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By: Judy Henrichs   (2/23/12)

There are approximately 3300 words in the English language that are “values” words.  And I love every one of them.  They are all motherhood and apple pie.

But the reality is that I, like you, actually live my life by a small puddle of them, perhaps 5 or 6.  Before I consciously decided which values are most important to me, I spent my life “being lived” by the values that others told me I “should” ascribe to.  Parents, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and the Superbowl ads all knew with absolute certainty how I “ought” to think, act and be.  And I believed them!

Then one day it hit me: there was no “me”!  So I began, with the help of some great coaches, on the deep inner journey to discover who was really inhabiting this body and what she truly valued.  On that journey, I learned a few things that might help you on your journey.  I learned:

1. Figure them out

Go to your heart, not your head to figure out what is important to you.  Your head is too full of all those tapes from your parents, neighbors, friends, co-workers and the media.  Your heart (your gut) will tell you about the real you.

Here’s a quick start for you:  Pretend you are at your own funeral 75 years from now.  You’ve lived a wonderfully full life, a life you have chosen.  Now write (don’t just think about, but actually write) 3-5 eulogies that you would want the important people in your life to give at your funeral.  After you have written them all, go through them and underline the values words and phrases.   Chances are you will have underlined that small puddle of 5-10 most important values that you want to guide your life.

2. Define them

For each value, write a crystal clear answer to this question:  How will I know if I lived this value today?  In other words, how would I behave if I were living out this value?

Each night, look at each of your top values and ask yourself, “How did I do today living out this value?”

“How will I do even better tomorrow?”

3. Test them

The real litmus test of values is this:  What do I give my time and money to?  I could tell you that I value saving whales, but I don’t (sorry, whale lovers).  How do I know?  I don‘t spend one minute of my time nor one dollar of my money on saving whales (hey, I live in Missouri and I’ve never even seen a whale!).  So what do I really spend my time and money on?  That’s what I really value.

So, as a parent, the tough value questions now stared me in the face every day.  If I say I value having a relationship with my child, am I spending my time and money doing that?  I found myself adjusting my job to work fewer hours (and bringing home less money) so we could have more time together.  Driving her to her events or watching a tv show together, I learned, was NOT spending relationship time with her.  I found myself joyfully willing to forego the bigger home, the fancier cars, more exotic trips so my child could have the education that would give her the legacy I wanted to leave her.

Most of all, I found myself in a place of peace and joy, knowing that now I was truly living by being on the journey to what I really valued.

Perhaps you will take the time (you’ll never have the time—you must take it) to find, define, and test your most important values.  Then you can truly be you.  Then you can live the journey you have chosen.