On Friday I talked about my need to establish personal boundaries. At this point in my life, I’m in a place where I really want to get clear about what I am able to do, and what I am not. And I need to find ways to comfortably withdraw or say no when something isn’t working for me.
In order to establish boundaries, I need to know what is important to me. I’m willing to put in the hard work for something that matters. But I’m not always good at seeing what matters and what doesn’t, so I need to set some priorities. I need to define what is important to me, and not what I imagine is important to others, since I am the person actually living my own life. So I am defining my core values.
What is a core value? I’m not sure there’s a universal definition, but this one more or less works for me. Here’s an excerpt:
We have an entire universe of values, but some of them are so primary, so important to us that through out the changes in society, government, politics, and technology they are STILL the core values we will abide by … Core values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we employ … [they] underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission.
Generally speaking, core values are defined by an organization. I am not an organization. But I can borrow the concept for myself, and possibly for my family. So I will.
I find it reasonably easy to come up with a list of things that matter to me. I should state that I don’t necessarily have all of these things, but I would like to have them. These aren’t my core values, necessarily, but they’re a starting point:
- My children
- My husband
- My mental and physical health
- My happiness
- Having the financial resources to live in reasonable comfort
- Living sustainably
- Making things with my own hands
- Living with passion
- The knowledge that my actions are contributing to the larger world in some way
- A platform for my voice
- Having strong connections with my community, locally and online
- Sufficient leisure time
- The opportunity to learn and try new things
So, I have something to work from. Now I think I need to prioritize these things. If I face a decision that pits my mental health against my desire to financially support myself and my family, I need to understand what is most important to me. If you look at my life, you can probably see right now what my de facto priorities are. I may not say that everything else matters more than I do, but as I take on more and more you can see that I make decisions as if that were true. This is why I don’t have as much space in my life as I would like right now.
I took some time to think about it. I don’t want too many core values, because that would just be confusing. And I want them to be reasonably concrete. If I’m to actually use these in my daily life, they need to clear and to the point.
So, here are my core values, prioritized in order. This list actually represents a significant departure from the way I live my life right now in several ways:
- The mental and physical health of my immediate family, including myself, my children and my husband.
- The knowledge that my actions are contributing to the larger world in some way, and that I am helping others.
- Having the financial resources to live in reasonable comfort, which for me means that my family can afford all the things we need, and some of the things we want.
- Living sustainably, even it if isn’t always comfortable or easy.
- Having strong connections with my community, locally and online.
- Writing, which includes building a platform where I can make my voice heard.
- Sufficient leisure time, which I can use to make things and learn.
Now, the challenge is to live with these core values. I’ve printed out this list, and put it on my wall, where I can see it often. If I’m going to create boundaries and space in my life, I need to absorb this list. I can’t just write it out and then forget about it.
I wonder what your list would look like. What are your core values? Have you ever defined them? Do you think that taking the time to write them out is useful, or a waste of energy? I’d love to hear your thoughts!