In July 2009, I was on a plane on my way to Spain. I was running away from another failing relationship, spending money I didn’t really have to spend, and hiding from the truth I would only come to recognize six years later: I needed to change my life.
I was passing the time by reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I picked it up at the airport newsstand, looking for something interesting, and at the time, I thought perhaps my trip to Spain could be the change of scenery I felt I needed to recreate myself. As I read, I came across the question, “Does your life reflect your values?”
“Does your life reflect your values?”
I read it again.
What are my values?
How could my life possibly reflect my values if I wasn’t even clear what they were?
Ugh. Too heavy for me right now, I said, as I closed the book and put in my earbuds.
I wish I could say that was the moment that opened my eyes. Unfortunately, I took Spain as the opportunity to further bury the things that needed examining. Instead of immersing myself in a summer of self-exploration, I held on to this idea that life would work out the way it was intended, and that I was, in fact, who I was, and there was little I could do about it.
But here’s the thing:
I was righteously stubborn. I was angry. I held grudges. I spent money like I had it. I was independent – and very stuck in my ways.
I partied (irresponsibly). I gossiped, hooked up with friend’s boyfriends – occasionally in front of them – and ruined lifelong friendships, sometimes knowingly.
I was loud, quite obnoxious, and had to make my opinion known. I prided myself on being a New Yorker, as if that was excuse enough for my insufferable behavior. I was certain the sun rose and set on me. I was, after all, the center of the universe, no?
I refused to believe that the reason my life was so heavy and chaotic was because that was what I was allowing in my life. I couldn’t admit that I was part of the problem.
My values needed developing
And by the time I was finally ready to take a full look at myself and the havoc I was wreaking in all of my life, I was a single parent with full-custody. Granted I took small steps in those six years to make improvements to my life. But it was too little, and it was becoming too late.
“Have a sit,” my daughter, three-years-old at the time, said to me after one particularly bad blow-up at her.
“Mama, you hurt my feelings when you yell at me like that,” N said, as she reached up and touched my face. “We have to talk about this.”
My three-year-old, holding a mirror up to my face. Me – a 31-year-old single, independent woman, being schooled by a toddler.
And that night, after I put her to bed, I cried. And cried. I needed a better way. I needed to find my way, because my ignorance was destroying my child.
All the family drama, the trauma from my own life – it was being passed on to N, willingly by me, because I wasn’t doing anything to address it. It was time to take ownership over who I was and who I was teaching my daughter to be.
That night, I pulled out an old journal, and there it was, scrawled in faded green pen on a yellow post-it:
Does your life reflect your values?
No. It didn’t. The brief moments of self-reflection I had done in the few months since becoming a single parent told me that I wasn’t living a life I valued – even though I wasn’t sure what those values were.
And so, the journey truly began.
I scribbled down a list of what was important to me, what made me happy and brought joy to my life, and the things that improved my quality of life.
That list soon became my list of values – the things in my life that I find most important, the things that give my life a sense of purpose and help me to build a life that I find meaningful.
I revisit that list often. In the beginning, I had it hanging on the wall of my kitchen, as the home screen of my phone, and hanging on the wall in my classroom.
That was nearly three years ago, and many things have changed in my life since that time – mainly because I acted purposefully, chose wisely, and made decisions based on that list.
What are your values? How do they guide you?