Last week’s blog, Find Your North Star, elicited a lot of responses and questions from my community. “How can I find out my top life values?”, was the question most asked. But I also was asked to share my top values and the impact of each in my life.
It takes time, attention and brutal honesty to uncover the two values that are true drivers of our actions at any given point in our lives. Many of us point to our “Show Values”, the ones we would like others to appreciate us for – the ones we wish to cultivate and exhibit more of. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we are cultivating a number of secondary values that may one day find themselves on our top two list. But our “Real Values” may be different altogether.
To understand our Real rather than Show Values, we must look at our actions – the day-to-day and often moment-to-momentt indicators of what matters most to us. As an example, if family is in your list of top 2, but you spend most of your time and attention on your career, then work is a top value and family is still important, but it’s secondary. This is an exquisitely nuanced exploration and I suggest you do the work with an expert in the field of self-growth and mastery.
The answer to the more personal question about my own top two life values is easy. It’s been a long time now that I’ve made Freedom and Faith my North Stars. The living definition of each has changed throughout the years, as I have. For example, for most of my life, I held a very common and run of the mill definition of “freedom”. If you could hear my mind, you would hear some version of these thoughts, “No rules for me. I don’t like structure because I want to do what I want to, when I want to. I want to keep my options open, afterall I never know what tomorrow holds. I like my life to be spontaneous.”
That’s all good and fair, but this way of thinking was getting in the way of creating the life I actually wanted – a life of purpose, meaning, and direction. My definition of freedom was causing a life that was not spontaneous, it was chaotic – not free, and enslaved by habits that limited my achievements – and certainly tomorrow did bring new challenges and opportunities, but I had no framework for what was essential and therefore a “hell yes”, and what needed to be a clear “no”.
Values are neutral. It’s up to us to recognize the ones that matter uniquely to each of us, and then cultivate that sweet spot where the value serves us rather than enslaves us. Even lofty values such as integrity, truth, and family can be taken to the kind of extreme that hurts rather than helps.
As I doubled down on my own work of self-growth through being coached by a number of the most incredible professional coaches, my definition of freedom transformed to what it stands for today. Surprisingly, it has been through doing the everyday work of creating constraints, setting boundaries, and cultivating limits – which all seem like the opposite of freedom – that I have been able to create a life that nurtures rather than exhausts me.
In my 40’s I began climbing what David Brooks calls, “The Second Mountain” of my life. This is the mountain we climb once we realize that the first mountain – the one where we did everything to create our own personal happiness – has somehow left us wanting. Increasingly, freedom from things, people, and ideas didn’t feel so good. In that kind of freedom, I was alone. In that kind of freedom, I was deeply disconnected.
The last decade of my life has been defined by a striving toward the freedom to. Slowly, I began to understand that what I deeply wanted was the freedom to live a life of meaning and purpose. The freedom to do work that has me sharing my gifts, be financially independent, enjoy time abundance, and most importantly, be inside rich and thick relationships.
David Brooks explains this kind of freedom beautifully when he writes, “ This is the freedom as fullness of capacity, and it often involves restriction and restraint.” For me, those restrictions and restraints meant voluntarily taking on the chains of deliberate professional practice, commitment to serving others wholeheartedly, showing up when I didn’t feel like it, practicing kindness when it did not come naturally, cultivating humility as a parent and a child, and so much more. All these practices, which in a past life I threw aside in the name of freedom, now are the exact practices that – with time and patience – allow me the freedom to live a rich, committed and grounded life.
The following is a list of 6 practices that continuously allow me to shift to a more profound and satisfying experience of freedom:
- Holding the ongoing tension between freedom and responsibility with a measure of grace, humor, and humility. I believe this is the most fundamental existential challenge of being human, and the sooner we integrate the two – what is me vs. what is us? – the easier it is to feel a sense of agency over our lives.
- Becoming an essentialist by cultivating the ability to identify those things that truly matter from the many unimportant distractions that vie for our time and attention.
- Learning the art of the gracious “NO!”.
- Intentionally creating constraints around every area of my life. More than limiting my choices, creating constraints is the act of intentionally minimizing my choices and committing to stay within those constraints. I apply this to everything from the clothes I wear, foods I eat, media I consume, relationships I nurture, etc. This is a practice that replaces the decision fatigue I constantly experienced, with the freedom to enjoy the person, situation or thing I have deliberately chosen.
- Understanding the true meaning of boundaries – they exist for us, not others! – and learning to hold them with love and respect equally for myself and the other.
- Shifting my mindset over time from wanting freedom from rules, expectations, and traditions to creating the opportunity for freedom to cultivate and enjoy the life conditions and experiences that are truly important and meaningful to me. Isn’t that why we yearn for freedom in the first place?
Even if only one of these practices resonates with you, be bold and experiment with it. I’d love to know your results.
P.S. I’m committed to sharing my Life Coaching skills and tools out into the world, in the hope that it can help others. If this blog resonates with you, please consider forwarding it to anyone who may benefit from it. If this was forwarded to you, subscribe here.