Have you ever found yourself stuck in a job, a series of meetings, or situation that seemed pointless?
Most of us have, at one time or another. And it’s likely to happen again. The question is, what can we do about it?
We might choose to simply survive the experience; find ways to cope with the boredom or deal with the nonsense and drama that’s playing out.
But, there is another option . . . one we explore in our book Thriving in Business and LIfe. It's an approach that puts us back in control of our experience and increases the odds that our quality of life during such episodes will significantly improve.
Hard to believe? That’s okay. We understand. But here’s what our own experience and that of our clients has shown us.
When we find ourselves seemingly stuck in mundane moments, it is very often because there doesn’t appear to be room for us to meaningfully express what we are truly passionate about; to live our values, one might say. As we coach others or examine moments in own experience, we realize that this type of story plays out because we’ve accepted a common myth—one that tells us that external circumstances determine whether or not we can actively live out our values.
To explore this dilemma more fully and propose a possible solution, let’s first take a look at what we mean by the term “values.”
We’ve learned that when we ask clients to list their values, most people tend to list qualities like: Freedom, Family, Service, Excellence, Responsibility, etc. Those are all admirable, but all too often such values remain conceptual ideals, or judgments about behavior. In other words, they are intellectual or aspirational, rather than actionable.
Values that function as merely behavioral standards or high-minded ideals can produce either wishful thinking or guilt due to not measuring up to a certain standard we’ve established. But remember, no one likes to be “should upon,” even by themselves.
So, we’ve learned to approach values from a different perspective.
We explore this topic with clients by asking them what qualities, characteristics, and experiences light them up?
So, how about you? What are you doing when you feel most alive? What values are you expressing when you are at your thriving best?
In their book, The Art and Science of Valuing, authors JoAnne Dahl, Tobias Lundgren, Jennifer Plumb, Ian Stewart wrote that “The purpose of helping people find their core values is to help them identify a direction to move in.”
They point out that values can act like a compass to help us navigate our lives. But they have to be our values, not someone else’s. How do we distinguish between values that are ours vs. those we’ve borrowed or adopted from others?
It’s very common to borrow values from our families, social settings, or our religious or spiritual affiliations. Such behavioral standards are usually laudable and well-meaning but, in most cases, these types of values didn’t start out as externally imposed standards. They originated with someone else who owned them, lived them, used them to fully inhabit their own deep sense of thriving.
Those values worked for them because they were genuinely their values. But, when we borrow them, they become generalized values, devoid of personal meaning for us.
So, to shift from borrowed to authentic personal values, contemplate for a moment: What activities and qualities do you experience or engage in that truly light you up? What are you doing when you feel most vital and alive?
Now, here’s where a quantum leap can take place: We are the only ones preventing ourselves from living out our values more fully and regularly.
Let’s say that one of your values is curiosity, creativity, or collaboration. Now let’s envision a meeting you’re about to attend that in the past has seemed boring, useless or time consuming. If you continue to play out that story, you can pretty much guarantee that the meeting will be a boring waste of time.
However, if you decide to infuse one of your authentic personal values—let’s say curiosity—into the meeting, you can begin to act out a completely different story. You can start to listen with different intent. You’ll ask open-ended questions to understand someone’s thinking or recommendations. You’ll listen for topics you want to follow up on after the meeting. You can genuinely be someone who is passionately curious.
The bottom line? We are the ones who determine whether we infuse any of our deeper values into our experiences or not. If we decide to do so, we can change the entire nature of our experience.
It’s up to us.
Now, let's also be realistic. If you find yourself in a situation that is truly unhealthy, it is time to weigh the cost on you and others. Perhaps, with the right type of help, you can find a safe way to extract yourself and move into a circumstance that does allow you to flourish—to fully express the authentic values that make you, you!
We all create stories . . . all of the time. And, as we've shared in other posts, those stories are often infected with biases and the limitations of our past experiences. It's all too easy to get stuck in those kind of repetitive patterns. We get it . . . because it happens to us too.
But we can also create new stories, infused with the kind of values that truly light us up.
That seems to be a better option than continuing to suffer through yet another boring meeting or life-sucking situation.
It’s your call . . . and ours, as well.
So, if you’re up for infusing some of your values into a routine meeting or other challenging situation, partner up with a friend for some healthy peer support, and then trying using these questions as a guide. It’s all part of this week’s Thriving Challenge (and we're taking it on as well):
Identify some of your most important personal values. Now, consider your activities
during an average week. Are you living your values in those activities?
Adjust what you do to reflect more accurately what you believe.
Live your professed values.
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding