What is most important to you? What do you value most? Most people think they know what they value most, but few people have the self-awareness to understand the truth of the answers to these questions. People talk about their values or declare something to be very important, but truthfully most of us struggle to get a firm grip on their actual values.
In May of this year, I posted an article, The Fallacy of Balanced Living, in which I told you that despite ubiquitous coaching and guidance to lead a balanced life, that you should not pursue this. It is a lie — a destructive lie that only causes frustration and further imbalance in life. My admonition was to instead pursue an “aligned life.” An aligned life is one that intentionally orients various activities of life as expressions of what we value. I encourage you to read that article to find out more.
Aspired vs. Actual Values
What I did not address in the May article is that what most of us think of as “our values” are really our aspired values, not our actual values. In that article, I said that my values, in no particular order, are excellence, faith, family, integrity, and learning. Those are my aspired values, though. These are what I want to make most important in my life. I aspire to align my life toward these, but I do not always succeed.
So, if aspired values are those things I am striving toward, that means I am coming from somewhere different — my actual values. What are my actual values? I am no different than most of you, so I am not embarrassed to share my actual values: comfort, control, learning, making a difference, and solitude. As you can see, some actual values are good, some potentially bad, and some indifferent. A self-aware leader is able to recognize the difference between their aspired and actual values. An effective, self-aware leader is then able to make changes in life to align their resources to pursue those aspired values.
Self-awareness is an important factor in realizing the difference between aspired and actual values. As I said, most of know what we want to be important. Most of us are not good at identifying what is really important in our own lives. Chances are, you have gathered with some family and friends over the last few days. (Belated Happy Thanksgiving!) I encourage you to call or meet with two or three of the people who know you best and tell them, “I’ve been doing some self-reflecting lately and I’m not sure I always know who I am. Please be honest with me and tell me, based on observing what I really say and do, what is actually most important in my life.” Then be quiet and wait for answers. Don’t defend. Don’t explain yourself. Say, “Thank you. Tell me more.” and “That’s helpful, what else?”
If you were to map your life progress in pursuit of your aspired values, you would see a wandering path, much like a river oxbow. Sometimes you move in the right direction, but often your journey takes you in the wrong direction. That is normal. Ideally that line should straighten out over time, but most people need help doing so.
Please share your stories of aspired vs. actual values and how you align your life toward aspired values.