Progress on the RV continues, more about that is yet to come. But today I’d like to talk about something else, personal values. Not specific things like your dreams and goals, but the code of conduct that you hold true too. How many of your values are things that you decided were worth upholding, and how many were decided by someone else? Our values are shaped by any number of sources. Our parents had the first hand moulding them, and then as we grew older society had a bigger part of their shaping.
This is the second part of the Ingredients for a Meaningful Life series, which explores other important factors in living a happy and full life besides planning and executing big dreams. The first part, which was about maintaining a positive attitude, can be found here.
While the concept of personal values doesn’t sound as exciting as plotting out and achieving your big dreams, they still play a very important part in living a full life. No matter what great and wonderful things you have planned for your life, if these aspirations don’t line up with your personal values, there’s a good chance that you still won’t be happy at their completion.
For instance, if community is a value that means a lot to you, and you go off full-time RVing where you spend less time connecting with a dedicated group of people, it may cause you to feel unhappy even though you really wanted to be a full-time RVer. In this example, there are ways to work around the problem. Keeping in touch with old acquaintances via phone or the internet, or joining in RVing communities are both viable solutions that may or may not work for you depending exactly how strongly you feel on the subject. Hopefully though this helps to illustrate why it pays to think about your values and how they relate to your larger plans now rather than later.
If you haven’t given much thought to what you value in the past, now is the time. This exercise doesn’t take very long, and can save you a lot of headaches later. There are many sites online with example lists of values to look at. Visit one or more of these sites and see which ones call out to you, and start making a list of your own. You might be tempted to put down things that other people view as ‘good’ traits and values to have, but remember that ‘good’ is a subjective term and this should be solely about you.
By the time you get to the end, it’s quite likely that you’ll have a lengthy list of values that you agree with to varying degrees, but the next part of the process is to trim it down to the few that matter most and are really an integral part of who you are. This is where you’re going to have to do some thinking. Find a quiet place to mull it over, or sleep on it if you have too.
I ended up with seven myself, but I think five or six would be more ideal. The purpose of this exercise is to make your life a bit easier and clearer. It’s important to narrow it down because you will be using these values as a short-hand guide to help you make decisions. The fewer you have, easier they will be to remember and stay true to, and the less they might contradict each other.
One more thing to consider, you may be tempted to list values that you wish to embody, but that you currently don’t live. Is it okay to include these or not? The problem with picking values that don’t resonate with you currently is that you’re going to have a harder time using them to guide your decisions, something I’ll be getting at shortly. It’s like pretending to be somebody you’re not, and the act is hard to keep up.
On the other hand, growth is important to our well-being and happiness, and sticking entirely with things you’ve already have a good handle on stifles growth. What I did is pick five that I felt strongly about already and had a good hold on, and the other two were ones I wanted to get better at. This gave me solid ground to work on, but also room to grow.
Are you done thinking about it? Congratulations. Now that you have this short but important list of values that you truly believe in, you can use them as a compass, to make decision making an easier process. Think about these when you are presented with opportunities, if the opportunity aligns well with your values, that’s usually a pretty good sign that it’s worth exploring. Also apply them when you are thinking about making big purchases, or planning out big dreams. You will find that when you follow your values regularly, you’ll get satisfying outcomes more regularly.
It’s quite possible that your values will change overtime, and that’s fine. This is an exercise that can be revisited as often as needed as you grow. I came up with my own personal list about seven months ago now, and will likely be going back through it again before this year is out.
I think perhaps the most beautiful part of discovering and staying true to your values is that it will bring you a kind of peace and happiness that endures even when you hit a rough patch in life or it seems like achieving your dreams are far away. It’s one easy step toward improving your life that does not require a lot of money or effort. I have mine written on a piece of paper stuck to the wall beside my desk, in a place where I’ll be reminded of them daily.
So what did you end up with? I’ll spill the beans. Adventure, curiosity, imagination, creativity, compassion, integrity, and spirituality are my seven, and I aim to make them an integral part of my life every day.