Before I became a coach for men in midlife I never gave much thought to my values. Donâ€™t worry, my internal conscience, Jiminy Cricket, has kept me morally on the straight and narrow. By values I donâ€™t mean morals or virtues. Iâ€™m speaking here about the deep-seated motivatorsÂ that make us unique and who we are at our core as men.
For me, the simple process of clarifying and understanding core values has given a greater sense of freedom, personal well-being, and deeper relationships. I would also argue that a closer connection to oneâ€™s values can give men in midlife greater choice and freedom than options sometimes sought through the stereotypically poor decisions associated with the midlife crisis.
Values vs. virtues
Looking back on my life I always thought of values as understanding the difference between right and wrong. You know, the basic moral compass stuff that most parents try to pass along like donâ€™t lie, cheat, or steal; always keep your word; treat others as youâ€™d like to be treated. Or perhaps values were those moral and intellectual virtues like courage, temperance, liberality, understanding, and wisdom received as part of oneâ€™s spiritual or philosophical upbringing.
So if weâ€™re not talking about values as morals or virtues, what are we talking about?
I refer to values as the personal drivers, the core motivators, and deeply held beliefs that make us uniquely who we are. They are the words or terms we would use (as opposed to the external expectations or projections of others) to answer the question:
â€śWho am I and whatâ€™s most important to me?â€ť
For many men in midlife this is THE question that heralds the primary midlife transitions: in our careers, in our marriage or significant relations, in our public personae, in our over commitment to pursuits that no longer bring contentment or a sense of satisfaction.
Our values inform all of our decisions. They are often working at a subconscious level, especially when we havenâ€™t taken the time to identify and clarify what they are. These values, or intrinsic motivators, have been a core part of who we are since our teenage years.
Iâ€™m kind of needing an illustration of what the heck youâ€™re talking about here â€¦
Okay, hereâ€™s a quick example â€¦ early in my midlife quest I identified my top five values as Integrity, Community, Adventure, Impact, and Compassion. Actually, I identified over 40 and narrowed them down to a solid dozen. But these five were the primary values that motivated me and informed the decisions I made and significantly impacted my sense of who I was and how I showed up in the world.
The importance of clarifying values â€“ especially in midlife
When aspects of our lives are out of alignment with our values, things just donâ€™t feel right. We can experience a deep sense of dis-ease and internal or external conflict can show up. When we are living in alignment with our values we have a greater sense of contentment, engagement, and life satisfaction.
Why is understanding our personal values important? Itâ€™s important because if we donâ€™t know what our personal values are we can feel adrift on the sea of unmet expectations, lost in midlife meanderings, and experience a hollowness inside suggesting that something is amiss.
Hmm, kind of sounds like my midlife malaise â€¦
More importantly, when we donâ€™t know what our personal values are we are unable to articulate, let alone begin to effectively address, those aspects of our lives that are out of alignment and keeping us from being content at a most basic level.
Once I articulated my values I began to examine aspects of my life through the lense of these values. For example when I looked at my then-career through the lenses of Integrity and Community, I found that the people I worked with and the company I worked for also had a strong commitment to Integrity (in part defined by doing the right things for the right reason) and Community (a robust network of outstanding professionals). The alignment with these values were strong reasons to stay in that career.
However, I was not able to fully realize my internal sense of Integrity (as I define it through my ability to express my full self) and also was not able to live into my value of Impact/Change (as I define it by the ability to push boundaries and unleash greater consciousness in the world). It was these two unexpressed values that were really at the heart of my growing discontent with that career.
My inability to live in alignment with my values of Integrity and Impact/Change began to shake the foundations of my previously enviable career path. Choosing to live through them more fully supported my conscious transition to leadership coaching. This career transition allowed me to live my primary values more fully and ultimately brought me greater professional freedom, engagement in a more fulfilling career, and significantly more life satisfaction.
Hey thatâ€™s great, but my midlife crisis isnâ€™t about my career â€¦
I then began to use my values to examine my marriage, my relationships with my two sons, my sense of being over committed in other areas of my life, sibling relations, you name it. While many are still a work in progress, being in alignment with my core values has consistently resulted in deeper connections and greater contentment.
So thatâ€™s a simple example of how unconsciously denied values, when explored and identified, led to a successful career transition. Had I not clarified and articulated my values I likely would have continued in my previous career, feeling okay but not truly satisfied â€¦ and that unanswered gnawing could have resulted in a serious midlife meltdown and ruined my life.
Are you interested in better understanding how your values may be unconsciously impacting you and how to shift to greater choice in midlife? Grab a spot on my calendar for a Midlife Meetup and letâ€™s see whatâ€™s possible!