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Walking Our Why


March 30, 2033

The following is from Susan David's most recent newsletter. As I read it, I remembered other writings by her on this topic where I felt she had done a Vulcan mind meld on me and discovered my inner most thoughts.


I have not always had a strong link between my values and my actions. In fact, I'm not sure I've had a strong understanding of my values. For me, my values have been a garbled mess in my mind of concepts, beliefs and behaviors that I think are important to me. But ask me to write them down and prioritize them and I stumble.

In my 30s and 40s (earlier and later, too?), in hindsight, I believe I thought I was living in accordance with my mess of values but too often I did not explicitly use my values to inform my actions and decisions. I struggled with the pursuit of professional accolades and success at what cost to my family and personal well being. Because I don't think I used my values to solve that struggle, I did a half-ass job at both my job and my life outside of work.

Perhaps I am overstating the role my values could have played in my life. Perhaps my struggle is just part of life. But I have noticed in the past few years since I took an explicit inventory of my values that I am happier and make decisions explicitly consistent with my values (at least a good deal of the time).

Blah. I'm not doing a good job here of articulating my thoughts. They are clear in my mind but I'm not translating them into these written words as well as I wish I could.

One of my deepest regrets is that I didn't express my love in ways that there was never a question as to the endless depth of it. Lesson to self -- do everything in your power to demonstrate all the time to your partner the infinite bounds of your love for them. Don't assume they know how much you love them. And never, ever assume they can read your mind!! Love is an ACTIVE VERB.

I found the following questionnaire very useful in helping me to identify my values -- and the rank order of them. For me, it was important to understand the priority I have for each.

Probably time for me to take the questionnaire again and see if my values and their priority has changed. I'd like to think they haven't but thinking they haven't and explicitly seeing they haven't are two way different things.

I guess this is what vulnerability is. I'm exhausted from having written this post!

From Susan David:

Do you ever feel like you’re drifting through life like a leaf on the wind? Most of us have felt this way at one point or another. ​Every day, the world presses us to make decisions that aren’t our own.Perhaps we see our friends splurging on pricey ski vacations and feel compelled to keep up. Maybe we watch our colleagues put their personal lives on the back-burner to stay at work well past dinnertime, and we conclude that this is just what successful people do.

Without much consideration on our part, society’s gusts and breezes can take us far from where we ever intended to land.

All too often, such listlessness is clear only in retrospect. We look back to see that we’ve spent the last five, fifteen, even fifty years chasing dreams that never belonged to us. It doesn’t have to be this way. ​Instead, you can choose to walk your why.

Walking your why is the process of moving toward your values. I know that talk of “values” can seem abstract or even strike a judgmental tone. It’s not my goal to impose a particular set of values on you. Rather, I’m asking you to consider what it is that you value. Career success? Creativity? Close relationships? Honesty? Altruism? Adventure?

These things matter to different people in different degrees. No value is universal, but one thing they all share is that they are something you can use. Values aren’t theoretical; they help to orient you toward the life you want to live and to put one foot ahead of the other as you move toward that life.

I encourage you to take a few moments to identify the values that mean the most to you. Here are a few questions to get you started:

Deep down, what matters to you?

What relationships do you want to build?

What do you want your life to be about?

How do you feel most of the time?

What kinds of situations make you feel most vital?

If a miracle occurred and all the anxiety and stress in your life were suddenly gone, what would your life look like, and what new things would you pursue?

There are no right or wrong answers here. In fact, the point is to quit asking yourself what anyone (me included!) thinks is proper and to focus on what you feel deep in the core of your being.

Once you’ve identified your values, it becomes easier to live them. You can start to look for choice points, those forks in the road that give you an opportunity to walk your why. If you’ve realized that you value personal intimacy, perhaps tonight you’ll ask your partner to have dinner at the kitchen table instead of in front of the TV so that you can really focus on one another. If you value a healthy lifestyle, then maybe you’ll bring yogurt with your lunch tomorrow rather than slipping out to that burger joint down the block.

Whatever it is that matters to you, the key takeaway is that values are not just intellectual commitments separate from our day-to-day lives. They are meant to be enacted, woven into the fabric of our actions and our habits. 

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