure out my truest self in half a minute?! There are so many things to consider!

“Ten seconds!”

I tell my brain to stuff it, close my eyes, take a breath, and ask. The answer comes without dissection, without debate–without my help at all.

Connection. Joy. Truth.

This time, there’s no surge of power, no tingling sensation. Just a quiet sense of yes. Tears sting my eyes as I recognize myself on the page.

As people read out their three core values, shouts of “that’s so you!” ring from all corners of the room.

The presenter quiets us down, though the excitement is still rising. “These values are who you are, the core of who you are created to be. If you think back, you’ll see that whenever you’ve felt most alive, most yourself, you were operating out of these three values. Make them your guide as you unfold the dreams in your heart, and you will be amazed at what happens.”

My completed worksheet for finding my 3 core values

It took me a few days to figure out why my core desired feelings from 2014 are so dramatically different from the values I chose in that exercise.

It isn’t that I don’t want to feel affluent, sovereign, dynamic, and tapped-in. I do. Everyone does.

The problem is that when I’ve outlined my values in the past, my focus was on what I want to feel. Projecting desires into the future for what I thought would light me up, fulfill me, save me. I was focusing on something that didn’t exist and trying to manifest it into being.

This time, I let myself be shown what’s actually in the core of my being. The truth of who I am, the essence of myself–that which already exists and has for my entire life.

Who I wanted to be versus who I am.

What makes this such a huge freaking deal is that, now, rather than grasping at what isn’t and striving to make it so, I can simply stand on what is. Each choice, each interaction, each feeling and thought, each relationship, each project can now be built on a solid foundation that’s uniquely keyed to my spirit.

Even better: It gives me an incredible inner compass.

Whenever I’m uneasy or uncertain, all I have to do is take a step back and ask, “Does this serve my true values? Where is the connection, joy, and/or truth in this?” If it matches up, great! Then I’m in alignment. If it doesn’t, it’s got to go. I’ve spent too much time, energy, and life chasing the wrong things. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I walked away from that workshop feeling empowered in a way I’ve never experienced before–confidently peaceful rather than antsy to start something. It’s the difference between trust and fear.

And that is where dreams thrive.

If you want to do this value-finding exercise, too, here’s a worksheet. Take the test, then report back!

What are your three core values?
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