When life is hard, reconnect with your personal values
I’ve been through a bit of a tough time lately. Faced with big decisions and struggling with making the ‘right’ choices. I’ve always been a bit of a planner — I like to know what’s expected of me and I like to know what to expect. Except, of course, nothing in life is ever guaranteed (except death, taxes and an underwhelming finale to your favourite TV show. I’m looking at you Game of Thrones…).
I’ve written before about my family unit — my son spends some of the week with me and some with his dad, step mum and baby sister. Always accompanied by his canine companion, our loyal hound Indi.
The little guy is going to big school next year, which means a change in the routine we’ve had in place since he was eleven months old (eeek!). It will mean less quality time with him as he spends five days a week at school, and it means making a decision about which school he will attend, as our homes are in different catchment areas.
The inevitability of this decision and the change that is to come led me down the path of moving house. I was in full action mode — packed and ready to move from our beautiful little home in a bushy enclave in Sydney. The move was only 10km down the road, but it meant leaving behind the house I had fallen in love with, the wonderful neighbours, and the quiet country-esq life that is my little piece of Tasmania (my home state) in the big city. The house we were to move into was set to make life more convenient — less time in the car, closer to his dad, and it would have made the school decision a no-brainer. But right up to the day before we were set to move I just couldn’t shake this feeling that I was doing the “wrong” thing. For all the pros of moving and the practical wins, there was just something in my gut — in my bones — that didn’t feel right.
I tried to convince myself; tell myself it was a fresh start, a new beginning and a chance to shed the memories and hard times I’d been through while living where we were. My friends and family were right behind me, as they always are, encouraging me to go through with it. I was so committed to convincing myself I even wrote a blog about it! I pushed to the point that I ended up at the doctor suffering from a severe case of anxiety. My mum flew in from Tasmania and supported me through those hard days and long sleepless nights as I worked to recover my sense of stability. And in the end, we unpacked my boxes and re-settled into the home I had all along.
Initially, I felt entirely deflated that I cancelled the move at the eleventh hour. Like somehow my decision to stay meant I wasn’t one of those fierce, strong, entirely independent women who just get on and make sh*t happen. Beyonce I was not.
I felt weak.
But with some time and distance from the events, I’ve realised my decision wasn’t weak. To cancel the move the day before; have hard conversations with not one, but two, real estate agents; and cop the fees for a broken lease, cancelled removalists and cleaners, wasn’t the easy way out at all. At that point, when I was so far down the track, going through with the move would have been far less painful. But my gut was screaming at me — and for the first time in a long time, I listened.
I spoke to my therapist about all of this, and she encouraged me to reconnect with my personal values to find some insight into why I did what I did. To understand the sometimes hard to define, but incredibly powerful principles by which we lead our lives. When you feel like life is spinning out of control, or you just can’t put a finger on that funny feeling in your gut, you just want something or someone to give you the answer. (Well I do, anyway). When you’re in the fog of stress and anxiety it can be easy to forget about what’s most important to you and instead focus on immediate ‘threats’ — real or imagined. But if, in those moments, you know what your personal values are, you will have a compass to guide you in the “right” direction.
My therapist challenged me to consider that my decision to stay put was not necessarily evidence that I was “stuck and scared”, but perhaps it was my intuition telling me I was exactly where I needed to be. That it wasn't the right time (or place) to be moving. And importantly, to reframe in my mind that the home we were in was not necessarily tied to hard times and horrible memories from the period of my life immediately post-divorce. But in fact, it was my haven — the first place that was truly my own, and the home in which my son and I have forged so many precious memories.
It was my haven — the first place that was truly my own, and the home in which my son and I have forged so many precious memories.
So I went through the process to identify my personal values. I did a couple of different tests, and I would recommend them if you’re interested — Barrett Values Centre, Psychtests and another interesting one is a look at your personal strengths with the VIA Character Strengths Test
Reading the assessments back I found myself nodding in absolute agreement. This exercise affirmed for me why I am compelled to do certain things in certain ways. It highlighted why in some situations I feel like I’m a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition — getting nowhere fast. It also highlighted what I consider most important when making big life decisions — be it relationships, career, home life or finances.
And it showed me that while I might want to be that kick-arse, fierce, take-no-prisoners woman, when I operate from that space it doesn’t feel honest or authentic for me. It’s just not me. I’m at my best when I’m embracing my personality and strengths wholeheartedly – in my own uniquely kind, loving and humourous way. That’s who I am, and I’m going to be that person proudly from here on out.
Here is what my Values Assessment said:
- You are a person for whom meaning is important. You have a strong set of moral standards which are important in how you treat others and how you wish to be treated.
- Having close relationships and connections with others is important to you. You need to feel a sense of love and belonging. If these needs are threatened or not met you will experience anxiety about not being accepted or not being loved enough.
- It is important that you feel in harmony in all aspects of your life, with ample time to spend on your personal relationships.
- Living with a passionate and upbeat, fun-loving approach are important to you.
- Feeling that your job is safe and remaining in control of your finances provides you with comfort for the future.
- You like to feel appreciated and acknowledged for your efforts.
- Building confidence in others and wanting others to feel they can rely on you are key factors in your interactions.
And my Strengths
- Humour — Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
- Love — Valuing close relationships with others, in particular, those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
- Kindness — Doing favours and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.
- Fairness — Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
- Prudence — Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
This exercise interestingly also bought into focus a lot of the reasons I have struggled to make peace with my marriage and family breakdown. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to ‘move on’ and ‘rise above’ and ‘take the high road’ — and this is all reflective of my guiding values. However, my desire for fairness has also kept me stuck a little, as I’ve struggled to comprehend the injustice of it all.
Understanding the absolute core values that drive me and my world view has shed light on a situation I’ve struggled to understand for four years. It’s not that I’m ‘too slow’ to move on, or that I’m necessarily ‘stuck’ anywhere — it’s the fact that the events that transpired were at absolute odds with the values I hold dear about how I treat others and how I expect to be treated in return. And my natural inclination for kindness, love and second (third and twenty-fifth chances) has guided my approach to events as they have occurred — such as being in the delivery room with my son to meet his new baby sister. Relationships are one of my absolute top values, and I want my son to see that creating and nurturing connections with other people is so important.
As they say, knowledge is power. And knowing what makes me tick means I can feel empowered when making the big decisions. I know I won’t get it ‘right’ all the time, but if I stay true to my values, at least it will never feel ‘wrong’.