No Matter What Your Age You are a Work-in-progress …by Pam Finnie
A couple of years ago, I was listening to an Australian morning chat show about the latest research on happiness. One of the findings was on the positive impact of having a ‘purpose’ in your life. The definition for purpose in this piece of research was that at the end of the day you had done something (or crossed a task off your to-do list) that was meaningful to you – regardless as to whether that was remembering to put the rubbish out or something ‘bigger’.
Recently I was having a chat with someone who was in a very reflective mood as it was the one year anniversary of her husband’s death. She made the comment that she had been told she needed to find ‘purpose’ in her life. The problem was she didn’t know what that might be but it was clear she felt it needed to be something substantial. This uncertainty around having a defined purpose was having an impact on her performance at work. I mentioned the definition of ‘purpose’ being something meaningful for you and immediately it looked as though a weight had been taken off her shoulders.
Every day we are bombarded with information – often contradictory – about what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. For many of us this information is like a little black cloud that hangs over us with the message ‘you’re not doing it right’. Because the woman I had been talking to had been ‘told’ she needed to find a ‘purpose’ for living, she felt that there was something lacking in her life. This just added to her overall stress levels as well as impacting on her work performance.
Your Values Drive Your Life
At the risk of sounding very 1980s I’d like to say that my values underpin everything I do in my life. Establishing your values will provide you with a strong foundation from which to identify your ‘purpose’. In my work with dysfunctional teams, one of the first things I do is work with the team to establish five values that are important to them, as a team, as they work at resolving the issues they face. In the same way if you are a mentor, being aware of your values and associated behaviours is important in providing you with a firm foundation from which to provide mentoring support for the mentee.
As teenagers, we pick values up from our peers, our families, teachers, sports clubs, religions, youth groups and later from partners, media etc. When was the last time you reflected on your values? Not your work values but your own personal values. Often it can be years since we thought about what they might be. This isn’t ‘touchy-feely’ rubbish – it is you establishing a firm base from which to operate.
You Are a Work-in-Progress: Values & Age
A good time to reflect on your personal values is when you are getting older and starting to think about where-to-next. Operating from a strong base that is right for you will help in decision making for the future. For example, if ‘supportive’ is an important value or quality for you, you need to think about what that means to you – in all areas of your life. At work it may mean being open to passing on skills or knowledge to a younger team member. Another of your values/qualities might be ‘level-headed’ and at work that might mean developing a reputation for dealing effectively with difficult customers – internal or external.
One thing to be aware of is that while the same value or quality may be important to several people you need to be clear about what is the associated behaviour or action. For example, in relation to your children (if you have children) society generally ‘says’ parents are supportive of their children. For you, being supportive may mean you have your grandchildren one night on the weekend or in the holidays. However, your children might think that being ‘supportive’ is you providing childcare five days a week before and after school. Or you could be looking at ‘supportive’ in relation to being supportive of your parents as they age – you may have a different understanding as to your parents as to what that means.
Being clear about what your values are and what they look like in your day-to- day life will help you make the decision for where-to-next. In the ‘supportive’ example above, you might come to a compromise for all of the time or for some of the time or you might not. Whatever decision you make there will be consequences, for example, a colleague may become envious or jealous of an action you take. Being clear about your values and the associated behaviours makes it easier to respond to other people reactions.
Values Activity: Review Your Values, Change Your World
Below I have listed examples of values or qualities. There are hundreds more which I use with my clients when helping them identify their core values.
Step One: On a piece of paper write down ten values or qualities that are important to you.
Step Two: From your list of ten select your top five.
Step Three: For each one identify two things that you do that demonstrate this. For example,
- Reliable: always do what I say I will do.
- Social: belong to a walking group or join in drinks after work once a month.
- Skilled: every year learn something new or train someone in xyz.
This is Not a New Year’s Resolution List
No, this is not a New Year’s resolution list that gets written and forgotten after a week. For the next couple of weeks think about how you can incorporate each of your chosen values or qualities in your day-to-day working life. How does the way you live your life fit with the values or qualities you have selected? Keep reviewing them to make sure they are right for you – this is a work-in-progress.
*Pam Finnie lives in Taranaki and works throughout New Zealand and Australia. You can check out her website www.redefine.org.nz if you’d like to know more about the services she provides. If you reproduce this material in anyway please acknowledge PJ Finnie www.redefine.org.nz