We’re surrounded by media exhorting us to set New Year’s resolutions for 2020. “Lose weight”, “Give up alcohol”; “Get a work/life balance”. Maybe we finished up the work year with our boss telling us next year it’s time to “take on more responsibility”, “work longer hours” or “manage a bigger team”. Over Christmas some people have had family and friends telling them: “It’s time to get married”, “You should start a family”, “When will you get serious about work”. Some of these could even be good ideas… but what really matters? What do you want your life to be about? What are your values?
Let me take you through an exercise that’s one of my favourites for getting in touch with the values that can be our guides to living a meaningful life. I like to call it the “birthday celebration” exercise. You may have come across it as the “Epitaph exercise”.
Your Big Birthday Celebration Exercise
Find yourself a quiet comfortable place and set aside a few minutes for this exercise.
Imagine it’s your next big number birthday. If you’re currently 30, imagine it’s your 40th. If you’re currently 50, imagine it’s your 60th. All your friends, family, teammates and colleagues have come to help you celebrate! This could be a big birthday bash, or it could be a quiet intimate soiree. Make it whatever floats your boat.
Now imagine a close family member, maybe your partner gets up to say a few words and make a toast to you. What do you hope they recognise in you? What matters to you? Maybe: “Isabel has been loving and supportive…. Her caring and adventurous nature has been an inspiration to the family”. Or “Tom motivates us with his stand for justice and order. He’s leaving the world a better place one project at a time”. Or maybe “Paul inspires us with his compassion for nature and his sense of humour”.
Next a friend has a few words to say and then maybe a colleague or teammate. Imagine as many people as you like get up to share their stories of you. They’re letting you know what you stand for in this world. They all express appreciation for the different values that guide your life – the values that inspire you to get out of bed in the morning and take action. Here’s a values checklist to give you some ideas for the values that motivate you most. These are suggestions only. You can create many more. Values are the guiding principles for how you want to behave and act.
As you reflect on all the lovely comments your friends have made I suggest you make a list of the values that matter to you. There’s no right or wrong. It’s as individual as you are. Around five to six values are a good start. Then ask yourself: “What would I be doing if I was living my values?”
Maybe carry your list around for a few days and from time to time reflect on what these values mean to you. How have your values changed over time? Are you living according to your values? Can your values help guide you to what you want to do for 2020?
Each day can you take action to express your values in some way? If adventure was one of your values and you’re feeling stuck at work, can you have a weekend adventure? Then do it again. If justice is a value, take some time to write a letter to advocate for someone you believe deserves justice.
Use your values to make decisions about how you want to live your life. Take action on living your values, and acknowledge yourself for living a life matters.