I’ve been going back to basics. In an effort to re-center and find some balance, one of the exercises I’ve been working through is making a list of my values.
I’m slowly starting to distinguish between values and goals, but sometimes it can be hard to remember what my long-range motivators really are; at the end of the day, what matters to me? Not “What do I wish I valued?” but – honestly – what guides me in my interactions with others, my contributions to society, and my own personal development?
I already had a vague mental sketch of my values but, somehow, committing them to a piece of paper seemed daunting.
I ruminated on this project for a few weeks, finding it hard to tune out all the voices in my head telling me what I should value. Then, blessedly, my parents kept the kiddos for a few hours so John and I could enjoy a belated anniversary supper. I mentioned my values exercise on the drive home, along with my struggle to isolate them; without missing a beat John said “Well, you value time alone.”
I DO value time alone, but it had never once crossed my mind to articulate it as a value. Perish the thought! My constant desire for time alone is inherently selfish, right? Values are supposed to be altruistic: things like compassion, empathy, love, honesty. But suppose I flip the recipient; time alone is how I show myself compassion, empathy, love, and honesty. It’s the way I recharge (frantically waving my introvert hand over here) and it provides me breathing room to be creative, achieve “flow” and is absolutely essential for putting me in a place to better love – and show compassion, empathy and interact honestly with – those around me.
The next morning I wrote down a list of values in stream-of-consciousness that I’ve been tweaking over the last week. Instead of the broad generalizations I had been working with, I now have fewer, more specific, values to filter my decision-making through.
SO What do I value?
- time alone (this is HUGE for me)
- one-on-one time with people I love (date nights with John, bedtime snuggles with the kids, long walks with friends)
- spiritual growth
- cultural experiences (travel, adventure, fine arts)
- time spent reading
- my role as memory keeper for our family (creating photobooks, taking lots of pictures; establishing and maintaining traditions)
- expressing myself creatively through writing
- healthy eating, exercise (feeling good about how I care for my body)
- comfort, calm and a sense of warmth – physically (warm feet, hot showers, soothing tea) and aesthetically (soft colours, cozy minimalism).
- connecting with seniors
Then, as a fun (but related) tangent, I started writing down things I truly enjoy doing. Just like values, the range of things we enjoy is limitless. It never ceases to amaze me how one person’s hobby can be another person’s nightmare (e.g. home renovation projects feel like they’re currently shaving years off my life; on the flip side, an acquaintance of mine keeps emailing, asking how our projects are going, and bemoaning the fact that her years-long reno projects are completed).
What Do I enjoy?
- Anything behind-the-scenes; documentaries, extra footage from the making of movies, biographies, interviews.
- Most cooking shows; The Great British Baking Show is like 55 minutes of free therapy.
- White noise; music, the sound of crashing waves, cicadas in the summer, my white noise machines. And, for the record, noise-cancelling headphones make everything in life seem better.
- Writing cheques. I absolutely love writing cheques.
- Warm feet.
- Clearing clutter; straightening books, passing along outgrown/unneeded items to an appropriate recipient, rearranging my sock drawer, reorganizing the fridge. I find it deeply theraputic.
- Looking up books on Goodreads; I especially enjoy searching for a book I loved and then pouring over all the subsequently recommended books.
- Ordering books from the library, especially kids picture books (after consulting online book lists/reviews and scouring the new releases – a process I also find deeply relaxing).
- Date nights with my husband.
- The smell of freshly cut grass.
- Listening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Coldplay’s Everything’s Not Lost
- Good food; homemade oat waffles piled high with fruit and peanut butter, sushi, pink grapefruit sparkling water, roasted sweet potato.
- Driving by myself and playing the radio really, really loud.
- Texting photos to my family.
- Cleaning the house alone (even the bathrooms).
- Reading quotes, collecting quotes, and re-reading the quotes I’ve collected.
- Catching a glimpse of Blomidon in the distance as we drive home through the Annapolis Valley.
- Sitting by the kids as they sleep, sometimes snuggling in beside them; watching, listening and just enjoying the peaceful scene.
There are lots of patterns here; time alone, calm, reading. Thankfully lots of the things I enjoy pair up with my values. The key is prioritizing these activities over, say, doom-scrolling the latest news headlines. I can also look for ways to make otherwise unpleasant tasks more palatable (I hate ironing, but maybe if I blasted Coldplay really, really loud it would be more tolerable?).
I’m repeating myself, but just can’t help it – this quote is so good (and, see above, I really love quotes).
As the title character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland ponders the decisions she’s been confronted with she asks the Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Time is finite and I want to spend it well – on things that are truly meaningful to me – quirky or selfish or boring as they may seem.
After all, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.