We all get lost from time to time. That’s part of being human.
Sometimes life throws us unexpected curveballs, but sometimes we make a series of decisions that lead us so far off course that we wake up one day realizing that we hardly recognize ourselves anymore.
It usually happens gradually, with a series of small decisions that we justify because, well, we’re not steering that far off-course. We vow that we’ll stop with one small divergence away from the “real me” and won’t take it any further.
Yet, we find ourselves pushing our boundaries just a little more, because, again, it’s well-justified. However, before we know it, we’ve taken so many steps away from our true self that things in life don’t feel right anymore. We hit a wall and realize we’re not happy. We feel constantly tired and frustrated and can’t seem to get to the root of our problems.
The story looks a little different for everyone, but the theme remains the same.
Maybe we accepted a job after university that wasn’t in line with our interests, but the pay was good and the position was secure. In a few years, we were offered a promotion, and although we weren’t happy and the promotion meant longer hours, we accepted because the prospect of searching for a new job was daunting, and we couldn’t justify turning down a higher-paid position for a lower one.
Then comes the day we wake up and realize we’re years into a career that holds little or no meaning, that’s drained us of health and happiness, and that’s left no time for the meaningful things we’d hoped for in life.
It’s not that we don’t value enjoyable, rewarding work, or having work/life balance. In fact, quite the opposite is likely true. The problem is, we often fail to acknowledge that we value these things, or we fail to act in ways in which we prioritize them.
Overlooking our personal value system starts at a young age. Did we ever take a class in school that taught us about the importance of connecting with our values? Did our parents or caretakers ever sit us down and ask what was meaningful to us? Who and how we wanted to be as adults (and not what we wanted to do)? What experiences made us feel truly alive and joyful? What inspired us? And, did they do this on a regular basis? At each important transition throughout our development?
An important part of counselling, and something that I help clients with on a regular basis, is asking them to do this. Oftentimes, clients claim to have a good idea about who they are and what’s important to them (usually family, friends, health, etc.), but when I ask them to write this down in an intentional way, the results are inspiring. Clients are often surprised when they realize they’ve been acting completely out of line with the way they want to be.
Identifying and aligning with what’s most important to us has significant effects when it comes to our mental health. The exercise is about getting to the root of who we are, unedited, rather than focusing on who we think we should be. It’s about tuning in with our emotions, and with the physical sensations in our body – not with our thinking mind. Doing so allows us to sense what’s really going on inside in response to our choices and actions. When we understand this, it’s easier to know which path to follow moving forward.
It can be difficult realizing 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 the most important changes we will make in our lives.
In coming back to our values, and in viewing each day as a new opportunity to realign ourselves to them, it’s possible to start living the meaningful life we’ve always hoped for.