We all get lost from time to time. That’s part of being human.
Sometimes life throws you unexpected curveballs, but sometimes you make a series of decisions that, without realizing it at the time, end up throwing you so far off course that you wake up with the realization, one day, that you hardly recognize yourself anymore.
It usually happens gradually, with a series of small decisions that you justify because, well, you’re not steering that far off-course. 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 steps away from who you were that things in your life don’t feel right anymore. You hit a wall and realize you’re not happy. You feel constantly tired and frustrated and you can’t seem to get to the root of your problems.
The story looks a little different for everyone, but the theme remains the same.
Maybe you accepted a job after university that wasn’t in line with your interests, but the pay was good and the position was secure. In a few years, you were offered a promotion, and although you weren’t happy and the promotion meant longer hours, you accepted because the prospect of searching for a new job was daunting, and you couldn’t justify turning down a higher-paid position for one that was lower-paid.
Before you know it, you’re 15 years into a career that holds little to no meaning, that’s drained you of your health and happiness, and that’s left no time for the meaningful things you’d once hoped would be a part of your life.
It’s not that you 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 that actively brings them into our lives.
Overlooking our personal value system starts at a young age. Did you ever take a class that taught you about the importance of connecting with your 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 your development?
An important part of counselling, and something that I help clients with on a regular basis, is asking them to do just this. Oftentimes, clients claim to have a good idea about who they are and what’s important to them (the usual: family, friends, health, etc.), but when I ask them to put it down on paper (and in an intentional way) the results are quite inspiring. Clients are often surprised when they realize they’ve been acting completely out of line with the way they want to be.
Identifying what’s most important to us has dramatic effects when it comes to realigning with our true selves, and it’s this very act that most people fail to do. The exercise is about asking yourself what you really want 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 spiralling 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.
It can be difficult to realize 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 can make in our lives.
In coming back to our values, and in viewing each day as a new opportunity to realign oneself to them, it’s possible to start living the meaningful life we always hoped for.