(3.5 min read) We all get lost from time to time. That’s part of being human.
Sometimes life throws you unexpected curve balls, but sometimes you make a series of conscious decisions that, without you even realizing it at the time, end up throwing you so far off course that you wake up with the sudden realization, one day, that you hardly even recognize yourself anymore.
It usually happens gradually, with a series of small decisions that you can justify because, well, you’re not steering that far off-course, and there’s certainly a good reason for it. You vow that you’ll stop with one small divergence away from the “real” you and won’t take it any further. Yet, you find yourself pushing your boundaries just a little bit more, because, again, it’s well justified. However, before you know it, you’ve taken so many small steps away from who you once were that things in your life don’t feel quite right anymore. You hit a wall and realize that you’re not happy. You feel constantly tired and frustrated but you can’t get to the root of your problem. In fact, you always have so many problems and they just don’t seem to go away.
The story looks a little different for everyone, but ultimately, the theme remains the same.
Maybe you accepted a job after university that wasn’t completely in line with your interests, but the pay was good and the position was secure. In a few years, you’re offered a promotion, and although you’re unhappy with your work and the promotion involves longer hours, you accept it because the prospect of searching for a new job is daunting, and you can’t justify turning down a higher paid position for a lower paid, lower ranking job. Before you know it, you’re 25 years into a career that holds little to no meaning for you, that has drained you of your health and happiness, and has left you with no free time to engage in the meaningful activities that you had once hoped would be a part of your life.
Or, maybe, you found yourself suffering from a depression that was temporarily relieved by a glass of wine in the evening. After a short time, that one glass of wine didn’t offer the same relief that it used to, and you found yourself pouring a second glass, and then a third, and maybe even a whole bottle. Eventually, you help yourself to that first glass as soon as you’re home from work instead of waiting until after dinner and, perhaps, you even go to the extent of adding a shot of liquor to your morning coffee. “What’s the harm?” you ask. “It helps me relax, after all.”
It’s not that you don’t value having enjoyable and rewarding work, or that you don’t value your health. In fact, quite the opposite is likely true. Most people value having both meaningful work and good health in life along with things like spending time with family, making a difference in the lives of others, and enjoying time to relax. The problem is, we often fail to acknowledge that we value these things.
This failure to tune into our personal value system starts at a young age. Think about it, did you ever take a class in school that taught you about the importance of connecting with your personal values? Did your parents or caretakers ever sit you down and ask what was meaningful to you? What type of person you wanted to be (and not what you wanted to be)? What made you feel truly alive and happy? What drove and inspired you?
And, did they do this on a regular basis? After new milestones were reached? At each important transition throughout the course of your development?
An important part of counselling, and something that I help clients accomplish on a regular basis, is asking them to do just this. Oftentimes, clients claim to have a pretty good idea of who they are and what things are important to them (again, the usual: family, friends, health, etc.), but when I ask clients to write their values down on a piece of paper (and in an intentional way) the results are quite inspiring. Clients are taken by surprise when they realize they’ve been acting completely out of line with the way they want to be, with who they feel they really are, and with the things they want to do in life. As such, it comes as no surprise when clients become distressed about how long their personal misalignment has been affecting them for.
“I truly value spending time with my loved ones, so why have I been spending all of my time at work!”
“My health and physical fitness is so much more important to me than I thought, and yet I’ve been drinking myself away every night for 2 years!”
Simply sitting down and consciously identifying what’s important to us has dramatic effects when it comes to realigning with our true selves once again, and it’s this very act that most people fail to do. The exercise is about asking yourself what you want for yourself at this point in life (not what you think you should want). It’s about tuning in with your emotions, and with the physical sensations in your body – not with your spiraling thoughts. Doing so allows you to get a sense of what’s really going on inside, and when you know what’s inside, it’s easier to know what to do on the outside.
One of the hardest things we can do is come to the realization that we’ve been acting in a way that’s out of alignment with who we truly are, but it’s also this realization that becomes the catalyst for some of the most important changes that we’ll make in our lifetime.
In always coming back to your values, and in viewing each day as a new opportunity to realign oneself to them, it’s possible to start living the authentic and meaningful life that you have always hoped for.