By Stephanie Imig
If I told you that two words could bring your life into focus, would you believe me?
Probably not. We haven’t built that sort of trust yet.
When I add that the two words will come from a “values clarification exercise”, I am probably not helping my case.
Don’t we all get that feeling of excitement when someone invites us to “clarify our values”?
Well, at least we have clarified that.
You might also be wondering what “values clarification” is doing here, in a trail-running blog, where we already know we share many of the same values; it’s what brought us together. We are clear about that.
But then I wonder, if I am so clear about who I am and why I am here, why do I sometimes feel so alone in the midst of an amazing community? Why, if I do have clarity, do I sometimes feel scattered; pulled in so many different directions, all (seemingly) equally wonderful but whose sheer number alone leaves me feeling splintered; suffocated by what should be rejuvenating? Sometimes there are so many soul-filling opportunities to be excited about that I am left hollow, drowning in a sea of “yesses.” I am making the leap and assuming I am not completely alone in feeling this way. Maybe, like me, you too are looking for reconciliation for these contradictions.
It was with surprise (and at first resistance) that I stumbled onto an answer to these questions.
For those of you who are familiar with the work of Brene Brown, it might not seem surprising at all that the seeds for my answers germinated from the soil of one of her books. Her work is fertile territory for so much of life’s wisdom, and yet still, I almost squandered what became one of my more important learning opportunities.
Feeling fairly certain my values had been fully clarified, and perhaps feeling like there are other people in this world who need to evaluate their values a lot more than I do, when I came across a “values clarification exercise” in Brown’s book Dare to Lead, since I was reading the book for fun, and “values clarification” felt like the opposite of fun, I gave myself full permission to skip it.
I immediately felt like a fraud.
Here was a book about being a daring leader, and doing the hard work of getting clear about our own vulnerability and courage….and I had just skipped the first thing that felt time-consuming.
Apparently, I was lazy, unenlightened, and clearly not cut out for courageous leadership.
In hopes of alleviating my guilty conscience, and even higher hopes of proving to myself that I might have what it takes to be a courageous leader, I circled back to STEP ONE: Name our values so we can live into our values. But there’s a catch---you can only pick two; two values that define everything about who you are and how you live; two words that call us “to live in a way that is aligned with what we hold most important regardless of setting or situation” (Brown 187); two words that should define why or how we adventure, how we work, how we love.
OK, those aren’t ultimately the two words I landed on, but you’ll understand how hard this is when you see the list of words you have to choose from (a list that you are also invited to add more words to if it just doesn’t feel comprehensive enough). Here we go: accountability, achievement, adaptability, adventure, altruism, ambition, authenticity, balance, beauty, belonging, career, caring, collaboration, commitment, community, compassion, confidence, connection, contentment, contribution, cooperation, courage, creativity, curiosity, dignity, diversity, environment, efficiency, equality, ethics, excellence, fairness, faith, family, financial stability, forgiveness, freedom, friendship, fun, generosity, grace, gratitude, growth, harmony, health, honesty, hope, humility, humor, inclusion, independence, initiative, integrity, joy, justice, kindness, knowledge, leadership, learning, legacy, leisure, love, loyalty, nature, openness, optimism, parenting, patience, patriotism, peace, perseverance, power, pride, recognition, reliability, resourcefulness, respect, responsibility, risk, safety, security, self-discipline, self-expression, self-respect, serenity, service, simplicity, spirituality, stewardship, success, teamwork, thrift, time, tradition, travel, trust, truth, understanding, uniqueness, usefulness, vision, vulnerability, wealth, wholeheartedness, wisdom.
Now choose two.
If it makes it easier, don’t start with two. Start with permission to choose 10-15. But then start whittling it down. Keep whittling. And again. Until you really have your two words. And try not to feel like a terrible parent when you cross “family” off your list; or a callous human when you cross off “love”. Let them go anyways.
While it might seem impossible (or who knows, maybe it is way easier for you than it was for me), when you land on your two words, you will know, and it feels like magic.
When I found my two words--adventure and kindness--for the first time I had clarity from a “values clarification” activity. In front of me was my “why”--for family, for love, for work, for friendship, for running, for everything that is important to me and how I navigate the world. When I say “yes” and it feels right, it will have adventure and kindness nestled at its core. And when I look back at decisions that tower ominously as regrets or mistakes, I can now see what they were missing: the spirit of adventure--and sometimes, in really dark moments--kindness. While I can’t go back and re-do any of those moments (if The Great Gatsby taught us anything, we know that we can’t relive the past), by understanding what was “wrong” about my choices, I can make different choices in similar situations now and into the future. Knowing that adventure and kindness underpin everything for me, I can hold course in the endless stream of choices, and not get swept away by the current.
The fun thing about this activity--there we are, back to the idea that “values clarification” is not some meaningless chore--is that it can help others to understand us as well. Don’t keep your words secret. And don’t worry when your words are different than those of the people you love. Just like knowing your own “why” is powerful, so is knowing the “why” for others.
We end up with only two words, but in those words is a key to seeing ourselves clearly and compassionately, and offering those around us that same profound understanding and grace. Our two words not only help us decide which challenges to embrace, but also how to embrace each other with an understanding that goes deeper than the mud puddles we tromp through together on the trails.
I’d love to know your two words.