By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist
Aligning your values with your career (or volunteer work or retirement lifestyle) leads to a happier, less stressed life. But, that’s easier said than done if you have never stopped to think about the values you hold.
Values are the principles, ideas and, to a certain extent, also the material items that are most important to us. Two important truths about values: each person has different values, and the things we value can change over time.
In the past two months, I have had the opportunity to think quite a bit about what’s most important to me because of three unrelated and unexpected events. First, my 60-year-old brother Mark died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. A short time later, Hurricane Harvey visited Texas, where most of my friends and family live, and then Hurricane Irma visited my own neighborhood in Florida.
At these devastating times, we instinctively know what’s most important – it’s those things that are on our minds constantly. For me, it was my husband, my family, my friends, my home, a desire to help others, an eagerness to talk to people I love, a need to feel “in control” when everything around me seemed to be spinning – both literally and figuratively – like a hurricane.
What I Value Most
In the days following Mark’s death, I clung to Alan, my only remaining sibling, finding it hard to believe it’s just us two that remain of our immediate family. I realized how much I value his presence and support.
Also, during that time, I was surprised at the outpouring of love from my friends. I shouldn’t have been. It happened also when my Mom died two years ago and when my father passed away 30 years ago. To know I have such devoted friends who would drive hours just to give me a hug and hold my hand for a few minutes touched my heart much more than I can describe. I value them beyond measure.
Then, as Harvey sat over Houston for days, I realized how much I value my family in Texas. Distant cousins and friends in Corpus Christi, Houston and Beaumont that I don’t see often were on my mind constantly as the flood waters rose and rose. I called and texted them. I searched Facebook for their photos and updates. I was reminded how much I value my extended family, even those I don’t see often.
When my husband and I decided to evacuate because Irma was heading our way, we knew we might come home to a demolished or flooded house. Trying to decide which of my many heirlooms and cherished possessions to take in the car with me was difficult, but I filled two bins with family photos and keepsakes from family and our travels. My grandmother’s jewelry box, a set of pillowcases with crocheted trim, my mother-in-law’s perfume bottle, a pair of cowboy boots, my mother’s jewelry, a couple of Mexican Talavera pieces: These things I value.
Most important among my valuables was the one driving the car, my husband Ricky. I prayed for our safety as we headed north away from the storm. I value him above all.
When you lose something or believe you might lose it, you learn quickly how important (or not so important) it is for you. And it’s not just the loss of loved ones and material items.
In the past two months, I lost sleep; I lost my routine; I didn’t exercise or eat right. I lost my ability to plan my own schedule. And I learned how important those habits are as I began to feel like a slug and experienced brain fog and a sense of disorientation.
I also have thought a great deal about those ideals and principles I value. How important is it to live near the beach? To own my own business? To spend time with family? To communicate with friends? To eat well? To help others in need? To contribute to deserving causes vs. saving money for my own emergencies? To travel on weekends vs. staying home and working on household projects? To follow through on commitments despite feeling unfocused and overwhelmed?
Values with your Work
So, what does all this have to do with aligning your values with your career? My journey is an example of the importance of pausing to think about your values – what’s really important to you. And knowing your values allows you to choose a career that facilitates keeping those values forefront in your life.
If you value exercising to stay fit and you have a job that has you sitting in front of a computer seven hours a day, perhaps it’s not the best job for you. If you value time with your children but find yourself working 70 hours a week, you may need to look for another job, even if it means taking a cut in pay. If you really love living at the beach, perhaps you need a flexible job that allows you to leave when a hurricane is coming to town.
The good news is you don’t have to wait on a devastating event to evaluate what your values are. In my next article, I will provide some tools to help you determine your key values and discuss how to secure a job that aligns with those values.
Until then, hug someone you value and thank that person for being in your life, commit to taking an action that supports a principle you hold dear, and pull that favorite heirloom out of the closet and set it out on the dining table or mantle – even if it doesn’t match the décor – so that you can see it every day. Because tomorrow they might not be here.