Do you need ‘values’ to have a fulfilling life?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably taken enough online tests over the years to have a fairly good idea of what your top scoring values are.

You might even have upended and reorganised your entire life around them so that you can live in alignment with the blasted things.

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

What are your top values?

Maybe it’s things like connection, or honesty, or integrity.

Maybe you’re governed by purpose, by a set of behaviours, traits or principles which define you, guide you, and motivate you and everything you do.

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be said for not having values —there is merit in the old adage ‘ignorance is bliss.’

Values sound fan-freaking-tastic on paper — in personality profiling questionnaires, job interviews, and describing your customer avatar.

But there is a huge difference between the values we say we hold, and the values which we actually hold.

I think this is where the secret to fulfilment lies.

Real value aren’t aspirational.

They describe you right now.

Values define who we are and what we do, when (and here’s the important bit) no one is watching.

Because when no one can see the choices we make or the things we do — what are our values then?

This is our truth. And truth is not aspirational. It is just, well, truth.

We are but human — we all want to be thought of as good people, but what do we do behind closed doors, when we log off from social media?

Must values guide us 24/7?

Or is it possible to opt in and out of them?

How many of us actually get by on smoothie bowls and celery juice anyway?

And even if we can live 10% of the time by our values, at what point do our bad habits kick in?

How much grief do we give ourselves over it?

Words are beautiful.

Deeds are divine.

Even if we do have a good grip on who we want to be and what our core values are, the issue in today’s world, on top of all of its myriad pressures — is it even possible to live by them?

Do the pressures of modern life mean that our values get compromised? Is this the greatest source of our dis-ease?

While they can be nice sounding, life-affirming buzzwords — can values really guide you to your “true north,” and contribute to a sense of fulfilment?

Having a strong set of values can create a framework within which to navigate any change you want to make in a way that’s smoother, more seamless.

Having a strong set of values can support you to cultivate a lifestyle that you want to be live.

Being values-led is said to make life, work, leadership, everything, just that bit more fulfilling.

But depending on what your values are, of course, that is easier said than done.

We live in a world where we are constantly asked to go against our personal values for economic gain — maybe for a job, or maybe to snag a bargain.

We may even feel pressured to sacrifice our values just to survive.

Having been down there in survival mode, I would argue that, practically speaking, survival is a higher priority than a living a ‘values-driven life.’

Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

When operating in survival mode, values can seem like a luxury, something you do at the weekend — or just something to work towards someday.

This is the difference between would-be values, and your actual values. Or the difference between who you want to be, and who you are.

The bigger the gap, the more painful the rub.

But how can you bring them closer together?

  • The cost of living spirals higher and higher.
  • The pressure to achieve, to accomplish, to succeed is all around us — it is sold to us, it is expected of us.

Indeed, our addictions and consumerism are almost out of control as we compulsively try to maintain any kind of illusion of our perfectly curated lives.

But even if we did get ‘there’— are we guaranteed fulfilment?

Or is it a false summit — do our aspirations and our appetites for consumerism grow with us, so that we are eternally chasing happiness, never to actually find it?

A few years into my career, I felt I had been sold something of a false dream.

I found myself working so hard to pay my bills so that I could live my life, and there wasn’t much left over — money, time or energy — to go out and live my values in between.

I was stuck in a trap of survival, the rat race.

It was in exactly this context that I made it my goal to get out of survival mode. I’d had enough of the compromise, so much so that I quit my salaried job to work for myself to build a lifestyle which would allow me to function, to thrive, at a higher, values-led level.

I am still figuring out what that looks like, and which values are my priority. Instagram makes me want them all, but that’s a thankless task.

So it’s time to niche down on which values I actually need to feel that sense of fulfilment.

And it’s probably less than I realise.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Of course, some values carry significant commercial value.

Veganism, for example, is a popular one — and it is also booming business, even if, ethically, the issues are hugely complicated.

Instagram, much like our millennials, value the aesthetics over the nuance.

If it looks good, we’ll take it.

We’ll profess it. We’ll advocate it.

We’ll keep it up, even if we’re broke and breaking on the inside.

Playing on people’s vanity and lifestyle goals leaves a great deal of scope for commercial exploitation.

  • Do you need to be vegan to be happy?
  • Do you need to function at maximum personal effectiveness to be a good person?
  • Do you need to meditate every day to be fulfilled?
  • Will nailing certain yoga poses make you happy?
  • Must you replace all plastic items in your household with an ethical, preferably homemade, alternative?

The answer is no.

Of course it’s no.

The real answer to fulfilment — the much trickier answer — is that you just need to be yourself.

As Dolly Parton says so beautifully, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Admittedly, in this highly curated world we inhabit, doing this is not necessarily the easiest choice to make.

It’s not always the popular values, or hashtags.

It might not have all the followers.

But it’s not about talking the talk.

It’s about walking the walk.

When these match up — boom.

That’s bona fide fulfilment.

But if they don’t match up, our values become just another buzz word — a lifestyle fad, a judgment at one end, and meaningless, corporate psychobabble on the other.

Like empowerment. And alignment.

Puh-lease. Eye-roll. What do they even mean anymore.

If you have a massive gaping gulf between your #RealLife, and your real real life, chances are you aren’t on the path to feeling fulfilled.

Now . . . I’m not saying people need to see your truth, your whole messy tear stained truth, and nothing but your ugly crying truth. . .

This isn’t about airing your dirty laundry.

It’s about owning exactly who you are.

Your true values are the ones that you do when no one is watching. They form the basis of who you are — and if you’re saying one thing and doing other, you are painfully misaligned.

Cue the burnout, adrenal fatigue, lack of motivation and however else your “misalignment” ‘manifests’.

As an example, one of my core values is honesty.

Now. Between you and me, I really wish it wasn’t.

(Life would be so much simpler).

Because I’m also a lifelong people pleaser — and you should know, people pleasers are liars.

So when I started to really own honesty and truth-telling, I had to decide whether I wanted to continue lying to others about my true desires, my feelings or my priorities; or lie to myself.

It wasn’t a simple choice. Values are not simple. They can be gnarly, they can conflict, there are nuances.

Facing up to that in myself, and all the nuances within me, was HARD.

These days we have come to expect things to be black and white and simple, but we live in the times of sloganeering.

Humans, values, life — it’s all complex, nuanced, a million shades of grey.

We cannot be reduced down into neat slogans.

Values are the same.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Does living by your values mean giving up life as you know it, for the mystical goal of fulfilment, or can you have both?

Can you have your values cake and eat it?

I do believe so.

What I wanted for my life was to find a way where I had space and time — the freedom — to live by my values of freedom, truth and courage.

It’s a great privilege, but mainly a great relief, to have created exactly that.

A tiny part of me still believed that retirement was what we were all living for — and I’m glad to have bust that myth for myself.

My life had become increasingly unsatisfying, and that un-fulfilment was grating on me like truth-salts rubbed in a wound.

Tweaking aspects of my life in order to live more in line with my values has certainly helped.

But the biggest help of all was being honest about which values were mine, and which were being sold to me.

Living by other people’s value for sure will not fulfil you.

But identifying which are yours, and living by them, surely will.

Founder, feminist, entrepreneur, coffee + self care

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